Hundreds of artillery shells erupted along the contact line between Ukrainian army and Russia-backed rebels, and tens of thousands of people were evacuated from eastern Ukraine on Sunday, raising fears of a Russian invasion.

Western leaders have warned that Russia is preparing to invade its neighbour, which is encircled by nearly 150,000 Russian soldiers, aeroplanes, and weaponry on three sides. Russia conducted nuclear drills in Belarus on Saturday and continues to conduct naval operations along the Black Sea coast.

For months, the US and several European countries have claimed that Russia is attempting to invent pretexts to invade. If that happens, they’ve warned enormous, instant punishment.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has requested that Russian President Vladimir Putin select a location for a meeting between the two leaders to try to resolve the conflict. Russia has rejected any invasion plans.

“For the sake of a peaceful conclusion, Ukraine will continue to take exclusively the diplomatic path,” Zelenskyy said Saturday at an international security conference in Munich, Germany. The Kremlin did not respond in a timely manner.

“The major question remains: does the Kremlin desire dialogue?” questioned Charles Michel, a top European Union official, on Sunday.

At the Munich Security Conference, Michel, the president of the European Council, said, “We cannot permanently give an olive branch if Russia conducts missile tests and continues to accumulate soldiers.” “One thing is certain,” he remarked. We will retaliate with huge sanctions if there is more military aggression.”

Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine ordered a full military mobilisation on Saturday and dispatched more people to Russia, which has handed 700,000 passports to residents of rebel-held areas. Accusations that Russian civilians are in danger might be used to justify military action.

Germany and Austria have issued new warnings to its citizens to evacuate Ukraine, fueling fears that a war could break out within days. Lufthansa has cancelled flights to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and Odesa, a Black Sea port that may be a crucial target in an invasion.

The NATO liaison office in Kyiv announced that workers would be transferring to Brussels and Lviv in western Ukraine.

“They are uncoiling and are now set to strike,” warned US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin of Russia’s willingness to attack.

According to the latest American information, US President Joe Biden is now “convinced” that Putin has chosen to invade Ukraine in the next days and assault the capital.

An estimated 40 percent to 50 percent of those ground forces have moved into attack positions closer to the border, according to a US military official.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal US assessments, said the shift has been going on for about a week and does not suggest Putin has decided on an invasion.

The lines of communication between Moscow and the West remain open: the defence chiefs of the United States and Russia spoke on Friday. On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron will speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have agreed to meet next week.

The immediate focus of concern was on eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting pro-Russian separatists since 2014 in a conflict that has claimed the lives of over 14,000 people.

Ukraine and separatist leaders have traded escalating charges. On Saturday, Russia claimed that at least two shells fired from a government-controlled area of eastern Ukraine crossed the border, but Ukraine’s foreign minister dismissed the report as “false.”

During a tour of the front lines of the nearly eight-year separatist struggle in eastern Ukraine, top Ukrainian military leaders were shelled. According to an Associated Press journalist who was on the tour, the authorities ran to a bomb bunker before rushing out of the area.

Ukrainian soldiers stated they were told not to return fire elsewhere on the battle lines. Zahar Leshushun had been watching the news all day from a trench where he was stationed, staring into the distance with a periscope the town of Zolote.

“Right now, we don’t respond to their fire because…” the soldier began to explain, but was cut off by the sound of an approaching shell. “Oh! They’ve started shooting at us. They have their sights set on the command station.”

The line separating Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists has seen sporadic violence for years, but the recent spike is orders of magnitude higher than anything recently recorded by international monitors: nearly 1,500 explosions in 24 hours.

In his proclamation of a call to arms, Denis Pushilin, the head of the pro-Russia separatist administration in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, alleged a “imminent threat of assault” from Ukrainian forces. Officials from Ukraine have categorically denied having any plans to capture rebel-controlled territory by force.

Pushilin added, “I urge to all the men in the country who can handle guns to defend their families, their children, spouses, and mothers.” “We shall accomplish the coveted triumph that we all require if we work together.”

His counterpart in the Luhansk region made a similar comment. With an announcement that looked to be part of their and Moscow’s efforts to portray Ukraine as the aggressor, the rebels began evacuating civilians to Russia on Friday.

The AP confirmed that metadata from two separatist films proclaiming the evacuation of residents to Russia shows that the recordings were generated two days earlier. The Kremlin’s endeavour to come up with an invasion pretext, according to US authorities, might include faked, produced footage.

On Saturday, two Ukrainian soldiers were killed by rebel fire, according to the Ukrainian military.

Because of the inflow of evacuees, authorities in Russia’s Rostov region, which borders eastern Ukraine, declared a state of emergency. On Saturday, media reports indicated mayhem at some of the camps set up to house them. According to reports, there were huge lines of buses and hundreds of people waiting for hours in the cold to be accommodated without food or restrooms.

Putin instructed the Russian government to provide each evacuee 10,000 rubles (about $130), which is nearly half of the average monthly wage in eastern Ukraine.

The separatist regions of Ukraine, like much of the country’s east, are overwhelmingly Russian-speaking, and Putin reiterated claims of “genocide” in explaining why they must be protected on Tuesday.

One of the evacuees, a Donetsk local who only went by the name Vyacheslav, blamed his condition on Ukraine’s leadership.

He said, “Let them settle down.” “Is it our fault that we don’t want to speak Ukrainian?”

Ukraine soldiers fire 120-mm mortars in Donetsk suburbs, which are prohibited under the Minsk Accord: DPR

By 12news World

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