Ukraine conflict: Rebel leader Givi dies in rocket attack

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File pic of Givi, separatist commander outside Donetsk on October 9, 2014Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Givi was one of the best-known faces among the separatists

A prominent separatist commander has been killed in eastern Ukraine, four days after another pro-Russian military leader was blown up by a car bomb.

Mikhail Tolstykh, known as Givi, was killed when a rocket was fired into his office in what rebel authorities in Donetsk are calling a terrorist attack.

Eastern Ukraine has seen its bloodiest period of clashes since 2015, with at least 35 deaths in little over a week.

Rebels have blamed Ukraine's security services for both bomb attacks.

Oleg Anashschenko, who was de facto defence minister of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LNR), had been driving in Luhansk when his car blew up on Saturday.

Why have so many rebel commanders been killed?

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Last October, one of the best known rebel commanders "Motorola" was killed by a bomb

The two military figures blown up in the past few days are the latest in a series of rebel commanders killed in eastern Ukraine. The conflict between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists erupted after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula in March 2014.

Ukrainians in Kiev have put the most recent killings down to infighting among rebels. Military commentator and MP Dmytro Tymchuk suggested that Givi had begun ignoring orders, particularly during the escalation of fighting at Avdiivka last week, just outside Donetsk.

Media caption,

"There is an ugly persistence to Europe's forgotten war" - Tom Burridge reports

Givi led the so-called Somali battalion during the rebels' successful campaign to seize control of Donetsk airport.

He was one of the best-known faces among the separatists, along with Arseny Pavlov, widely known as Motorola, who was blown up in a lift at a block of flats in Donetsk last October.

Pavlov, a Russian military veteran, was high on Kiev's wanted list, having told reporters that he had killed 15 Ukrainian prisoners.

Mysterious deaths

Ever since the conflict in the east began, there have been numerous incidents involving separatist leaders and rarely have the attackers been caught.

January 2015: Oleksandr Bednov, head of Luhansk rapid reaction force, shot dead with bodyguards

May 2015: Oleksiy Mozhovyy, killed with entourage in ambush

August 2016: Ihor Plotnitskiy, head of the self-styled Luhansk People's Republic (LPR), survives an attack on his car; both his parents died in Russia the following month, reportedly of mushroom poisoning

September 2016: Ex-Plotnitskiy adviser hangs himself while in detention for allegedly plotting a coup

January 2017: Ex-LPR leader Valeriy Bolotov dies suddenly in Moscow, weeks after accusing Plotnitskiy of illegally seizing power. His family says he was poisoned