Ukraine crisis live: Separatist leader announces mass evacuation amid fears of plan to launch invasion | world news

the The leader of Russia-backed separatist states in Ukraine has announced a mass evacuation of citizens in what could be part of a plan to trigger Russian intervention in Ukraine.

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, announced he believed Ukraine was planning to attack the breakaway state and said he would begin a mass evacuation of its citizens to Russia on Friday. The Luhansk People’s Republic, another Russian-backed breakaway state, has announced similar plans.

There are there is no indication that Ukraine is planning an offensive operation in southeastern Ukraine, where the front lines of the conflict have remained static for almost seven years. Russia has also moved around 150,000 troops to the border area and appears to be looking for a pretext to launch an intervention.

Nonetheless, Pushilin said he believed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was planning to launch an offensive and the military would bomb towns and villages in Russian-backed separatist areas in southeastern Ukraine. .

In a video statement, Pushilin said he was organizing a “mass and centralized departure” of the population to the Russian Federation, adding that “women, children and the elderly must first be evacuated”.

He also claimed that he had agreed with the Russian leadership to prepare shelter points for the population in the Rostov region in southwestern Russia. The adherence of the Russian authorities to what would be a difficult logistical operation to move hundreds of thousands of people could indicate that this is a serious development.

Ukraine immediately denied Pushilin’s claimsas well as other Russian-backed media that claimed the Ukrainian military was targeting a chemical facility.

“We categorically refute Russian disinformation reports on alleged offensive operations by Ukraine or acts of sabotage at chemical production facilities,” said Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister. “Ukraine does not carry out or plan such actions in the Donbass. We are fully committed to diplomatic dispute resolution only.

There has been an upsurge in fighting along the front lines of the conflict this week. The Ukrainian military said shells fired from separatist-held territory hit a kindergarten on Thursday, injuring several adults.

At a press conference in Moscow on Friday afternoon, Vladimir Putin said he was witnessing a “worsening of the situation in the Donbass”.

Asked about the evacuation plan, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters he “didn’t know what was going on there with Pushilin,” the Interfax news agency reported.

The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, attends a press conference in Donetsk, Ukraine last April. Photograph: Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters