Kiev, Ukraine: A leading Ukrainian opposition activist who vanished for eight days emerged bloodied and badly beaten on Friday, saying his captors cut off an ear and drove nails through his hands before dumping him in a forest.
Dmytro Bulatov, a 35-year-old member of the opposition movement involved in street protests against President Viktor Yanukovych, appeared with his face swollen and caked in blood on Ukrainian television after going missing from Kiev on January 22.
Speaking slowly and visibly shaken by his experience, Bulatov said his unknown captors blindfolded and abused him before dumping him in a forest outside the Ukrainian capital, from where he was able to make his way to a nearby village.
"My hands... they crucified me, nailed me, cut my ear off, cut my face," Bulatov told Ukraine's Channel 5 television, still wearing his blood-soaked clothes and pointing to holes on his palms. "Thank God I am alive."
"I can't see well now, because I sat in darkness the whole time," he said, adding that he was unable to see his captors.
Bulatov's account drew immediate international condemnation, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton warning Ukrainian authorities that targeting activists "must immediately be stopped".
"I'm appalled by the obvious signs of prolonged torture and cruel treatment" of Bulatov, she said in a statement, calling it another incident in the "continuous deliberate targeting of organisers and participants in peaceful protests".
Amnesty International said the "barbaric act" must be investigated, adding that it is only one of several cases of similar disappearances.
The United Nations' human rights office on Friday also called on Ukraine to launch an independent probe into deaths, kidnappings and torture amid the raging political unrest.
The US Embassy in Kiev posted a picture of Bulatov with a blackened gash on his cheek and said that "the government of Ukraine must take full responsibility for the timely investigation, capture, and prosecution of those responsible for this heinous crime."
It further voiced concern over reports of 27 more missing activists, in a statement posted on its official Facebook page.
Ukraine's UDAR (Punch) opposition party leader and former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said Bulatov was tortured "to scare those who disagree with the regime, to show that it can happen to anyone".
"What they did with Dmytro is an attempt to frighten all citizens," Klitschko was quoted by his party as saying.
In a video of Bulatov made by fellow activist Oleksiy Grytsenko, he said that despite the atrocious torture, he would keep protesting. "They won't scare us," he said.
'Nobody wants to cooperate'
Police questioned Bulatov's friends and said Friday that a probe has been launched into the abduction, but complained that the victim was not helping the investigation.
"Unknown individuals hit him on the head with a blunt object and stuffed him into a car" on January 22, the interior ministry said.
On the ministry's database of wanted persons, Bulatov was listed as on the run from police and subject for arrest on charge of "mass riots".
Ukraine's deputy chief investigator Oleg Tatarov complained at a briefing that Bulatov's friends took him for medical treatment instead of calling police to the scene right away.
"Nobody wants to give information, nobody wants to cooperate," he said.
Tatarov suggested that the abduction "could have been staged with the goal of provoking a negative reaction from the public".
Bulatov's disappearance came as the two-month protests in Ukraine escalated into deadly clashes with police. It caused great concern because it followed similar cases of apparent abductions of prominent activists from the opposition protests in central Kiev.
One of the activists, Yuriy Verbytsky, was found dead in a forest while another, Igor Lutsenko, survived a severe beating and was hospitalised.
Bulatov is a leading member of Avtomaidan, a loose group of drivers who have held protest motorcades near Yanukovych's sprawling country estate in Mezhygirya outside Kiev and were instrumental in organising the protests in Kiev.
This month, its members have come under immense pressure from the authorities and some have gone into hiding or left the country.
Ukraine's protests erupted in November after Yanukovych scrapped an integration deal with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Kiev's historical master Moscow.