Fresh from Syria captivity, Ukraine journalist plans return

A Ukrainian journalist who escaped last week after five months being held captive by Syrian rebels said Monday she is planning to go back to the war-torn country despite her ordeal.

Ankhar Kochneva, an Arabic speaker who publicly supports the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was working for a Russian-language television channel in Syria when she was kidnapped in early October.

She told AFP she had endured grim conditions and suffered health problems while being held prisoner by Syrian rebels.

"I have nerves of steel but you cannot cheat your body. It was a stressful situation. I was hungry and cold for five months," Kochneva said.

The 40-year-old told reporters after her escape that she was abducted by the rebel Free Syrian Army and held near the central city of Homs.

While in captivity, she said her kidnappers took away vital medicines that she was taking for a chronic condition.

"I had health problems, hormonal problems. They took away all my drugs. I had had six months treatment before and when I got there my problems returned. I was losing my hair."

"I looked horrible, I think they would have killed me not to show what they did to me."

Despite her ill-health, Kochneva said she wants to go back to Syria soon.

"I think I will go back in about two weeks," she said, noting that first she needed to obtain a new passport because her old one was left behind in Syria.

"I will return for sure even though I know that I am on their kill list because I spat in their faces and fled."

Kochneva kept a diary in captivity which she plans to turn into a book later.

In November, the journalist appeared in a video posted on YouTube under the title "The Ukrainian spy working with Russian officers is in the hands of the Free Syrian Army."

Her captors demanded $50 million (39 million euros) for her release, according to her relatives, although the sum was later reduced to $300,000.

Kochneva claimed she wanted to sue the Syrian rebel leadership and needed to find lawyers in Europe.

"These people said they have some sort of proof (of Kochneva's guilt). Let them demonstrate it."

Before her abduction, she had received threats from the rebels who accused her of cooperating with the Assad regime, she said.

Ukraine's foreign ministry said the journalist had returned home on Sunday, adding her state of health was "satisfactory."

Now in its third year, the bloody conflict in Syria has killed at least 70,000 people and forced one million to flee their homes.