DONETSK, UKRAINE – Eastern Ukrainian separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko has become the latest rebel official to die in a series of apparent murders, slain Friday in an explosion in a cafe in the city of Donetsk.
Since the start of the conflict between the Moscow-backed separatists in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, several field commanders and politicians in the “people’s republics” under rebel control have died in explosions and shootings.
In February 2017, Mikhail Tolstykh, a rebel battalion commander known by his nom de guerre of “Givi,” was killed in a rocket attack on his office in Donetsk.
The 36-year-old headed the Somali battalion and became a media personality after featuring in a series of YouTube videos with Arseny Pavlov, a separatist fighter nicknamed “Motorola.” The two became the most recognizable faces among the separatists and were frequently interviewed by Russian state television channels.
Motorola, 33, was killed in October 2016 when a homemade explosive device went off in his apartment block.
Both murders were called terrorist attacks by local authorities.
Mozgovoi, a former folk choir singer and poet-turned-commander of the Prizrak (Ghost) battalion in Lugansk region, was killed in May 2015.
He and several others, including his press secretary and armed guards, were ambushed while traveling in a rebel-controlled area.
His convoy was struck by a bomb, and survivors were mowed down with gunfire.
The 40-year-old was believed to have had disagreements with Lugansk rebel leader Igor Plotnitsky and the Kremlin, but authorities said the murder was the result of sabotage by Ukraine’s spies.
Plotnitsky was injured in a suspected car bombing in August 2016. He resigned in November 2017 amid infighting.
The leader of an ethnic Cossack militia, Pavel Dremov, was killed together with his driver in December 2015 when his car exploded at a gas station on his wedding day.
Authorities said the bomb was planted in his car. He was 39.
Dremov criticized the Lugansk rebel leadership and accused them of stealing Russian humanitarian aid, also speaking out against the cease-fire with Ukrainian troops.
Nicknamed “Batya” (“Father”), Dremov ran his private fiefdom in the Lugansk region’s town of Stakhanov, which amounted to a rebellion within a rebellion.
Alexander Bednov, known by his nom de guerre of “Batman,” was a former Ukrainian police employee who became a prominent rebel in the Lugansk region.
He was shot dead by the security services of the so-called Lugansk People’s Republic. Local authorities later said he was wanted for various crimes but resisted arrest and began shooting back.
Bednov headed the eponymous Batman battalion, which fought against Ukrainian troops. His former battalion later said his car was set on fire, and six other people were killed with him.