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Militia backed by presidential candidate Lyashko takes credit for assassination of Russian-backed separatist (VIDEO)

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May 23, 2014, 7:08 p.m. | Ukraine — by Christopher J. Miller, Isaac Webb

Paramilitaries from a group organized by presidential candidate Oleh Lyashko killed one pro-Russian separatist on May 23 and seriously wounded another one.
© Isaac Webb

Christopher J. Miller

Christopher J. Miller is an American editor at the Kyiv Post. He is also a regular contributor to Mashable, and has written for GlobalPost, The Times, The Telegraph, The Independent and others. A former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer (Artemivsk, Donetsk Oblast, 2010-2012), he can be reached at millerjchristopher@gmail.com.

Isaac Webb

TOREZ, Ukraine -- Paramilitaries from a group organized by presidential candidate Oleh Lyashko stormed a local government building in a sleepy eastern Ukrainian mining city and killed a pro-Russian separatist while maiming another in a gangland-style shooting on May 23.

One man was shot in the head and abdomen, while a second man sustained three gunshot wounds to his neck and abdomen and was fighting for his life in a nearby hospital after the attack.

The surprise attack by the Lyashko-backed militia came around 3 p.m., when five armed men stormed the Torez City Hall in Donetsk Oblast. The gunmen immediately ran towards an office on the first floor, where they opened fire on the two seperatists. Both were active supporters of the Kremlin-backed, breakaway Donetsk People's Republic.

Roman, 34, who celebrated a birthday on May 11, the day the People's Republic held a referendum on secession from Ukraine, lay face down in a pool of blood in the office when the Kyiv Post arrived on the scene. A red, black and blue flag of the breakaway republic hung above his body on the wall. He lived and worked in the neighboring town of Shakhtarsk, acquaintances said. They declined to give his full name.

Alexander, also of Shakhtarsk, whose family told the Kyiv Post he was under 25 years old, was taken to the Torez central hospital with three critical wounds, including one in the neck. Just before 8 p.m., Alexander was set to undergo surgery. Family members asked that his last name not be used in this story.

Myra, a relative, described Alexander as an average man who "only wanted to live a normal life."

A video published on YouTube shows five gunmen clad in all black entering and exiting the Torez city council building on May 23.

Desks and office items were strewn around the room, and a trail of bloody footprints led towards the building's exit.

Broken glass lay at the entrance to the building, where one separatist, who refused to give the Kyiv Post his name, described being hit with the butt of a rifle by the group of attackers.

Investigators told the Kyiv Post no less than 10 shots were fired from at least one Kalashnikov rifle. Six slugs were pulled from the walls of the office.

A local prosecutor at the scene noted that bullet holes were found on both sides of the office, suggesting that the separatists might have also fired at the militiamen. 

Bullets pulled from the walls of the office inside the Torez city council building.

Witnesses described seeing a group of men dressed head to toe in all black clothing leaping from a bourdeaux-colored Neva off-road vehice and storming the building. Some said the attackers resembled "ninjas."

Lyashko claimed responsibility for the deadly assault in a post published on his Facebook page.

"Soldiers from the Lyashko Battalion 'Ukraine' have cleared and liberated the city government building from the 'Colorados' in Torez, Donetsk Oblast," Lyashko wrote, referring to the the pro-Russian separatists who have adopted the black-and-orange St. George's ribbon, a symbol of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, as their own.

"Two terrorists were killed, while among our men were no injuries. Glory to Ukraine!" he added.

Lyashko is a member of parliament who leads the nationalist Radical Party. He polled in single digits for the May 25 presidential election and is not likely to finish in the first two places.

Interfax Ukraine, citing the Donetsk Regional State Administration, reported that two men perished in Torez.

On May 21, the press office of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) announced that Torez "people's mayor" Iryna Poltoratska was detained and brought to Kyiv on suspicion of involvement with a terrorist organization. According to the SBU, Poltoratska carried out activities in support of separatist organs that plotted and organized the May 11 referendum in Torez.

Torez, a city of some 70,000 people, is situated in the center of the Donbas, a region in eastern Ukraine famous for its mining industry.

Kyiv Post editor Christopher J. Miller can be reached at miller@kyivpost.com and on Twitter at @ChristopherJM. Kyiv Post staff writer Isaac Webb can be reached at isaac.d.webb@gmail.com and on Twitter at @IsaacDWebb.

Editor’s Note: This article has been produced with travel support from www.mymedia.org.ua, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action, as well as Ukraine Media Project, managed by Internews and funded by the United States Agency for International Development. The content is independent of these organizations and is solely the responsibility of the Kyiv Post. 

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