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Ukrainian officials hit by artillery fire in the front

MOSCOW (AP)

Top Ukrainian military officials were shelled during a visit to the separatist front in eastern Ukraine.

Officials fled to a bomb shelter before rushing out of the area, according to an Associated Press journalist who was on the tour.

Earlier on Saturday, separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine ordered the full mobilization of troops on Saturday amid rising violence in the war-torn region and fears in the West. that Russia could use conflict as a pretext for an invasion.

Ukraine and two regions held by Russia-backed rebels have both accused each other of escalating. Russia on Saturday said at least two projectiles fired from a government-held area in eastern Ukraine had landed across the border.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba dismissed the claim as “a fake statement.”

Ukraine’s military said shelling killed a soldier early Saturday in the government-held Donetsk region and that separatists were placing artillery in residential areas to try to provoke a response. .

On Friday, rebels began evacuating civilians to Russia with an announcement that appeared to be part of their and Moscow’s efforts to label Ukraine an aggressor.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. The AP’s previous story follows.

MOSCOW (AP) – Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine on Saturday ordered the full mobilization of troops amid rising violence in the war-torn region and in the West fears that Russia may use conflict as a pretext for an invasion.

Denis Pushilin, head of the pro-Russian separatist government in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, cited “immediate threat of invasion” from Ukrainian forces in his announcement. Ukrainian officials vehemently deny that there are plans to seize rebel-held areas by force.

“I appeal to all men in the republic who can take up arms to protect their families, their children, their wives, their mothers,” Pushilin said. “Together, we will achieve the coveted victory we all need.”

A similar statement was issued later from his counterpart in the Luhansk region. With some 150,000 Russian troops currently stationed around the Ukrainian border, the lingering separatist conflict could spark a broader offensive.

The separatists and Ukrainian forces have been fighting for almost eight years. However, violence along the line separating the two sides, including a humanitarian convoy being shelled, has increased in recent days.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a visit to Lithuania, where he assured the three Baltic states that they would not operate in the face of security threats from Russia.

Ukraine’s military said shelling killed a soldier Saturday in the government-held Donetsk region and that separatists were placing artillery in residential areas to try to provoke a response.

On Friday, rebels began evacuating civilians to Russia with an announcement that appeared to be part of their and Moscow’s efforts to label Ukraine an aggressor.

US President Joe Biden said late Friday that based on the latest US intelligence, he now “believes” that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and attack the capital Kyiv.

“At this point, I believe he’s made the decision,” Biden said. “We have reason to believe that.” He reiterated that the attack could happen in the “coming days.”

In a sign of anxiety about an invasion, the NATO military alliance has moved the staff of its liaison office in Kyiv to a city in western Ukraine and to Brussels. A NATO official told the AP news agency that the safety of employees was a top concern.

“We don’t quite know what President Putin is up to, but the omens are grim and that’s why we have to be strong together,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told officials attending the conference. The annual Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets US Vice President Kamala Harris at the conference. Harris called the unfolding events “a defining moment in history” and warned Russia that it would face “unprecedented” financial costs if it attacked Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have pushed back on separatist suggestions that Ukraine has initiated the latest violence in the east of the country. “We are fully committed to resolving conflicts only diplomatically,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.

Ukraine’s ruling party, the Servant of the People, echoed its position in an online statement on Saturday and accused Russia of “trying to create a pretext for an all-out invasion against Ukraine”.

Meanwhile, Russia conducted major nuclear exercises on Saturday. The Kremlin said Putin, who is committed to defending Russia’s national interests against what it sees as an encroaching on Western threats, was watching the drills with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko from the room. situation in the Kremlin.

Notably, the exercise is planned with the participation of the Black Sea Fleet based in Crimea. Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula after taking it from Ukraine in 2014.

Underscoring Western fears of an impending invasion, one US defense official said an estimated 40% to 50% of ground forces deployed in the vicinity of the Ukraine border had entered. attack positions closer to the border.

The change has been underway for about a week, other officials said, and does not necessarily mean Putin has decided to initiate an invasion. The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal assessments of the US military.

The official also said that the number of Russian ground units known as battalion-level combat groups in the border region had increased to 125, up from 83 two weeks ago. Each group has between 750 and 1,000 soldiers.

The lines of communication between Moscow and the West remain open: the US and Russian defense ministers spoke on Friday. French President Emmanuel Macron scheduled a phone call with Putin for Sunday. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have agreed to meet next week.

The immediate worries focus on eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been battling pro-Russian rebels since 2014 in a conflict that has left some 14,000 people dead. Violations of the 2015 truce, including shelling and shooting along the lines of communication, were common.

However, the violence has escalated in recent days. A bomb blast hit a car outside the main government building in the rebel-held city of Donetsk on Friday. The head of the separatists, Denis Sinenkov, said the car was his, Interfax news agency reported. Targeted violence is unusual in rebel-held cities.

Adding to the tension, two explosions rocked the rebel-controlled city of Luhansk early Saturday. The Luhansk Information Center said one of the explosions was in a natural gas pipeline. The center quoted witnesses as saying the other person was at a vehicle service station.

There were no immediate reports of casualties and no independent confirmation of the circumstances of the three explosions. Luhansk officials blamed a major gas explosion earlier in the week on sabotage.

By Saturday morning, separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which form Ukraine’s industrial hub known as the Donbas, said thousands of residents of rebel-controlled areas had been evacuated to Russia. .

More than 6,600 people have been evacuated from Donetsk, and about 25,000 have left Luhansk, with 10,000 preparing to leave, separatist officials said.

Separatist officials announced plans to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people on Friday. Russia has issued about 700,000 passports to residents of rebel-held territories. Claims that Russian citizens are under threat can be used to justify military action.

Pushilin, head of the rebel government of Donetsk, alleges in a video statement that Ukraine will order an imminent attack in the region.

Metadata from two videos posted by separatists announcing the evacuation shows that the files were created two days ago, the Associated Press confirmed. US authorities allege that the Kremlin’s attempt to pretext the invasion may have included staged, pre-recorded videos.

Authorities in Russia’s Rostov region have declared a state of emergency because of the influx of people. Media reports on Saturday morning described turmoil at several summer camps designated to accommodate people from eastern Ukraine.

Reports said there were long lines of buses and hundreds of people waiting in the cold for hours for temporary shelter without food or bathroom amenities. Some camps are said to be full.

Putin ordered the Russian government to provide 10,000 rubles (about $130) for each evacuee, an amount equivalent to about half the average monthly salary in the war-torn Donbas region.

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https://www.winknews.com/2022/02/19/ukraine-officials-come-under-shelling-attack-on-front/ Ukrainian officials hit by artillery fire in the front

Tom Vazquez

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