Alexander Zakharchenko, 42, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), was killed on Friday in a bomb blast, a local security source and senior pro-Russia authorities told the media.
The source added that three people were wounded in the blast. The region’s Finance Minister Alexander Timofeyev was said to be among those wounded.
Earlier on Friday, a blast was heard in a restaurant in downtown Donetsk near Zakharchenko’s residence.
Hours later, Vladislav Berdichevky, a lawmaker of the People’s Council of the DPR, confirmed reports that the DPR leader had been killed in the blast.
“Unfortunately, DPR’s leader was mortally wounded in the explosion at the Separ (Separatist) cafe.”
The pro-Russia forces said several “Ukrainian operatives” were detained after the deadly blast. They said the blast was “an obvious act of aggression by Ukraine.” Pro-Russia forces pledged to respond in kind to the aggression.
Russia was quick to make similar remarks.
Moscow blamed the bombing on the Kiev government. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had every reason to believe Kiev was behind the bombing. Kiev has decided to engage in a “bloody fight,” the ministry said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the killing of Zakharchenko as a “dastardly” act that aimed to destabilize the region.
In a statement issued by the Kremlin, the Russian president also expressed his condolences to Zakharchenko’s family.
Meanwhile, Russia’s state investigative committee issued a statement, saying it was treating the killing of the pro-Russia leader in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine as an act of international terrorism. It added that it had opened a criminal investigation into the killing.
Conflict started in eastern Ukraine in April 2014 following Crimea’s separation from Ukraine and reunion with Russia, which took place after a referendum. Since then, international efforts to restore peace and stability to the Russian-speaking region have failed and more than 10,000 people have died.