Pro - Russia separatists held nine Red Cross staff in the rebel - held eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk for seven hours, accusing them of espionage and severely beating one before releasing them in the early hours of Saturday, the aid group said.

Irina Tsaryuk, a Red Cross official, said the humanitarian workers had been released at 2am on Saturday morning, adding that “one had been heavily beaten”.

David Pierre Marquet, an International Committee of the Red Cross(ICRC) spokesman for Europe and Central Asia in Geneva, said the detained team was made up of one Swiss ICRC member, four representatives of the national Ukraine Red Cross branch from Kiev and four representatives of the local branch in Donetsk.

Earlier on Saturday, Kiril Rudenko, deputy spokesman for the self - proclaimed " People ' s Republic of Donetsk ", said the rebels had detained the Red Cross workers on suspicion they were spies.

" They were arrested yesterday. We suspect they were engaged in espionage and we are currently checking these accusations, " he said.