Criminal suspect flees after taking police chief hostage in central Ukraine

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By Emma Beswick  with AP
A photograph accompanying the police report on the hostage incident in central Ukraine. July 23, 2020.
A photograph accompanying the police report on the hostage incident in central Ukraine. July 23, 2020.   -  Copyright  Ukraine National Police/Facebook

A crime suspect in Ukraine took a regional police chief hostage and forced him to drive around the countryside for hours, officials said on Thursday.

More than six hours after the pursuit began, the man left his hostage in the car and fled into a forest, according to police.

They said the regional police chief was unharmed, adding the operation to detain the assailant was still underway.

The incident started when police tried to detain a man accused of stealing a car outside a court building in the central city of Poltava. He threatened them with a grenade and took one of the officers hostage.

Following negotiations, he then swapped the officer for the chief of regional police, Colonel Vitaliy Shiyana, and drove away in a car provided by police upon his demand.

Police vehicles chased the car for several hours along country roads.

The hostage-taker has been convicted of a number of crimes including drug-related offences and theft, said Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko in a Facebook post. 

He had an RGD-5 grenade and threatened to detonate it, according to Gerashchenko.

National police asked citizens and drivers to be careful and avoid the area where the incident was taking place.

It came just two days after an armed man held 13 people captive on a bus in the Ukrainian city of Lutsk before police detained him and the hostages were released.

The situation in Lutsk only ended after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke on the phone to the hostage-taker and posted a video to Facebook endorsing a 2005 animal rights documentary, which was one of the armed man's demands.

The short video was later deleted, but some criticised the leader for carrying out the strange request saying he had bent to the gunman's demands.

Zelenskyy defended his actions saying: "We have a result: everyone is alive."