A blast at a cafe in eastern Ukraine killed a Russian-backed separatist leader Friday, local officials said.
The explosion in Donetsk killed Alexander Zakharchenko, 42, who referred to himself prime minister of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, a largely unrecognized breakaway state supported by Russia. Also identified as the DPR, the republic is designated as a terror group by Ukraine.
A Donetsk news agency run by the DNR said its finance minister, Alexander Timofeev, was injured in the explosion.
Security forces arrested Ukrainians suspected of causing the blast. Russia’s foreign ministry accused the Ukrainian government of being behind the attack.
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“Several Ukrainian saboteurs and people connected to them have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the assassination of the republic’s leader,” a security source told Russian state-run news agency Interfax.
Ukrainian security service chief Igor Guskov denied Ukraine was involved, blaming the blast instead on potential separatist infighting or Russian special forces.
Zakharchenko is the latest in a number of DPR leaders to die by violence since its creation. In October 2016, a pro-rebel Russian commander, Arsen “Motorola” Pavlov died in a bomb blast in his apartment building.
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Zakharchenko called the killing of Pavlov “terrorism” and added, “As I understand it, [Ukrainian President] Petro Poroshenko has violated the cease-fire and declared war on us.”
And in February 2017, a bomb exploded in the office of military commander Mikhail “Givi” Tolstykh, killing the 36-year-old.
Separatists seized parts of eastern Ukraine after an uprising in 2014. Despite a cease-fire between the separatists and Ukrainian forces, skirmishes have broken out in recent months.