New Violence Reported in Eastern Ukraine

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(DONETSK, Ukraine)

A city in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian militants descended into a deeper spiral of murky violence on Monday after two bodies were reportedly pulled from a river

The report came a day after at least three people died in a shootout at a checkpoint, and an international observer mission with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was unable to enter the city for reasons that were not clear. Russia agreed to the observer mission at Germany’s insistence, and the group’s inability to reach the area made it all the more difficult to determine why law and order was unraveling in the area.

A spokesman for the O.S.C.E. told the Russian news agency Interfax that the observer mission “could not access this town out of concern for security,” without elaborating. Russia and the Ukrainian central government have blamed each other for the violence.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was to arrive Monday in the capital, Kiev, where he was scheduled to hold talks with members of the interim government on Tuesday about economic development and constitutional reform. He planned to meet with the acting prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, the acting president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, and lawmakers and pro-democracy activists.

In eastern Ukraine, the police in Slovyansk pulled two bodies from a fork of the Donetsk River, which loops through the city, the man appointed by militants to serve as the “people’s mayor,” Vyachislav Ponomaryov, told the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets.

“Today I went to the morgue to identify another two corpses,” Mr. Ponomaryov said. He said both were pro-Russian militants. They had died, he said, from stab wounds and been thrown in the river. Mr. Ponomaryov said the city was under attack by a Ukrainian nationalist group, Right Sector, and the Ukrainian Army, although there has been no clear sign of either since a Ukrainian armored column surrendered to the separatists in a humiliating setback for the central government last week.

Pro-Russian militants have, though, produced for journalists a captured Ukrainian woman who they say is Irma Krat, an activist who took part in pro-European Union demonstrations in the capital last winter. The woman had a bag over her head and was pleading for help, the newspaper Ukrainska Pravda reported, citing social media posts and republishing photographs of the hooded prisoner that had been posted online.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Sunday dismissing the assertion by pro-Russian militants that attackers in and around the city were members of Right Sector. The group also denied any involvement.

The shootout on Sunday at a roadblock run by pro-Russian militants near Slovyansk left at least three people dead, highlighting the fraying in eastern Ukraine of an agreement last week in Geneva in which the United States, Russia and others called on militants to stand down.

Around 2 a.m. on a road lined with blossoming apricot trees, four cars drove toward the checkpoint, according to the pro-Russian militants who control the city. Their occupants opened fire, killing three local men who were standing guard, the militants said.

“We thought nothing would happen because it was the holy night,” said Yevgeny Bondarenko, 62, who said he had been there to celebrate Easter with the people at the checkpoint. “Who can we trust now?”

It was unclear whether the shooting was an event staged by provocateurs, an accident or an attack on pro-Russian militants. The difficulty in determining what happened will resonate far beyond Slovyansk: The United States has said it will impose additional sanctions on Russian businessmen, and possibly on a bank or oil company, if the Geneva accord is not heeded. So far, militants have neither budged from the buildings they are occupying nor handed in their guns.

(NYT)

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