An explosion at a cafe has killed Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, sources in the rebel administration there say.
The report was carried by the rebel “Donetsk Republic” news agency DNR.
Ukrainians suspected of being behind the blast were arrested nearby, a rebel security source was quoted as saying.
Russia’s foreign ministry says it suspects the Ukrainian government of organising the killing of Zakharchenko.
The heavily armed rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk regions refuse to recognise the Ukrainian government in Kiev.
The rebel and Russian news reports say the separatist “finance minister” Alexander Timofeyev was wounded in the blast at the Separ cafe.
“According to preliminary information, it is unfortunately true. The republic’s leader suffered a fatal wound,” a senior Donetsk rebel, Vladislav Berdichevsky, told Interfax news agency.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said “there is every reason to believe that the Kiev regime is behind the murder [of Zakharchenko]”. She said the Kiev “party of war” was “violating its pledges about peace and has decided on a bloodbath”.
Moscow denies sending regular troops and heavy weapons to the separatists, but admits that Russian “volunteers” are helping the rebels.
The rebels seized large swathes of territory in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in an uprising in April 2014.
The frontline between them and Ukrainian government troops has remained largely static for months, but skirmishes continue despite a fragile ceasefire deal.
The Separ cafe in Donetsk city centre belonged to Zakharchenko and was just a few hundred metres from his residence. He became the “Donetsk People’s Republic” leader in November 2014 and was wounded twice in combat. He also survived a car bomb blast in August 2014.
Some other rebel commanders have been assassinated previously in Donetsk:
- In October 2016 a Russian-born commander nicknamed “Motorola” – real name Arsen Pavlov – was killed by a bomb blast in the lift of his apartment block
- In February 2017 commander Givi (real name Mikhail Tolstykh) was killed when a rocket was fired into his office.
There has been shooting on the frontline despite a “back-to-school truce” that was supposed to take effect on Wednesday. International monitors reported 70 ceasefire violations on that day alone.