Ukraine opera singer killed in separatist east

KIEV (AFP) - A Ukrainian opera singer who performed for two decades in France before joining Kiev's volunteer forces fighting pro-Russian insurgents has been killed in the separatist east, officials said on Wednesday (June 29).

Wassyl Slipak, a baritone who was born in 1974, left France and joined the armed wing of Ukraine's ultranationalist Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) party shortly after a war that has claimed more than 9,440 lives broke out in April 2014, according to his website.

Slipak originally performed at the Lviv Conservatory in western Ukraine before passing an entrance exam at the prestigious Paris Opera and launching his career in France.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's permanent representative to the Council of Europe, tweeted Wednesday that Slipak "has been killed in eastern Ukraine" but provided no other details.

Ukraine's news site later quoted one of his fellow volunteer fighters as saying that Slipak was killed by a rebel sniper early Wednesday in the separatist province of Donetsk.

The former Soviet republic has been in turmoil since it ousted a Russian-backed president in a February 2014 pro-EU revolt that claimed more than 100 lives.

Kiev's tilt toward the West outraged Russia and it annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula the following month after staging an independence referendum that the United Nations condemned as a fraud.

Moscow now denies either plotting or backing the eastern insurgency in an effort to keep a strategic industrial part of Ukraine within its sphere of influence and the pro-Western leadership in Kiev off balance.

But both the United States and the European Union agree with Kiev's claims that thousands of active Russian soldiers are fighting alongside the rebels and supplying them with heavy weapons.