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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Blast Kills Two in Ukraine-Controlled Kharkiv

by VOA News February 22, 2015

Two people were killed Sunday in a bomb explosion in the Ukrainian-held city of Kharkiv as government supporters there and elsewhere marked the one-year anniversary of the overthrow of the country's pro-Kremlin president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Authorities said at least another 10 people were injured by the blast during a march commemorating the ouster of Yanukovych.

Kharkiv is more than 200 kilometers from the front line where pro-Russian separatists have been battling Kyiv's forces, but rebels have carried out violent protests in eastern Ukraine's biggest city during the past year.

Police said several suspects were arrested in the latest attack, with a Ukraine security aide saying they had received weapons and instructions in Russia.

Kyiv march

Several thousand people, led by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, held a peaceful ceremony in Kyiv's Independence Square marking the anniversary and the deaths a year ago of 100 anti-Yanukovych protesters.

In the year since Yanukovych's overthrow, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and fighting broke out in largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine between separatists and Kyiv's forces that has killed more than 5,600 people.

Yanukovych escaped to Russia after his overthrow. In an interview with Russian state television broadcast Saturday from an unknown location, he said, 'The most terrible thing that I was afraid would happen, did happen - blood was spilled and war began.'

The former Ukrainian leader said the only way for the war to end is if Kyiv gives the Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine 'guarantees that self-administration will be sufficient for these regions in order to protect their rights.'

Military officials say both sides in Ukraine's conflict have agreed to pull back their heavy weapons from the frontlines in eastern Ukraine. It is a positive sign for the implementation of the latest cease-fire that has been repeatedly violated, including Sunday.

Kyiv said it would start pulling back heavy weaponry Sunday, while the pro-Russian rebels signed an agreement to complete its weapons withdrawal over the next two weeks but did not immediately start.

Prisoner exchange

On Saturday, Ukraine and the rebels carried out a prisoner exchange, the first major sign of progress for an otherwise shaky truce signed more than a week ago. The trade was 139 Ukrainian troops for 52 rebels and took place in the area of the village of Zholobok.

Rebels said the prisoners included some troops captured in the strategic railroad town of Debaltseve. The eastern Ukraine rail hub was overtaken by separatists several days ago in the worst breach of the cease-fire negotiated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mr. Poroshenko.

Also Saturday, the United States and Britain discussed imposing more sanctions on Russia for apparent violations of the truce.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met his British counterpart, Philip Hammond, in London, saying afterward that President Barack Obama will decide 'in the next few days' on potential new sanctions.

Kerry said he is confident the U.S. and its allies will respond with 'serious' measures and said arming Ukrainian forces is another possibility Washington is considering.

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