International monitors are back on patrol in eastern Ukraine, just days after an observer was killed by a suspected landmine.
American paramedic Joseph Stone was working with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). On Sunday, his armoured vehicle hit what is believed to have been an anti-tank mine. Two other monitors were injured.
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The group was patrolling near the separatist-controlled village of Pryshyb in the Luhansk region. They were just a few kilometres from the contact line – the line that separates the breakaway republics of Luhansk and Donetsk from the rest of Ukraine.
Canadian Michael Bociurkiw worked with the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. He was on the ground as part of the mission when Malaysian Airlines MH-17 was shot down on July 17, 2014.
Bociurkiw says in recent months, OSCE observers have been reporting frequently on the presence of anti-tank mines. He says the situation in Eastern Ukraine is dire, with both sides shelling each other, and civilians caught in the middle.
“A few weeks ago, the number of explosions per day in Donetsk and Luhansk were in the thousands,” Bociurkiw said. “That’s a lot.”
There are estimates the three-year conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed 10,000 lives, and displaced about 2-million people.
Sunday’s incident is the first death of a member of the OSCE in Ukraine. The group has about 700 observers in the country. Canada is a member-state of the organization and Bociurkiw says there are usually 25 to 30 Canadians on the ground taking part.
Regional prosecutors in the government-controlled part of Luhansk are investigating Stone’s death. The prosecutor’s office says the incident is being treated as a “terrorist act.”
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Both sides of the conflict are blaming the other. Andrei Marochko, a militia spokesperson for the Luhansk People’s Republic, said on Sunday that Ukrainian soldiers are responsible.
“A conclusion can be drawn that it was a premeditated attack against international observers from the side of the Ukrainian saboteurs,” he said. “So they could blame the power structures of the Luhansk People’s Republic.”
The OSCE Secretary General is warning the conflict in eastern Ukraine could deteriorate even more. Lamberto Zannier is calling for urgent and very substantial work. He met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday in Moscow.