Violence in Ukraine spread today as the country’s second biggest city, Kharkiv, was struck by a bomb attack that killed at least two people.
Kiev was quick to blame Moscow for the attack, saying it had arrested four suspects who had been armed and instructed in Russia.
The attack occurred at a rally marking the anniversary of the death of protesters during the demonstrations that eventually removed pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych from power. A policeman and one other person were confirmed to have died in the blast.
The bombing was a further blow to a shaky ceasefire signed 11 days ago, intended to end the violence in the east of the country where Russian-backed separatists recently took control of the strategic town of Debaltseve.
It raised fears that violence in the country could expand further west, beyond current territory held by the separatists. Kharkiv is more than 120 miles from Ukraine’s front line. Although it has experienced sporadic separatist violence, support for the Kiev government is far more widespread.
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
1/22 30 November 2013
Public support grows for the “Euromaidan” anti-government protesters in Kiev demonstrating against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement as images of them injured by police crackdown spread.
2/22 20 February 2014
Kiev sees its worst day of violence for almost 70 years as at least 88 people are killed in 48 hours, with uniformed snipers shooting at protesters from rooftops.
3/22 22 February 2014
Yanukovych flees the country after protest leaders and politicians agree to form a new government and hold elections. The imprisoned former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is freed from prison and protesters take control of Presidential administration buildings, including Mr Yanukovych's residence.
Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Imageses
4/22 27 February 2014
Pro-Russian militias seize government buildings in Crimea and the new Ukrainian government vows to prevent the country breaking up as the Crimean Parliament sets a referendum on secession from Ukraine in May.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
5/22 16 March 2014
Crimea votes overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a ballot condemned by the US and Europe as illegal. Russian troops had moved into the peninsula weeks before after pro-Russian separatists occupied buildings.
6/22 6 April 2014
Pro-Russian rebels seize government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, calling for a referendum on independence and claiming independent republic. Ukraine authorities regain control of Kharkiv buildings on 8 April after launching an “anti-terror operation” but the rest remain out of their control.
7/22 7 June 2014
Petro Poroshenko is sworn in as Ukraine's president, calling on separatists to lay down their arms and end the fighting and later orders the creation of humanitarian corridors, since violated, to allow civilians to flee war zones.
8/22 27 June 2014
The EU signs an association agreement with Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, eight months after protests over the abandonment of the deal sparked the crisis.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
9/22 17 July 2014
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Ukrainian intelligence officials claim it was hit by rebels using a Buk surface-to-air launcher in an apparent accident.
10/22 22 August 2014
A Russian aid convoy of more than 100 lorries enters eastern Ukraine and makes drop in rebel-controlled Luhansk without Government permission, sparking allegations of a “direct violation of international law”.
11/22 29 August 2014
Nato releases satellite images appearing to show Russian soldiers, artillery and armoured vehicles engaged in military operations in eastern Ukraine.
12/22 8 September 2014
Russia warns that it could block flights through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new sanctions over the ongoing crisis and conflict
13/22 17 September 2014
Despite the cease-fire and a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday granting greater autonomy to rebel-held parts of the east, civilian casualties continued to rise, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed
14/22 16 November 2014
The fragile ceasefire gives way to an increased wave of military activity as artillery fire continues to rock the eastern Ukraine's pro-Russian rebel bastion of Donetsk
15/22 26 December 2014
A new round of ceasefire talks, scheduled on neutral ground in the Belariusian capital Minsk, are called off
16/22 12 January 2015
Soldiers in Debaltseve were forced to prepare heavy defences around the city; despite a brief respite to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, hostilities in Donetsk resumed at a level not seen since September 2014
17/22 21 January 2015
13 people are killed during shelling of bus in the rebel-held city of Donetsk
18/22 24 January 2015
Ten people were killed after pro-Russian separatists bombarded the east Ukrainian port city of Mariupol
19/22 2 February 2015
There was a dangerous shift in tempo as rebels bolstered troop numbers against government forces
20/22 11 February 2015
European leaders meet in Minsk and agree on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine beginning on February 14. From left to right: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
MAXIM MALINOVSKY | AFP | Getty Images
21/22 13 February 2015
Pro-Russian rebels in the city of Gorlivka, in the Donetsk region, fire missiles at Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve. Fighting continued in Debaltseve for a number of days after the Minsk ceasefire began.
ANDREY BORODULIN | AFP | Getty Images
22/22 18 February 2015
Ukrainian soldiers repair the bullet-shattered windshield of their truck as their withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve. Following intense shelling from pro-Russian rebels, Ukrainian forces began to leave the town in the early hours of February 18.
Brendan Hoffman | Getty Images
“Today is memorial Sunday, but on this day terrorist scum revealed its predatory nature,” President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Facebook. “This is a brazen attempt to expand the territory of terrorism.” Moves towards a ceasefire lent the picture a relatively positive look earlier in the weekend. Late on Saturday government and separatist forces exchanged prisoners.
Meanwhile, rebel commander Eduard Basurin said on Sunday that his forces would begin withdrawing artillery from the front lines, a condition of the ceasefire signed in Minsk earlier this month.
Ukrainian military spokesman Col Andriy Lysenko said Ukrainian troops would also pull back from the front lines.
But the ceasefire was followed immediately by a decisive victory for separatists in the strategic city of Debaltseve, forcing the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops amid fierce fighting.
Despite the latest measures, Kiev still fears separatist troops may be preparing to move further into the west of the country.
Separatists forces have reportedly moved into the region near to the port city of Mariupol, fuelling fears that it could come under attack. Seizure of the city by the rebels would provide a direct land route between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, the region Moscow annexed a month after the fall of Mr Yanukovych. Many Crimeans consider his overthrow to be a coup.
Earlier on Saturday the Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, dismissed the idea that the ceasefire was holding. “We don’t have a ceasefire,” he told Fox News, “because a ceasefire means that no one shoots.”
Ukrainian spokesman Col Lysenko quoted Reuters news agency as saying a military train carrying 60 armoured vehicles including tanks had arrived in the town of Amvrosiivka from Russia over the weekend, and said a convoy of military equipment had later crossed the border near Novoazovsk, east of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.
He added that fighting was in progress at the village of Shyrokyne, east of Mariupol.
Moscow did not immediately respond to Kiev’s accusation that it had a hand in Sunday’s bombing. However, Markian Lubkivskyi, an aide to the head of Ukraine’s SBU security service, said of the suspects detained: “They are Ukrainian citizens who underwent instruction and received weapons in the Russian Federation, in Belgorod [a city across the nearby Russian border from Kharkiv].”
Sunday’s rally was one of several events held to mark the first anniversary of last year’s protests. More than 100 people died in the demonstrations, which were a catalyst for the violence that has claimed more than 5,500 lives.
Igor Rossokha, one of the protesters, told Reuters Television his friend Igor was among those killed. “We tried to give him first aid but the paramedics arrived and said he’d died instantly because he was struck in the heart,” he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Saturday, following a meeting with Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, that a continued failure of the ceasefire would entail “further consequences, including consequences that will place added strains on Russia’s already troubled economy”. EU President Donald Tusk said he would “begin consultations on Monday to increase some of the measures in connection with the aggression” in Ukraine, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news.