Five people have reportedly been killed near Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine, a flashpoint town controlled by pro-Russian militants.
Russian media said the deaths occurred in a gunfight at a checkpoint in the early hours of today, during Easter holidays when the government had pledged not to confront gunmen occupying official buildings in Slavyansk and several other eastern towns and cities.
The popular and strongly pro-Kremlin Lifenews.ru website said three unarmed local people manning a checkpoint were killed when members of the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector fired at them from several SUV vehicles.
Two of the alleged attackers were also killed according to Lifenews, which showed what appeared to be several dead bodies and items taken from the dead Right Sector members – including many $100 bills and a business card for Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of Right Sector, which Moscow calls a group of Russian-hating fascists.
The attack shows that the Ukrainian authorities are failing to rein in armed extremists, Russia’s foreign ministry said today.
In a statement, the ministry said an unspecified number of innocent civilians were killed in an attack by armed men from "Right Sector," a far-right nationalist group which figured prominently in the overthrow of Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich in February.
"Russia is indignant about this provocation by gunmen, which testifies to the lack of will on the part of the Kiev authorities to rein in and disarm nationalists and extremists," the statement said.
It said it was a source of surprise that the incident had happened after Russia, the European Union, the United States and Ukraine signed an April 17 accord in Geneva calling on people to desist from using violence or intimidation.
“Russia insists on the strict implementation by Ukraine of the commitments it took upon itself to de-escalate the situation in the south-east of Ukraine,” the ministry’s statement said.
Several people have been killed this week as Kiev launched an “anti-terrorist operation” against what it calls Russian agents and their armed local allies in eastern Ukraine, who oppose the pro-EU government and want self-rule or to join Russia.
The killings will inflame an already extremely tense situation in Ukraine, which believes Russia is looking for a pretext to invade with tens of thousands of troops that the West says are stationed near the countries’ eastern border.
Top diplomats from Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the US agreed plans last week to try to defuse the crisis by having all armed groups lay down their weapons and leave occupied buildings.
But leaders of the rebellion in the Donetsk region, where Slavyansk is located, rejected the deal, saying they were not consulted and that the Kiev government should first step down because it seized power illegally from Viktor Yanukovich.
Russian president Vladimir Putin insisted last week that he had the right to send troops into Ukraine to protect Russian-speakers there, and that any use of force by Kiev against pro-Moscow protesters risked triggering a civil war.
Ukraine is deeply divided, with most of Kiev, central and western Ukraine backing the revolution and new government, but much of the east and south fearing discrimination and even violence against their regions’ Russian-speaking majority.
Russian state media and anti-government figures in Ukraine say the government is supported by neo-Nazi and fascist groups, foremost among them Right Sector.
But Mr Yarosh and allies reject this claim, and accuse Russia of seeking to discredit them and the government and prevent Ukraine moving towards the West.
The United Nations this month found no widespread discrimination against Russian-speakers in Ukraine, in a report dismissed as biased by Moscow.