Separatists seize Ukraine billionaire's operations amid tensions over blockade

1.03.2017 р., 18:15

A spokesman for Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man, said on March 1 that armed separatists had taken control of an arena in the eastern city of Donetsk that had served as a staging ground for a charity that has distributed humanitarian aid since the war erupted in the region nearly three years ago, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. "At the moment, we're unable to deliver any humanitarian aid inside nongovernment-controlled territory," spokesman Jock Mendoza-Wilson told RFE/RL. Meanwhile, the director of Ukrtelecom, a leading telecom owned by Akhmetov, wrote in a March 1 Facebook post that the company had its office and equipment seized in Donetsk and was forced to halt phone and Internet service in separatist-controlled areas of the region. "Around 200,000 of our citizens have lost the ability to interact," Mikhail Shuranov wrote. The seizures follow an announcement by the separatists that they would take control of enterprises located on territory they hold as of March 1 in response to the blockade, which was imposed more than a month ago by nationalist Ukrainian lawmakers and veterans of the ongoing war in the east. The blockade, whose backers have denounced what they call the "trade in blood" with the separatists, has caused almost all rail traffic in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to cease. It is opposed by the Ukrainian government. The embargo has also hindered vital coal shipments to power stations and industrial plants in government-held areas, adding strains to a Ukrainian economy already struggling with the effects of the war that has killed more than 9,750 people since the Russia-backed separatists seized territory in April 2014. A flare-up in fighting killed more than 40 people in January and February and led to renewed international calls for the implementation of much-violated cease-fire agreements known as the Minsk accords.

Separatists seize Ukraine billionaire's operations amid tensions over blockade

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