Four dead after gun battle in eastern Ukraine
A GUN battle in eastern Ukraine claimed up to four lives today when fighting erupted near a stronghold of pro-Russian separatists.
The shootings occurred at a checkpoint outside Slavyansk, a town of 100,000 people which is under the de facto control of pro-Russian gunmen.
Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the newly installed pro-Russian mayor, blamed the incident on Right Sector, an armed Ukrainian nationalist movement. He claimed that Right Sector gunmen attacked a checkpoint manned by separatists in the early hours of the morning, killing three people.
The pro-Russian gunmen returned fire and killed one of the attackers, said the mayor. Later, the corpses of two men were visible at the checkpoint, although the circumstances and timing of their killing was unclear.
A statement from the interior ministry confirmed that a “fight with the use of weapons” had taken place in Slavyansk, in the northern part of Donetsk region, at 3am. The ministry said that one person had been killed and another three injured, but gave no further details.
This was the first bloodshed since America joined Russia, Ukraine’s new government and the European Union to sign the Geneva accords last Thursday, with the aim of defusing the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
So far, however, that agreement has made no difference on the ground. Pro-Russian militants still occupy government buildings in the city of Donetsk and elsewhere across this Ukrainian region of 4.5 million people.
The separatists have proclaimed the birth of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and pledged to hold a referendum on the status of the region by May 11. This could pave the way for the annexation of Donetsk by Russia.
Incidents like the killings in Slavyansk could spark a cycle of retaliation and violence. In extremis, bloodshed of this kind might give Russia a pretext to invade. The foreign ministry in Moscow said that it was “outraged” by the violence in Slavyansk, describing the bloodshed as a “provocation”.
David Blair, Telegraph.co.uk