A close adviser to the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s army has been killed after a grenade amongst his birthday presents exploded, according to officials.
“Under tragic circumstances, my assistant and close friend, Major Gennadiy Chastiakov, was killed … on his birthday,” Gen Valery Zaluzhny posted on Telegram on Monday, saying that an “unknown explosive device detonated in one of his gifts”.
Chastiakov’s death was initially reported as a suspected assassination using a booby-trapped gift until further details emerged. Ukraine’s interior minister, Igor Klymenko, released a statement saying Chastiakov had been showing his son a box with grenades inside that he had received as a gift.
“At first, the son took the munition in his hands and began to turn the ring. Then the serviceman took the grenade away from the child and pulled the ring, causing a tragic explosion,” Klymenko said.
Police had identified a fellow soldier who gave the gift, said Klymenko, and seized two similar grenades. An investigation was under way.
Ukrainian police said the 13-year-old son was also seriously injured. Ukrainska Pravda reported Chastiakov’s wife as saying the grenade was in a gift bag her husband brought home. Some reports suggested the real grenade was amongst novelty gifts shaped to look like grenades.
Chastiakov had left a wife and four children, Klymenko said. Zaluzhny added that since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Chastiakov had been “fully devoting his life to the armed forces of Ukraine and the fight against Russian aggression”.
Also on Monday, Ukrainian forces said they had successfully destroyed a Russian ship in the Kerch shipyard in annexed Crimea, and Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said he did not believe the time was right for the country to hold elections, amid a brewing debate on the possibility of a presidential vote in 2024.
All elections including the presidential vote due to take place next spring are technically cancelled under the martial law that has been in effect since the war began last year.
“We must decide that now is the time of defence, the time of battle, on which the fate of the state and people depends,” Zelenskiy said in his daily address. He said it was a time for the country to be united, not divided, and added: “I believe that now is not the time for elections.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister said last week that Zelenskiy was weighing up whether it would be possible to hold elections next year, given the invasion. He cautioned that polling would be difficult to hold due to the large number of Ukrainians abroad and soldiers fighting on the front.
Parliamentary elections that would have taken place last month have already been cancelled because of the war.
Zelenskiy, who was elected in 2019, said in September he was “ready” to hold elections if necessary and was in favour of allowing international observers to monitor the vote.
The Ukrainian leader’s approval rating soared after the war began, but some divisions have emerged. Former presidential aide Oleksiy Arestovych announced this week that he would run against his former boss after criticising the slow pace of the country’s counteroffensive.
The sprawling frontline between the two warring sides has barely moved in almost a year, despite a Ukrainian counteroffensive that began in June.
The Ukrainian president has regularly met western leaders to try to secure more air defences and stave off international fatigue with the conflict, which has now lasted for more that 600 days.
Zelenskiy has also been forced to deny that the conflict has reached a deadlock, but admitted on Sunday that it had reached a “difficult situation”.