Ukrainian Major Killed by Gift Grenade in Suspected Sabotage

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An aide to Ukraine’s top general was killed when a grenade, apparently part of a birthday present, exploded—an incident that has prompted speculation of sabotage.

Major Hennadiy Chastyakov, 39, an assistant to Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, was killed when he opened a gift during a celebration in the Kyiv region, Ukrainian news outlet Ukrainska Pravda reported.

The head of Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Igor Klimenko, said on Telegram that Chastyakov had returned to his home in the village of Chaiky, in the Kyiv region, with gifts from his colleagues which he showed his family.

Klimenko said that the major had been given a bottle of whiskey and live grenades in one box for his birthday. He reportedly took out a gift box with grenades inside and began to show new Western-style grenades to his 13-year-old son. He then “took the grenade from the child and pulled out the ring, causing a tragic explosion.” His son was seriously wounded and hospitalized.

This illustrative image shows a grenade next to a Ukrainian fighting position on March 5, 2023 outside of Bakhmut, Ukraine. An assistant to Ukraine’s commander-in-chief was killed after handling a grenade given during a birthday celebration.
John Moore/Getty Images

His wife and daughter were also at home but were not injured. Five other unexploded grenades were found in the apartment as were two in the office of Chastyakov’s colleague who had given the present. “Primary investigative actions are ongoing,” Klimenko added. Police are investigating whether the death was caused by the mishandling of explosives, Ukrainska Pravda reported.

However, the official cause has been questioned by Ukrainian commentators amid speculation that Zaluzhny might have been the target on the assumption that he might have attended his aide’s birthday celebrations.

Newsweek has contacted by email the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs for comment.

The Ukrainian news outlet Strana Politika reported on telegram that Zaluzhnyi’s reaction to the death suggested the military chief believed his aide had been “a victim of a terrorist attack.”

This was because instead of saying that the grenade had been mishandled, Zaluzhnyi wrote on Telegram that “an unknown explosive device went off in one of the gifts.”

Zaluzhnyi added that the death of his “close friend” had caused “unspeakable pain” and that “the reasons and circumstances will be established during the pre-trial investigation,” according to a translation.

Strana Politika said that the incident was being discussed by supporters of former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, “who hint at a connection between the death of the assistant commander-in-chief and rumors about the conflict between Zaluzhny and Zelensky.”

Meanwhile, the pro-Russian Telegram channel Baza noted how Ukrainian outlet Espresso reported claims that Chastyakov “was killed as a result of sabotage.”

Zelensky has rejected claims made by Zaluzhny to The Economist that Ukraine’s war against Russia had reached a “stalemate” and that everyone is “tired and there are different opinions.”

Newsweek has contacted the Ukrainian General Staff and Zelensky’s office by email.

Reports of the grenade death have echoes of an incident in April this year when influential Russian pro-war blogger Vladlen Tatarsky was killed in a café in St. Petersburg. During a discussion with pro-war commentators, he was handed a statuette that later blew up. Police charged Darya Trepova, described by local media as a Russian national, with terrorism. The Russian Interior Ministry said she had admitted to giving Tatarsky the statuette.

In August 2022, Darya Dugina, the daughter of ultra-nationalist Alexander Dugin, considered an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died when her car whose underside had been fitted with an explosive device, blew up on the outskirts of Moscow. Russia accused Ukraine of being behind the killing, which Kyiv denied.

Newsweek has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry via email.