A Pro-Russian militant walks past burnt cars near a
checkpoint that was the scene of a deadly gunfight.
At least three people were killed in a gunfight in the
early hours of Sunday (local time) near a Ukrainian city
controlled by pro-Russian separatists, shaking an already
fragile international accord that was designed to avert a wider
The incident triggered a war of words between Moscow and
Ukraine's western-backed government with each questioning the
other's compliance with the agreement, brokered last week in
Geneva, to end a crisis that has made Russia's ties with the
West more fraught than at any time since the Cold War.
The separatists said armed men from Ukraine's Right Sector
nationalist group had attacked them. The Right Sector denied
any role, saying Russian special forces were behind the
Failure of the Geneva agreement could bring more bloodshed in
eastern Ukraine, but may also prompt the United States to
impose tougher sanctions on the Kremlin - with far-reaching
consequences for many economies and importers of Russian
The deal signed in Geneva last week by the European Union,
Russia, Ukraine and the United States agreed that illegal
armed groups would go home in a process to be overseen by
Europe's OSCE security watchdog.
So far, the pro-Russian militants have shown little sign of
budging from public buildings in the east, though there was
some hope of progress after Kiev said it would not move
against the separatists over Easter, and international
mediators headed to eastern Ukraine to try to persuade them
But the shootings near Slaviansk - already a flashpoint for
tensions between Ukraine's rival camps - are likely to make
that task even harder, hardening the view of the many
Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine that they cannot trust
"The Easter truce has been violated," the Russian foreign
ministry said in a statement. "This provocation ... testifies
to the lack of will on the part of the Kiev authorities to
rein in and disarm nationalists and extremists."
The town's self-appointed pro-Russia mayor placed a curfew on
the town and appealed directly to Russia's Vladimir Putin to
consider sending in peacekeeping troops - an outcome Ukraine
tried to avoid by holding back its poorly resourced forces.
Ukraine's SBU security service accused Moscow agents of
faking a "cynical provocation" at Slaviansk and the foreign
ministry hit back, reproaching Russia for rushing to judgment
and failing to meet its part of the deal struck in Geneva:
"The Russian side must be reminded about their obligations
under the Geneva agreement to bring all necessary influence
to bear on separatists to clear illegally held buildings,
unblock roads, lay down arms and prevent any bloodshed," it
Right Sector spokesman Artem Skoropadsky said it was a
"blasphemous provocation from Russia: blasphemous because it
took place on a holy night for Christians, on Easter night.
This was clearly carried out by Russian special forces."
Separatist militiamen near the eastern Ukrainian city of
Slaviansk told Reuters four vehicles had approached their
checkpoint at around 2:00amand opened fire.
"We had three dead, four wounded," one of the separatist
fighters, called Vladimir, told Reuters at the checkpoint,
where there were two burned-out jeeps.
He said the separatists returned fire and killed two of the
attackers, who he said were members of the nationalist
movement which has its power base in the Ukrainian-speaking
west of the country and is reviled by many in the
Police in Kiev said three men among the separatists were
killed and three wounded.
A Reuters cameraman at the scene said he saw the bodies of
two people, one with what appeared to be gunshot wounds to
the head and face, lying in the back of a truck.
One of the dead was dressed in camouflage fatigues, the
other, identified by several bystanders as a local man, was
in civilian clothes.
The deaths were the first in armed clashes in eastern Ukraine
since the Geneva accord was signed on Thursday.
The crisis in Ukraine began late last year when President
Viktor Yanukovich turned his back on closer ties with Europe,
prompting protests in the capital. They led to him fleeing
Kiev, and a pro-Western interim administration taking over.
Soon after, Moscow used its military to back separatists in
Ukraine's Crimea, before Putin signed a document annexing the
peninsula. The United States and European Union responded by
slapping sanctions on Russian officials.
A local media report that in Yenakievo, Yanukovich's home
town outside Donetsk, separatists had left the town hall they
had occupied for a week prompted the U.S. ambassador to
Ukraine to speak of "progress". But a Reuters correspondent
later found the building flying the flag of the separatist
One activist there said they had not ended the occupation.
Local police were in position outside the town hall.
Russia, which has deployed extra troops on the border with
Ukraine, says it is not interfering but has an obligation to
protect the Russian-speaking community in the east from the
rulers in Kiev, who it says are illegitimate, have ties to
the far-right, and discriminate against ethnic Russians.
Senior officials from the OSCE, in Donetsk to mediate an end
to the crisis, cautioned against expecting rapid results.
"This will take time," German diplomat Klaus Zillikens told
Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio station. "Of course, the ideal
outcome for everyone would be if all sides agreed and
straight away said 'OK, let's implement the agreement'. But
it won't be like that. And we can see that already."
The Ukrainian foreign ministry had promised that, as a
gesture of goodwill for the Easter holiday, it would suspend
the "active phase" of an operation it had launched to
re-assert its authority in the east of the country - though
in truth there had been little sign of its limited forces
making much impression.
In another sign of reconciliation, the Interior Ministry
issued an Easter message which asked members of the
ministry's disbanded Berkut unit to help defend Ukraine's
In the days when Yanukovich was clinging to power in Kiev,
Berkut members are alleged to have been responsible for
shooting dead dozens of protesters. Their unit was disbanded,
and some of them have joined the pro-Russian separatists.
The separatists say they will not leave the buildings they
have occupied until the pro-Kiev protest groups occupying
Independence Square - scene of the months-long protests
against Yanukovich, also go home. Moscow has supported that
point of view.
The eastern activists want guarantees that they will be given
a large degree of autonomy from Kiev and that protections of
Russian language rights will be enshrined in a new
constitution. Acting president Oleksander Turchinov repeated
his assurances on Sunday that power could be devolved within
Interviewed in Russian on a channel focused on the
Russian-speaking east, he said he was ready to listen to
local leaders and immediately appoint regional governors of
Accusing Putin of destabilising Ukraine in order to control
it, he said the Kremlin leader was afraid of the example
Ukraine's uprising set for Russia and other ex-Soviet states.
At Easter church services in Kiev and in Moscow, senior
clergy issued sharply contrasting appeals for peace.
"In these Easter days our prayers to God are for the people
of Ukraine, for a reconciliation of enmity, for an end of
violence, for people's love for each other, so that they
should not be divided," Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian
Orthodox Church, said in a recorded video message.
In his Easter message, Patriarch Filaret, head of Ukraine's
Orthodox Church, condemned what he described as Russia's
aggression against his country: "God cannot be on the side of
evil, so the enemy of the Ukrainian people is condemned to
defeat," he said. "Lord, help us resurrect Ukraine."