In a cramped warehouse in a tranquil part of the Lithuanian capital, volunteers load supplies onto a truck destined for Ukraine’s eastern front. They are part of the Blue-Yellow movement worried about Russian aggression spreading in the region. (April 19)
AP

The American paramedic working with an international monitoring group in eastern Ukraine, who was killed Sunday when their vehicle drove over a mine in separatist-controlled territory, was named Monday as Joseph Stone, 36.

According to the international monitoring group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Stone’s body is in Ukrainian government-controlled territory and on its way home.

The OSCE and the U.S. embassy are working “to make sure his body is returned home with dignity he deserves,” Alexander Hug, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine’s principle deputy chief, said in a press conference Monday. The blast was the latest of 183 incidents that have occurred since Jan. 15, 2015, Hug said.

“These incidents (have included) shooting at or close to our patrols, shelling or impacts near them, serious physical or verbal threats and damage to our assets such as our (unmanned aerial vehicles, cameras and vehicles,” he said.

The OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission in war-torn Ukraine is an unarmed, civilian team charged with reporting on the status of the struggle and promoting dialogue among parties to the crisis.

The State Department, in a statement issued Sunday, said: “This death underscores the increasingly dangerous conditions under which these courageous monitors work, including access restrictions, threats, and harassment.”

“The United States urges Russia to use its influence with the separatists to allow the (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitoring group) to conduct a full, transparent, and timely investigation,” the statement said.

Chief Monitor Ertugrul Apakan for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said two other people injured were German and from the Czech Republic. The German woman and the Czech man were both hospitalized and released, Hug said.

Stone’s vehicle and the vehicle accompanying it were both retrieved from the Luhansk area and brought to Kramatorsk in a Ukrainian government-controlled area, pending an independent investigation by the OSCE, Hug said. The vehicles were armored Toyota Land Cruisers, and the monitors were wearing protective equipment as is typical when patrolling near the line of contact, he said.

While it investigates the incident, the OSCE is in constant contact with Ukrainian authorities, and those “in effective control of the scene of the incident,” Hug said, referring to the authorities of the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic.

“If those who continue to perpetrate this violence think it is normal they are wrong,” Hug said. “It is not normal and it is not acceptable. Mines and other explosive devices need to be removed from the Donetsk and Luhansk region. This culture of impunity is not acceptable.”

The separatist Luhansk People’s Republic blamed the blast on a “Ukraine subversive group,” the Russian news agency Tass reported.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz tweeted, calling for a thorough investigation and promising that “those responsible will be held accountable.”

“Tragic news from #Ukraine: SMM patrol drove on mine. One #OSCE patrol member killed, one injured,” he wrote.

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Almost 10,000 people have died in the three-year war between the Ukraine government and Russian-backed separatists. The OSCE mission has been promoting mine awareness in the region — Last month, a 12-year-old boy on his way home from school in eastern Ukraine was killed when a shiny object he picked up turned out to be a mine and exploded in his hands.

Mission members distribute pamphlets warning about the dangers of landmines and helping residents recognize the various types that have been deployed in the region in the past three years, the OSCE said this month.

“Heartfelt condolences to family of victim+SMM team,” Kurz tweeted. “Death of colleague is a shock to whole #OSCE. Hope injured monitor will recover soon.”

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