Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have released two U.S. aid workers captured some 10 days ago, authorities of self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic said early Saturday.
The two Americans were among a group of 37 International Rescue Committee (IRC) staff, when separatists raided their Donetsk offices and detained them at gunpoint. IRC head David Miliband, a former British Labour politician, said two of the seized aid workers "were now in a safe location," but he did not elaborate.
The rebel leader in the separatist Donetsk region, Aleksander Zakharchenko, said the two Americans were detained for spying, but have been freed. Zakharchenko claimed one of the U.S. aid workers was a "CIA agent and the other one was recruited."
The separatist authorities provided no proof that the aid workers were spies. Life News, a pro-Kremlin news agency with close ties to the Russian security services, reported that a raid of the group's office had revealed files containing passport details of local residents, electronic eavesdropping equipment, and half a million Ukrainian hrivnias -- worth approximately $25,000 -- in cash.
The IRC stopped its operation in eastern Ukraine after the raid. The group was one of the few international aid agencies working to distribute aid and medical assistance in the separatist-held parts of Ukraine. Among the others are Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the Czech agency People in Need (PIN).
The IRC was found in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein and its website says it currently operates in more than 40 countries.
The leader of Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's Donetsk region was killed in an explosion at a cafe Friday, Russian state news agencies and separatist officials said.
Alexander Zakharchenko, who headed the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, died in the blast at the Separ (Separatist) café in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, according to state news agencies TASS and RIA-Novosti, citing local security officials.
Alexander Timofeev, another rebel leader, was seriously injured, said a statement released by the separatists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a statement, called Zakharchenko a patriot and his death a "vile murder" intended to destabilize the region.
A top Russian law enforcement body, the Investigative Body, said it had opened a criminal investigation of the killing as a suspected act of international terrorism.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova blamed Zakharchenko's death on the Ukrainian government.