East Ukraine separatists order mass evacuation as Ukraine warns of Russian provocation

East Ukraine separatists order mass evacuation as Ukraine warns of Russian provocation



The restive eastern part of the country has seen the worst bombing in years in the past two days. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said, on Friday, that the bombing of Ukrainian lands from separatist-controlled areas increased significantly in the past day.

Each side accuses the other of violent bombing of civilian areas. Ukrainian authorities say there were 60 ceasefire violations on Thursday, many with heavy weapons.

The Ukrainian government denies it is planning any attack in the east, accusing the separatists of a “disinformation campaign”.

Authorities in the breakaway states of Donetsk and Luhansk said they were organizing the evacuations. Leonid Pasnik, the top official in the breakaway pro-Russian Luhansk People’s Republic, urged men to take up arms.

“The Russian Federation is ready to offer the reception and accommodation of organizers on its territory to the residents of the Luhansk People’s Republic,” Pasnik said. “Once again, I appeal to all men who are able to take up arms in their hands, to defend their land.”

A Ukrainian soldier looks through binoculars on the front line with Russian-backed separatists, near Novologansk, in the Donetsk region, on February 17, 2022.

Ukrainians accuse separatists of an attack in the separatist city

Ukrainian and US officials on Friday dismissed a vehicle explosion in Donetsk as a planned attack aimed at stoking tensions in eastern Ukraine. A video clip showed a fire in a parking lot and a heavily damaged military vehicle near the headquarters of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

Pictures and videos showed emergency services at the scene and a severely damaged vehicle identified by CNN as a Russian-made jeep. There is no way to ascertain the cause of vehicle damage or fire.

“We believe this is a move and a provocation,” Anton Gerichenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, told CNN via WhatsApp.

A US State Department spokesperson described it as a “pseudo-science operation” and said incidents such as the car explosion and calls for evacuation by separatist leaders over alleged Ukrainian aggression represented “further attempts to obfuscate through lies and disinformation that Russia is the aggressor in this”. conflict.”

Both the Ukrainian government and Western officials have warned that Russia and the separatist leadership may take provocative actions to provide a pretext for a Russian attack on Ukraine.

“We are at the most dangerous stage,” a Western official told reporters on Friday. They can move at any time. Russia can act within days. Everything we see makes us more anxious about it.

There are 110 Russian battalion tactical groups – a combat formation usually consisting of about 1,000 soldiers – around Ukraine, the official said. The official added that Russia also had “a ready-to-go air force.”

US President Joe Biden accused Russia of “engaging in a false military operation” on Thursday, shortly after renewed shelling between Ukrainian authorities and separatists in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region. Biden said Russia could invade Ukraine “in the next few days”.

According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, several shelling incidents occurred Thursday morning across the front line in the Donbass region.  In addition, the Ukrainian military said it had documented a total of 47 violations of the ceasefire agreement in more than 25 locations.  Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba blamed Russia for its severe breach of the ceasefire agreement.  (Photo by Jakub Podkowiak/PRESSCOV/Sipa USA)

Both the Ukrainian government and Western officials have warned that Russia and the separatist leadership may take provocative actions to provide a pretext for a Russian attack on Ukraine.

The Donbass region has witnessed fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatist fighters since 2014. The Ukrainian government in Kiev maintains that the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic are under Russian occupation. The unilaterally declared republics are not recognized by any government, including Russia. The Ukrainian government refuses to speak directly with either of the two breakaway republics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has distributed about 600,000 Russian passports to residents of separatist regions in recent years, a move observers said could pave the way for a Russian intervention in Ukraine.

More than 14,000 people have died in the conflict in Donbass since 2014. Ukraine says 1.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, most residing in Donbass regions still under Ukrainian control and about 200,000 people resettled in the wider Kiev region.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday during his opening speech at the Munich Security Conference in Germany that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “disastrous”, calling for continued diplomatic efforts.

“I am very concerned about the heightened tensions and the growing speculation about a military conflict in Europe. I still believe it will not happen but if it does it will be catastrophic,” Guterres said.

US Vice President Kamala Harris warned of the Munich conference that “aggressive action” by Russia would be met with “serious consequences” of economic sanctions.

The latest US intelligence assessment indicates that Russia is continuing preparations to invade Ukraine, according to a senior US official with direct knowledge and another source with direct knowledge of the intelligence.

The assessment – which the senior official described as “bleak” – suggests that Russia may attack in the coming days.

However, US officials caution that they do not know whether Putin has made a definitive decision to invade and have indicated that he may delay action or not order it at all. Previous estimates that predicted military action by Russia this week were not confirmed.

CNN’s Nadine Schmidt in Berlin and Amy Cassidy in London contributed to this report.