Axel Schneider says his team were unable to do nothing as the sound of gunfire came closer and closer
"The proverbial fire of handguns and artillery came closer and closer," said Colonel Axel Schneider at a press conference in Berlin on Saturday night. "But we were condemned to inaction. Anyone who hasn't gone through something like this can't imagine what it was like."
Schneider said his team had been allowed constant contact with the OSCE and their families throughout their capture.
Krzysztof Kobielski, a Polish major who formed part of the group, told Polish TV the team had faced "real danger" in three instances. "When there was shooting we didn't speak, we just stayed lying on the floor," Kobielski told TVN24. "All around us there were hundreds of men armed with knives, pistols and automatic weapons."
The group of military observers, consisting of four Germans, a Dane, a Pole and a Czech, were detained in the town of Kramatorsk, south of rebel-held Slovyansk on 25 April.
A Swedish member of the team was released earlier because he was suffering from diabetes. The terms of the OSCE team's release remain unclear.
Ukraine vowed on Sunday to broaden its operation against pro-Russia rebels. Andriy Parubiy, the chief of the national security and defence council, told AFP that the armed forces would expand the "active stage of the operation in other towns where extremists and terrorists are carrying out illegal activities".
Two days of chaos and violence in east and south-east Ukraine appeared to be pushing the country ever closer to civil war over the weekend. On Saturday, an angry crowd confronted police outside the trades union building in Odessa, where dozens of pro-Russia activists died on Friday night in a blaze started during clashes with pro-Ukraine protesters.
Germany's defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, and diplomatic representatives from the other countries involved in the OSCE mission met the team of observers at Berlin's Tegel airport on Saturday night. Von der Leyen said she was "filled with deep relief" that the team had landed unharmed and healthy.
The OSCE mission has faced criticism from within Germany. In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine, the deputy leader of the Bavarian CSU, a sister party to Angela Merkel's CDU, criticised the government for allowing itself to be drawn into the conflict in the Ukraine.
"I can see that it is in the interest of the revolutionary government in Kiev, whose legitimacy one has reasons to doubt, to 'invite' soldiers of the German army into the conflict zone," said Peter Gauweiler. "But I don't understand how it can be in our interest to allow ourselves to be dragged further into the conflict in such a clumsy manner."
Gauweiler specifically criticised a press conference in Slovyansk last Sunday, when the OSCE team were presented to the media as guests of Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, a leader of the insurgency in the east. "Why does a German officer thank his hostage-taker in a public press conference? The whole process presents the German army in a none-too-favourable light," he said.