KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) – Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine ordered a full military mobilisation yesterday amid a spike of violence in the war-torn region and fears in the West that Russia might use the strife as a pretext for an invasion.
The head of the pro-Russia separatist government in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, released a statement announcing a full troop mobilisation and urging reservists to show up at military enlistment offices. A similar announcement quickly followed from Leonid Pasechnik, separatist leader in the Luhansk region.
Pushilin cited “immediate threat of aggression” from Ukrainian forces, accusations that Ukrainian officials vehemently denied earlier. The separatists and Ukrainian forces have been fighting for almost eight years. But the violence along the line of contact separating the two sides, including a car bombing in the eastern city of Donetsk and a humanitarian convoy hit by shelling, has risen in recent days.
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. On Friday, the rebels began evacuating civilians from the conflict zone with an announcement that appeared to be part of their and Moscow’s efforts to paint Ukraine as the aggressor instead.
The head of the Donetsk rebel government, Pushilin, said women, children and the elderly would go first, and that Russia has prepared facilities for them. Fears of such escalation intensified amid Friday’s violence. A bombing struck a car outside the main government building in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, according to an Associated Press journalist there. The head of the separatist forces, Denis Sinenkov, said the car was his, the Interfax news agency reported.
There were no reports of casualties and no independent confirmation of the circumstances of the blast. Shelling and shooting are common along the line that separates Ukrainian forces and the rebels, but targeted violence is unusual in rebel-held cities.