The main leader of the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Alexander Zakharchenko, was killed on Friday in his Donetsk stronghold. The death of the rebel leader, announced by Russian news agencies, was confirmed by the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (PDR), the self-proclaimed entity he had been in charge of since November 2014.
According to these sources, Mr. Zakharchenko died in the hospital after being hit by the explosion of a bomb placed in the Separ café, in the centre of the separatist “capital”. Another separatist leader, Alexander Timofeev, the entity’s “finance minister”, was also injured in the blast.
Separatist security forces denounced the “terrorist” act and quickly announced the arrest of several people, including “Ukrainian saboteurs.” The Russian Foreign Ministry has also accused the “Kiev regime” of being behind the assassination.
Alexander Zakharchenko, 42, is not the first rebel leader killed in similar circumstances. Since the taking control of of the region in the spring of 2014, around 15 Donetsk and Luhansk officials and military leaders have been killed in attacks or ambushes. The local authorities ahve blamed Unkrainian secert services for carrying out these killings also.
A former mechanic, then a businessman linked to the former President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, Alexander Zakharchenko became a warlord at the beginning of the conflict as leader of the Oplot battalion.
He and his henchmen had also seized a large portion of the region’s economic assets, either by taking direct control of it or receiving payments from local contractors. He was on the list of people sanctioned by the United States and the European Union.
Alexander Zakharchenko signed the Minsk peace agreement in February 2015 under the auspices of Paris and Berlin, but he immediately refused to respect the ceasefire in the Debaltseve region, where he was wounded in fighting.
His death opens a period of uncertainty in Donbass, where the conflict has already claimed more than 10,000 lives, and peace talks are deadlocked. In Donetsk, the state of emergency was declared, and the disappearance of the strong man of the separatists could be a prelude to a new conflagration. Denis Pouchiline, seen as a potential successor, promised “revenge” for his chief. The speaker of the Russian parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said the death “undermined the idea of peace agreements”.