Russian-backed separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine have declared a full military mobilisation, a day after ordering women and children to evacuate to southern Russia because of what they said was the threat of conflict.
Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said in a video statement that he had signed a decree on mobilisation and called on men “able to hold a weapon in their hands” to come to military enlistment offices.
Another separatist leader, Leonid Pasechnik, signed a similar decree for the Luhansk People’s Republic shortly afterward.
Separatist authorities earlier announced plans to evacuate about 700,000 people to neighboring Russia, citing fears of an imminent attack by Ukrainian forces — an accusation Kyiv flatly denied.
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“We are fully committed to diplomatic conflict resolution only,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted
Metadata from two videos posted by the separatists announcing the evacuation show that the files were created two days ago, according to the Associated Press.
US authorities have alleged that a disinformation campaign by the Kremlin could include staged, prerecorded videos.
Authorities began moving children from an orphanage in Donetsk, and other residents boarded buses for Russia.
Long lines formed at petrol stations as more people prepared to leave on their own.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the government to offer a payment of 10,000 roubles ($180) to each evacuee, equivalent to about half of an average monthly salary in the war-ravaged Donbas region.
Less than 7,000 people had been evacuated from Donetsk as of Saturday morning, the local emergencies ministry said.
Ukrainian forces have been fighting pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine since 2014, in a conflict that has killed some 14,000 people.
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With an estimated 150,000 Russian troops now posted around Ukraine’s borders, the long-simmering separatist conflict could provide the spark for a broader attack.
The Ukrainian military said it had recorded 12 ceasefire violations by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in the morning after 66 cases in the previous 24 hours.
Separatist authorities also reported what they said was shelling by Ukrainian forces of several villages.
Both sides regularly trade blame for ceasefire violations.
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported more than 600 explosions in the war-torn east of Ukraine on Friday.
Reuters with additional input by GVS