Grenade explodes after man pursued, pinned against bus
On March 9, reports surfaced on local social network groups that an explosion took place in the Kirovsky district of southwestern Donetsk. Conflicting reports emerged, but it eventually became clear that a grenade exploded near a marshrutka mini-bus, injuring a number of civilians and killing a woman visiting from Kyiv. This incident marks the third grenade explosion in Donetsk in just one week, with the two other incidents apparently unrelated.
In this piece, we will compare the initial and conflicting narratives regarding the explosion, along with the digital materials that have surfaced showing and describing the consequences of the deadly incident.
As with nearly all significant events in the Donbas, the earliest reports on the incident can be found in local social network groups frequented by residents of particular cities or districts. For example, a thread appeared shortly after the incident on a VKontakte (VK) group for residents of the Kirovsky district of Donetsk asked, “What happened on Bakhmetyeva [Street]?” Another resident replied, “A car blew up.”
Further information placed the incident near the USSR Cafe (located at Bakhmetyeva 6), with the affected marshrutka bus being the #61. Marshrutkas are small mini-buses/vans used as either shared taxis or municipal transportation in a number of former-Soviet countries. Cross-referencing this information with the public route for bus #61 verified this initial report from VK.
One of the earliest near-complete reports of what happened came later in the same VK group, when a local resident described what she and her family had witnessed:
“…it happened near our family’s house. It was not a gas explosion, but a guy with a grenade running, and blew up. The car also exploded, people were hurt, one woman died, and others were hospitalized, and the one who blew up the car died.”
Further information about the number of casualties came through the “Incident Donetsk” VK group, stating that two people died and six were injured.
Narrative from “DNR” authorities
The first reaction from authorities of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) matched the initial social media reports: at around noon, a grenade exploded in the Kirovsky district, leading to two deaths and six injuries. However, no news about the reason for the explosion was given.
Days later, the DNR released a video summarizing its finding of the incident, including footage of the marshrutka van that was damaged during the incident.
In the video, DNR authorities say that an unidentified, drunk man stopped the marshrutka before his grenade exploded. Six passengers were injured and another was killed. The DNR police claimed to have found additional grenades in the man’s possession.
The driver of the marshrutka was interviewed in the video, and he described how a man behaving strangely appeared near the bus and a grenade exploded near the side of the vehicle.
OSCE and media reports
A key element is missing from the DNR’s narrative that was included in accounts from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine and various media outlets: the man with the grenade was being chased by men who are likely DNR authorities.
The SMM followed up on media reports of civilian casualties from an explosion in Kirovskyi district of Donetsk city. On 10 March, at a hospital in Donetsk, the SMM spoke with four women and two men who all had visible injuries (including bruises and cuts) to their faces; five of the six were wearing eyepatches. Several of them told the SMM that on 9 March they had been passengers in a small bus travelling through Kirovskyi district towards road H-15 when they observed a man running toward the bus shouting “stop the bus!” while being followed by armed men in military-style attire in a car. They said the bus slowed down to let the man on but, as the man approached the bus, the car rammed him and pinned him against the bus. The interlocutors said that they then noticed he was carrying a hand grenade which detonated as he was pinned against the bus. According to them, the explosion shattered the bus’s windows; shrapnel and flying glass caused their injuries. Medical staff at Kalina hospital in Donetsk city told the SMM that they were treating a man who had been a passenger on the bus for shrapnel injuries to the abdomen. At Kalina morgue in Donetsk city, staff told the SMM that on 9 March the bodies of a man and a woman who died in the explosion had been admitted. On Bakhmetieva Street near its intersection with Pochenkova Street in Kirovskyi district, the SMM saw a number of used latex gloves, alcohol swabs and bloody paper towels scattered about. Three local residents told the SMM that they had heard an explosion at 11:00 on 9 March near the intersection of Bakhmetieva and Pochenkova streets and, when they reached the scene of the explosion, they found it blocked off by hazard tape and “DPR” members. They also said they saw people covered in blood near a damaged Mercedes-Benz Vito minibus; some 15 minutes after the explosion, they saw ambulances arrive.
None of the information about the pursuing men nor the vehicle that rammed the man with the grenade is present in the reports from the DNR. However, we do not need to rely on Ukrainian media or the neutral OSCE to provide information to counter the DNR narraitve, as the Russian media outlet Komsomolskaya Pravda — known for being sympathetic to the Russian-led separatist forces of the Donbas — published an account from a survivor of the attack that matches the OSCE report.
In this interview, the victim described how the man with the grenade yelled “Help, they’re following me!” to passengers on the bus, before a vehicle struck him and he pulled out a grenade from his pocket.
When journalists from Komsomolskaya Pravda tried to speak to other victims in the Donetsk hospital, they refused — one man even left the room when he heard that the journalists were coming.
Ukrainian narrative fills in the gap
The disconnect between the credible witness accounts collected by Komsomolskaya Pravda and the OSCE SMM to Ukraine, and the official narrative of the DNR can be explained by the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine’s statement on the incident. According to their account, the man who blew himself up with the grenade was pursued by DNR authorities because he was trading arms. This suspect, who was supposedly also wanted in the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” for murder, pulled the grenade’s pin after being cornered by his pursuers at the bus.
The identity of the man who caused the incident in southwestern Donetsk has still not been revealed, making it difficult to confidently verify any of the available narratives. However, the fact that the accounts from the staunchly pro-Kremlin and separatist Komsomolskaya Pravda, OSCE SMM to Ukraine, and Ukrainian State Border Guard Service are consistent provided credibility to the assertion that the DNR authorities were covering up their role in the incident by blaming an unidentified drunk man.
While this incident is surely bizarre, it is no stranger than the other two grenade explosions that took place last week in Donetsk, including one incident that was a result of domestic violence. We will continue to monitor incidents of violence in non-government-controlled territory of eastern Ukraine.
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