Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, has been killed in a bomb blast at a local cafe, officials say. Several others have been injured.
The attack happened at about 5:30 p.m. local time on Friday when a blast ripped through the Separ cafe in central Donetsk, a city that is controlled by the rebel republic. A fire broke out at the scene.
Zakharchenko, a pro-Russian separatist who led the rebel republic for nearly 4 years, was killed in the blast. At least two others were injured, including Alexander Timofeyev, the rebel republic’s finance minister.
It was not immediately known who was responsible for Zakharchenko’s assassination, but the Russian news agency Interfax reported that several people had been taken into custody.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova immediately blamed the Ukrainian government, telling Interfax that Kiev was fulfilling a “terrorist scenario” and worsening an already complicated crisis.
The Ukrainian government has denied any involvement.
Denis Pushilin, the chairman of the rebel republic’s council, also blamed the government in Kiev. “This is another aggression from the Ukrainian side. .. Donetsk will revenge this crime,” he told the Donetsk News Agency.
As authorities scrambled to respond to the attack, the rebel republic was put on an effective lockdown. The DPR Joint Command said all roads in and out of the region have been shut down until further notice.
Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Russia’s upper house of parliament, told Interfax that the assassination is “horrible news” for the Minsk peace agreement. He said those responsible are not interested in a peaceful and political resolution.
The war in eastern Ukraine began in the wake of the Ukrainian revolution and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014. Separatists took control of parts of the Donbass region and declared independence, hoping to join Russia. Thousands of people were killed in the fighting.
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