Two journalists and a politician killed in Kiev have become the latest victims of a string of assassinations targeting pro-Russian figures close to former ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.
News editor Oles Buzina was shot dead while jogging outside his home in the afternoon 1.20pm local time, just hours after the murder of former Yanukovych aide Oleh Kalashnikov, who was gunned down outside his apartment Wednesday evening.
Kalashnikov had previously warned of “an open genocide of nonconformity, threats of physical destruction and constant dirty insults.”
Opposition writer Sergey Sukhobok was also found dead in the Ukrainian capital Monday, according to the Okbom news website, which he founded. His funeral is due Friday in his hometown of Poltava.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry adviser Anton Geraschenko said Buzina was killed by two masked men who fled the scene with a Lithuanian or Belarusian-registered vehicle. Interior Minister Vasyl Pascal is now said to be leading the investigation into the murder.
Both Buzina and Kalashnikov were said to have been involved in pro-Yanukovych protests during last year’s revolution which eventually saw Yanukovych flee pro-EU demonstrations in Kiev.
Interior Ministry aide Geraschenko said the two men may have been targeted as they were key eye-witnesses to abuses carried out against pro-EU protesters in Kiev’s Maidan Square.
“Everyone who was involved in organizing and financing Antimaidan, or other illegal acts against Maidan, and feels their life is under threat, are advised to come to law enforcement organs to not go the same way as Kalashnikov and Buzyna,” Geraschenko wrote on Facebook.
Speaking to the 112 television channel, Gerashchenko also said the murders may be being carried out by the Russian secret services.
Ukrainian lawmaker Sergei Leshchenko concurred with Gerashchenko. “Looks like FSB provocation,” wrote Leshchenko on Twitter.
Lawmaker Volodymyr Ariev also told The Guardian, “It looks as if an FSB shooting brigade arrived and is shooting them off.”
“It easily fits into the Russian narrative that Ukraine is all about fascists, a country where even the basic right for life is violated,” he said.
President Petro Poroshenko meanwhile claimed the murders were part of a “deliberate provocation” to destabilize the country.
“It is evident that these crimes have the same origin,” Poroshenko said. “Their nature and political sense are clear. It is a deliberate provocation that plays in favour of our enemies.
“It is aimed at destabilizing the internal political situation in Ukraine and discrediting the political choice of the Ukrainian people.”
At least six allies of former president Yanukovych died in mysterious circumstances between January and March, with police saying they had committed suicide. However, the General Prosecutor’s office said it was launching criminal investigations into four of the cases.
Two parliamentary deputies from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions were found with gunshot wounds in March. One party member also died after falling from a window, while another member was found hanged.
Yanukovych also lost his son last month in an apparent car accident near Lake Baikal in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was on a live television call-in show when he received the news of Buzina’s assassination, accused Kiev of carrying out political killings.
"In Ukraine, which claims to be a democratic state and has aspirations toward democratic Europe, there has been nothing similar. Where are the killers of these people? Where are the people who carried them out and those who ordered them? They aren't there. In Europe and North America they prefer not to notice this," Putin said.
Russia and Ukraine have been at loggerheads ever since the ousting of pro-Russian president Yanukovych in February 2014.
The crisis led the autonomous government in Crimea, which is dominated by ethnic Russians, to declare independence from Ukraine and eventually be annexed by Russia following a referendum in the following month.
Pro-Russian rebels have also been fighting to create a separate state in Ukraine’s eastern regions, which Ukraine sees as a Russian invasion of its territory.