Grenade in birthday gift kills aide to Ukraine’s top commander

KYIV — A top aide to the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces was killed Monday when a birthday gift exploded, the military leader announced.

In a message published on Telegram, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny said that his assistant, Maj. Hennadii Chastiakov, was killed under “tragic circumstances” while celebrating his birthday with relatives when “an unknown explosive device went off in one of the gifts.” His 13-year-old son was also seriously injured, the National Police of Ukraine said.

Chastiakov was “a reliable shoulder for me” since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Zaluzhny wrote. “The reasons and circumstances [surrounding his death] will be established during the pre-trial investigation,” he wrote.

Minister of Internal Affairs Ihor Klymenko wrote on Telegram on Monday that the initial investigation showed that Chastiakov “returned home from work with gifts from colleagues, which he started showing to his family.”

“He took out a gift box with grenades inside and began demonstrating one of the munitions to his son,” he said. His son began twisting one of the grenade rings. Chastiakov reportedly took the munition back and pulled the ring himself, Klymenko wrote.

Police found five more of the same type of grenades in the apartment, Klymenko wrote, and had identified the colleague who provided the gift. A search in that serviceman’s office uncovered two similar grenades. “Urgent investigative actions are ongoing,” he said.

Earlier, Ukrainian news outlet Ukrainska Pravda reported on Telegram that Chastiakov’s wife said the explosion was caused by a grenade that was inside a gift bag he had brought home.

The outlet reported that the gift was said to include bottles of liquor and glasses shaped like grenades and that the deadly explosion occurred as Chastiakov tried to open it. Photos accompanying the post show debris surrounding gift bags lined up on the floor next to a couch.

In one photo, what appear to be several grenades or grenade-shaped items are scattered across the floor. On social media, some jumped to the conclusion that Chastiakov’s death had been an assassination rather than a mistake.

“I pray to God that this was a tragic coincidence and not a targeted attack,” wrote Dana Yarova, member of the Defense Ministry’s anti-corruption council.

On Facebook, lawmaker Mariana Bezuhla wrote that “a detailed investigation should be conducted.”

“I would never have thought that Hennadii would die as a result of carelessness on his birthday,” she wrote. “Grenades are issued, not given. Not kept at home.”

Many regard Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Zaluzhny as political rivals. In recent days, that alleged discord has garnered more attention after Zaluzhny wrote in an essay for the Economist that both Russia and Ukraine had reached a “stalemate” in the war and that new technology would be necessary to ensure advances. Zelensky publicly disagreed with that assessment.

Zelensky’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the birthday incident.

Russian missile strikes brigade in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine says

Also on Monday, Ukraine launched a criminal investigation into the military leaders who organized a medals ceremony that was hit by a Russian missile strike in the Zaporizhzhia region Friday. Nineteen soldiers of the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade were killed, the Associated Press reported.

The troop-honoring ceremony was held near the front line to honor the day of “Rocket Troops and Artillery,” Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation said. The probe was opened under the criminal code for “negligent attitude of a military official to service,” it said.

Zelensky in his Monday evening address said that the brigade commander has been temporarily suspended during the investigation.

“Every soldier in the combat zone … knows how to behave in the open, how to ensure safety,” Zelensky said in his Sunday address. “The investigation must find how this tragedy occurred and whether any improper orders were issued.”

Kamila Hrabchuk, Serhiy Morgunov, Kostiantyn Khudov, David Stern and Isabelle Khurshudyan contributed to this report.

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