Russian region declares emergency amid influx of refugees
A Russian region bordering Eastern Ukraine has declared a state of emergency on Saturday, with reports of refugees from the separatist-held Donbass crossing over the border amid a military escalation with Kiev.
The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) announced that they had begun evacuating civilians to Russia on Friday, with rebels and Ukrainian army forces accusing each other of shelling across the contact line. It is unclear how many residents may be following the guidance from local leaders, and those living near the front line on both sides have faced regular firefights since 2014.
Faced with an influx of people crossing the border, Vasily Golubev, the governor of the Rostov Region, in southern Russia, declared an emergency from 10am local time.
Responding to the decision, acting Emergencies Minister Alexander Chupriyan said that the measure will “help with legal matters” associated with providing support to those arriving. The authorities are housing people in local hotels and refugee camps, as packed buses and cars line up at the border crossing.
“We have left everything behind – our house, our farm,” a woman who arrived from the village of Telmanovo in the DPR-controlled area told RT. She said she decided to pack her bags after hearing a warning siren and a notification from local police. “Who knows what could happen?” she said.
Another evacuee came from the village of Primorskoye, also in the DPR area. “The street we lived on was heavily shelled in 2015. One house was burned down, later rebuilt. There were no casualties, but many have since left – also for Russia,” she told RT. “We’re thinking of returning one day. We have brothers, sisters, husbands there.”
Golubev said that nearly 1,700 refugees from eastern Ukraine, including 737 children, have been housed in Rostov Region as of Saturday morning. Officials in Donetsk and Lugansk, meanwhile, reported much larger numbers of people leaving.
DPR officials said on Saturday morning that over 6,600 people have been evacuated, including 2,400 children. Officials in the LPR said they were in the process of evacuating 10,000 people. Evgeny Katsavalov, the top emergencies official in Lugansk, said that 25,000 people have already left for Russia on their own, without specifying when it happened.
Both rebel republics announced a call for the mobilization of all able-bodied men on Saturday, fearing further escalation. The rebel forces and the Ukrainian Army accused each other of violating the ceasefire in multiple spots along the frontline.
Alexey Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s’ National Security and Defense Council, denied on Friday that Kiev was planning to attack the DPR and LPR.
“There is an attempt to provoke our forces,”Danilov claimed, adding that Ukrainian troops “can only open fire if there will be a threat to the lives of our service members.”
In a statement issued shortly after the evacuation order, Kiev's Foreign Ministry said that “allegations that the Ukrainian authorities allegedly intend to launch an offensive in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are untrue.”