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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK
Epic car chase ends in Ukraine
Two robbers and a hostage leave the car and head to a petrol station to continue negotiations near the western Ukrainian town of Rivne
The gunmen were finally persuaded to give up
Ukrainian police have arrested three armed men after a two-day car chase through Germany and Poland.

A woman who was taken hostage by the three fugitives was released after police stopped the car near the city of Rivne, in western Ukraine.

We could have stopped them many times, but the question is at what price?

Polish Interior Minister
The robbers initially took two women hostage, but one managed to escape during a stop in Poland.

The 1,000km (620 mile) pursuit began after a bank robbery in Wrestedt, in northern Germany on Tuesday night.

A Ukrainian police spokesman said riot police and snipers had been lying in wait when the robbers eventually came to a halt.

Click here to see the robbers' route

Police had held back from stopping the car, in anticipation that it would need a break to refuel.

Zigzag chase

Ukrainian police officials said the released hostage was in a state of shock after having a pistol held to her head for more than 24 hours, but was unhurt.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry official, Oleksandr Hapon, who led the operation to free the hostage
Mr Hapon says he talked to the robbers 'like a father'

Oleksandr Hapon - who led the operation to free the hostage - said he conducted negotiations with the robbers by phone, after police gave them a cellular phone in Lutsk.

"I talked to them as a father. We used psychological pressure. That's our job," Mr Hapon was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

Earlier, Polish police explained why they did not stop the gunmen on their territory.

"We could have stopped them many times, but the question is at what price?" Polish Interior Minister Krysztof Janik told Polish Radio

"We chose the health and life of innocent people."

Shooting at a car driving at 150km (92 miles) per hour would have been "unacceptable", he said.

The silver Seat was spotted crossing the eastern Polish city of Lublin at 0800 GMT on Wednesday.

Police helicopters and about 20 vehicles, including some from Germany, followed the car as it then zigzagged across Europe into Poland and then Ukraine.

The robbers had made their escape after police burst in on their attempted robbery at a Sparkasse branch bank in Wrestedt.

German police said they forced the bank manager to hand over money and threatened a female employee with a gun.

Hostage escaped

They fled with her and another woman staff member when police foiled the raid.

Police have not identified the women hostages, but gave their ages as 25 and 39.

The 39-year-old woman who escaped broke free when the car was parked at a petrol station overnight near the south-eastern city of Lublin in Poland.

German Embassy officials in Kiev were quoted as saying that the gunmen took about 200,000 euros ($176,000) from the bank.

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The BBC's Raphael Jesurum
"They took two female staff hostage"
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