Police among dead, wounded in blast at Kharkiv, Ukraine, rally

Story highlights

  • Video from scene shows police, onlookers tending to 3 men, two of them in fatigues
  • Ministry of Internal Affairs official says explosion is a suspected terror act

(CNN)Police officers are among the two dead and 15 wounded after an explosion during a peaceful protest in the eastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine's Interior Ministry said Sunday.

Four people belonging to a group that received training in Belgorod, Russia, have been arrested, Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov of Ukraine's National Defense and Security Council said on his website. A gun was also confiscated.
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    Though there were reports that someone threw an explosive device from a vehicle, the blast appeared to be caused by a remote-controlled device, Turchynov's statement said.
    Footage from the rally shows an estimated 500 people marching through a Kharkiv street, many hoisting Ukrainian flags, when the explosion sends rally participants and onlookers scurrying for cover.
    Police and others rush to treat three people -- two men, one in camouflage fatigues and another who appears to be in civilian dress, lying motionless on the ground and a third man in camouflage who seems to have suffered shrapnel injuries to his legs.
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    Turchynov's statement and media outlets reported a casualty toll lower than the one provided by the Interior Ministry. The Interior Ministry and Turchynov agreed that one policeman was among the dead and five officers were among the wounded.

    'I saw two dead, lying in blood'

    One eyewitness told the Kiev Post that the blast could have been deadlier.
    "The march was delayed by 10 minutes, then just as people started to move, we saw the explosion go off just 100 meters away, to our left and on the road side. It seemed like the device was hidden in the snow near a tree," Dmitriy Komaykov told the newspaper.
    "Luckily a truck was maneuvering there, and it took most of the shrapnel. I saw two dead, lying in blood, just next to the truck, which was completely torn apart by metal shards. Can you imagine if it had been later? My wife and I went to the march with our baby daughter and our older son."
    The explosion is a suspected terrorist act, said Anatoly Dmitriev, head of the Kharkiv region of Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs. Kharkiv has been placed under the highest level of terror alert as a counterterrorism operation is under way, Turchynov said.
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    Sunday's rally marked the first anniversary of the bloodiest day of protests in Kiev's Maidan, or Independence Square, against the country's then-Russian-leaning leader and in favor of closer ties to Europe.
    Some 49 people died on February 20, 2014, and close to 100 more suffered gunshot wounds when, according to protesters, government snipers opened fire on them.
    Two days later, President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country, prompting Ukrainians to declare "victory in the Maidan" and promise a new day for a country long torn between its neighbors, Europe to the west and Russia to the east.
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    Kharkiv has been the target of numerous attacks in recent months. According to a Foreign Policy report, the Interior Ministry has declared that 700 separatists have been detained in the city, and several attacks have struck Ukraine's second-largest city since October.
    Among them: a grenade attack on military warehouses on October 19; a November explosion at a pub popular with local volunteers and activists; a Christmas bombing at a furniture store; a January bombing at a courthouse that injured 14; and a February bombing of a notary's office. In response to the attacks, police have begun guarding Kharkiv's "strategic infrastructure" and have upped security at supermarkets, Foreign Policy reported Friday.

    U.S. calls out Russia

    Sunday's attack came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, appearing in London, blasted Russia for its "land-grabbing in Ukraine" and threatened additional sanctions.
    "We are confident that over the next few days we are going to make it clear that we are not going to play this game, not going to sit here and be part of this extraordinarily craven behavior at the expense of the sovereignty and integrity of a nation," he said.
    Moscow has repeatedly denied that it is arming separatists and sending its own troops over the border, but Kerry said satellites and other technology show it's "no secret" what is happening in Ukraine.
    "We know to a certainty what Russia has been providing to the separatists, how Russia is involved with the separatists," he said.
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    A ceasefire that went into effect February 15 remains in doubt, as a separatist offensive to take the key strategic town of Debaltseve ended only Wednesday when rebels took over the town. Shelling also picked up last week in the city of Donetsk and clashes have been reported around the southern port city of Mariupol.
    Ukraine's National Defense and Security Council said Friday there had been 300 instances in which the latest truce was violated, and the news agency Ukrinform published a map Saturday showing how the eastern portion of the country is still racked by violence.
    The ceasefire agreement -- signed February 12 in Minsk, Belarus, among the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany -- aimed to curb this violence. It is supposed to be followed by the withdrawal of heavy weaponry to create a buffer zone, the release of prisoners and steps toward new elections.