Saturday 18 November 2017

Russia aided terrorists in fatal bomb attack - Ukraine

People carry portraits of local residents killed in fighting with pro-Russian separatists during a commemoration rally in Kharkiv, where at least two people were killed when a blast struck the crowd (REUTERS/Stringer)
People carry portraits of local residents killed in fighting with pro-Russian separatists during a commemoration rally in Kharkiv, where at least two people were killed when a blast struck the crowd (REUTERS/Stringer)

Roland Oliphant

Ukraine has accused Russia of sponsoring a terrorist attack on a peace march in the city of Kharkiv that left two dead and at least 10 wounded.

In the deadliest blast of a bombing campaign by pro-Russian separatists, an explosive device was thrown from a car towards marchers who were commemorating the deaths of more than 100 protesters in last year’s revolution.

Amateur video footage posted on YouTube showed people scattering after the blast, while two marchers in camouflage shouted for a doctor to assist a man lying on the ground.

Ukrainian authorities said they had arrested four suspects shortly after the attack yesterday, claiming that the men had received training in a Russian city just across the border.

“They are Ukrainian citizens  who underwent instruction and received weapons in the Russian Federation, in Belgorod,” said Markian Lubkivskyi, an aide to the head of the Ukrainian security agency, the SBU.

The blast was the latest in several months of bomb attacks on targets in government-held cities including Kharkiv, Odessa, Mariupol and Kiev.

Previous bombings tended to avoid casualties, targeting the offices of pro-Kiev groups or infrastructure at night. Before yesterday, the bloodiest attack had been the bombing of a bar in Kharkiv that injured 11 people on November 9.

Kharkiv is 225km from the conflict zone but is considered by pro-Russian separatists to be part of Novorossia, a historic term for lands annexed by Moscow in the 18th century on which the rebels base their territorial ambitions.

It was the scene of violent pro-Russian protests in spring last year, but an attempt to set up a breakaway “People’s Republic” like those established in Luhansk and Donetsk lasted just hours before being put down by police.

It is now firmly under government control and its many arms factories play a key role in the Ukrainian war effort.

Earlier in the day, Russian-backed separatists announced that they would pull back heavy weapons in accordance with the Minsk peace accords, raising hopes that some kind of truce could be salvaged despite the failure of a week-old ceasefire to end fighting.

“The plan was signed last night... Starting from today there are two weeks to withdraw heavy weapons,” said Eduard Basurin, the deputy defence minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

The announcement followed the first exchange of prisoners under the February 12 peace agreement.

A separatist official said 139 Ukrainian troops and 52 rebels were exchanged at a meeting near the village of Zholobok, 19km from the rebel-held city of Luhansk, late on Saturday night.

The prisoner exchange and artillery withdrawal were seen as a sign that the separatists intend to more fully abide by the truce after achieving a military victory in Debaltseve last week.

The Russian-backed side’s decision to continue the assault on Debaltseve in defiance of the ceasefire was condemned by the United States and threatened to destroy the Minsk peace agreement for good.

The truce appeared to be holding in most areas yesterday, although both sides accused one another of violating the peace deal.

Rebels accused the Ukrainian army of shelling Donetsk, while the Ukrainian military said separatists attacked government forces in Shirokino, 10km east of Mariupol, and in Peski, just outside Donetsk.

Ukrainian commanders said they had spotted a build-up of separatist forces near Mariupol and accused Russia of running repeated aerial reconnaissance missions in the area, stoking fears of an impending attack to seize the port city. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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