A top separatist leader in Ukraine’s Luhansk region has been wounded in a car bombing, his colleagues said Saturday.
An explosive device went off early Saturday in Luhansk near the car of Igor Plotnitsky, leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, the rebel-run Luhansk Information Center said on its website. The report quoted rebel official Sergei Kozlov as saying that Plotnitsky has been taken to hospital and is now in stable condition.
Russian state tv on Saturday showed footage of a black SUV mangled by an explosion.
Fighting between Russia-backed rebels and government forces has been raging since April 2014, leaving more than 9,500 dead and displacing over a million. Luhansk was heavily shelled in the summer of 2014, but the front line has since moved dozens of kilometers away, and the rebels are in full control of the city and its suburbs.
Plotnitsky was one of the signatories of a peace accord in 2015 that helped to lower the intensity of fighting in eastern Ukraine. International observers, however, have reported that both sides have been using the heavy weapons they had promised to withdraw.
Local police chief Oleg Anashchenko was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the bombing is being treated as an act of terror and that police forces have been put on alert.
Denis Pushilin, a top rebel official in the neighboring Donetsk region, warned on Saturday that the attempt on Plotnitsky could signal Kiev’s intentions to renew the hostilities and spread panic in the self-proclaimed republic.
In Kiev, the Ukrainian presidential spokesman for the military operation in the east, Olexander Motuzyanyk, denied suggestions that the Ukrainian government could be behind the attack.
Unlike the neighboring rebel-held region of Donetsk, Luhansk separatist leaders have been embroiled in intense infighting since the hostilities broke out, even targeting each other. Alexei Mozgovoi, Plotnitsky’s rival and one of the region’s most prominent commanders, was killed last year when his vehicle was ripped apart by a bomb and then strafed by gunfire. Mozgovoi’s killers have not been found.