four bomb blasts in an eastern city in Ukraine left 29 injured yesterday, just weeks before the start of the European football championship, with Ukraine’s opposition suggesting the government may have been behind the attacks in an attempt to deflect political criticism.
A fleet of ambulances carried the wounded to hospitals in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk, after the bombs, planted in rubbish bins, exploded in a co- ordinated attack. Two of the blasts occurred at busy tram stops and appeared to be planted with the objective of causing large numbers of causalities.
Investigators described the attack as an “act of terrorism” and said that five of the injured were in a serious condition. Police launched an immediate investigation, but had made no arrests last night. No-one claimed responsibility for the bombings but the opposition party of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko said blame could lie with president Viktor Yanukovych.
Long-running and bitter tensions between opposition and president have escalated since Mrs Tymoshenko, who was jailed for seven years last year for abuse of office, went on hunger strike a week ago in protest over her treatment. Photographs have now surfaced of the former prime minister sporting bruises caused by an alleged beating by prison staff.
“I don’t rule out that the authorities and law enforcement bodies may be among the organisers of a scenario, which involves deflecting the attention of the world and Ukraine from Tymoshenko’s case on the whole and her beating in particular,” Mykola Tomenko, a party ally of the jailed politician, said.
Many of Mrs Tymoshenko’s supporters maintain that her plight has been orchestrated by Mr Yanukovych in an act of vengeance for her role in the 2004 Orange Revolution.
The charismatic golden-haired politician was at the forefront of the revolution that overturned the result of a fraud-laced election won by Mr Yanukovych, and since then the two have been sworn enemies.
In an interview published just after the bombings, Oleksandr Tymoshenko, the former prime minister’s husband, said that the authorities were trying to kill his wife. He said the apparent assault on Mrs Tymoshenko was a “rehearsal for her physical destruction – a murder that the authorities have been planning to carry out since the beginning of the repression against her”.
But the president has so far refused to be drawn into commenting about the opposition’s allegations or speculating over who carried out the bombing.
“This is yet another challenge for us, for the whole country,” Mr Yanukovych told reporters. “We will think of how to respond to this properly.”
Mykola Azarov, Ukraine’s prime minister, said, however, the attack could be exploited by his government’s critics. Writing on his Facebook page he said the bombing “plays into the hand of the forces that want to destabilise the situation in the country”.
The bombings may also raise question marks over security at this summer’s European football championship, which the former Soviet republic is co-hosting with Poland, and which will be the first major international sporting event to be held in eastern Europe since the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Tens of thousands of fans are expected to descend on the country in June for the group-stage matches, and the final will be in Kiev on 1 July.
In a statement the Union of European Football Associations said it remained confident that Ukraine will host a “smooth and effective tournament”.