A blast in a war-themed cafe in eastern Ukraine killed the most prominent leader of the Russia-backed separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces since 2014, rebel officials said.
The death of Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, underlined the dismal prospects for resolving the conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.
Rebel and Russian authorities blamed the Ukrainian government, with some suggesting that the United States had a role, while a top Ukrainian security official said the blast was likely to be the result of the separatists’ factional infighting or an operation by Russian special forces.
Seriously injured in the blast was Alexander Timofeev, the revenues and taxes minister for the separatists, according to the rebels’ DAN news agency.
In September 2017, Mr Timofeev was injured in another bombing in Donetsk, the region’s capital.
The Donetsk People’s Republic, along with a separatist republic in neighboring Luhansk, has fought Ukrainian forces since 2014, the same year Mr Zakharchenko became the DPR’s prime minister. More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict.
Fighting fell significantly after the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France in 2015 signed an accord in Minsk, Belarus, on ending the violence. But most of the agreement’s provisions remain unfulfilled and clashes break out sporadically.
“The assassination of the DPR head makes the Minsk accords devoid of sense,” Russian parliament speaker Alexander Volodin said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin lauded Mr Zakharchenko, who was 42, as “a true people’s leader” and promised Donetsk residents that “Russia always will be with you”.