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Ukraine: Deadly Gunfight Rattles Easter Truce

A local resident inspects burnt-out cars after a night gunfight at a checkpoint under control of pro-Russian militants in the village of Bulbasika near Slovyansk Sunday.
Efrem Lukatsky

A shootout at a checkpoint killed at least two people in eastern Ukraine Sunday, according to multiple reports. The violence comes on the heels of an agreement between Ukraine, Russia and the West that calls for armed groups to disband; that pact led officials to announce a truce for this Easter weekend.

The shootout took place at a separatist checkpoint near Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian militants have held a government building since last week. The occupation of buildings in eastern Ukraine led Kiev to launch an "anti-terrorist" campaign.

From Paris, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley filed this report for our Newscast unit:

"A 20-year-old pro-Russia guard said a car of unknown assailants opened fire when asked for their IDs at the checkpoint. Journalists from two news agencies reported seeing two dead bodies with gunshot wounds to the face and head.

"The Ukrainian interior ministry confirmed there was an 'armed clash.' Moscow, which has tens of thousands of troops amassed on Ukraine's eastern border, quickly seized upon the violence, saying it was outraged at this provocation.

"Moscow blames the deaths on a Ukrainian nationalist group that was at the vanguard of protests in Kiev that ousted Ukraine's pro-Kremlin president in February."

Reuters reports that the groups involved are trading blame for the incident:

"The separatists said gunmen from Ukraine's Right Sector nationalist group had attacked them. The Right Sector denied any role, saying Russian special forces were behind the clash."

In addition to the reported deaths, several people were wounded in the gunfight.

Russia's foreign ministry says the violence "proves Kiev's authorities are not willing to control and disarm the nationalists and extremists" as required in the recent agreement, according to Russia's state-run Tass news agency.

Despite the diplomatic agreement, pro-Russian militants have refused to surrender their weapons or give up government buildings they're occupying in eastern Ukraine.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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