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Ukrainian separatist leader Zakharchenko killed in cafe blast

Aleksandr Zakharchenko (Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The leader of the Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, was killed in an explosion at a cafe in Donetsk on August 31.

The news was confirmed by the official media outlet of the separatists.

Images of what appeared to be the blast site were posted on social media.

The Donetsk News Agency said in a statement on its website that Zakharchenko had been killed in an explosion in central Donetsk, citing the separatist leader’s administration.

Earlier, a source said another separatist figure, Aleksandr Timofeyev, was injured in the blast at the Separ (Separatist) cafe.

Few other details were immediately available.

Moscow was quick to blame Kyiv for the killing.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Kyiv had decided to engage in a “bloody fight.”

Since April 2014, more than 10,300 people have been killed in fighting between Kyiv’s forces and the pro-Russia separatists who control parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Moscow has denied providing the separatist forces with weapons despite what Kyiv and NATO say is evidence proving that it has done so.

Cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk accords — September 2014 and February 2015 pacts aimed at resolving the conflict — have regularly failed to hold.

Russia in 2014 also seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

The United States and European condemned Russia’s actions and have slapped a series of sanctions against Moscow in reaction.

Zakharchenko, who was born in Donetsk in 1976, was sworn into office as the head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic on November 4, 2014.

At one point, Zakharchenko announced plans to create a country called Malorossia — Little Russia — encompassing all of Ukraine with its capital in Donetsk.

However, in August 2017, Zakharchenko called off the plan, saying it “was rejected by many” after it was met with derision and criticism Kyiv and the West and did not receive the Kremlin’s support.