Russian proxy forces relocating civilians in non-government-controlled areas to Russia amid false claims of looming Ukrainian offensive

18 February 2022, 04:40 PM

Russian proxy forces have begun to relocate civilians living in the non-government-controlled areas of Donbas to Russia, the self-declared leader of the non-government-controlled part of Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast, Denis Pushilin, said on Feb. 18 via the Telegram instant messaging service.

A similar announcement was repeated a short time later by Leonid Pasechnik, the self-declared leader of the non-government-controlled part of Ukraine’s Luhansk Oblast.

The relocated population will be housed somewhere in Russia’s Rostov region, said Pushilin. Priority is being given to “women, children, and the elderly.”

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All civilians living in occupied territories are still formally Ukrainian citizens, despite the on-going Russian policy of “passportization” – allowing people in the non-government-controlled parts of Ukraine to apply for Russian passports.

The message described the relocation as a “temporary life-saving” measure.

Pushilin claimed the decision has been made due to “an offensive operation” by Ukrainian Armed Forces against Russian proxies in Donbas. The Ukrainian government has repeatedly said that it has no plans to try and restore control non-government controlled territory by force, and there is no credible evidence that Ukraine is preparing for such an assault.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Feb. 17 that he sees the threat of a new Russian invasion of Ukraine to be “very high” in the near future. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Russia plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack.

On Feb. 15, Russia announced some of its troops would be drawn down from the Ukrainian border, a claim disputed by the U.S. and UK intelligence communities.

Russia has been building up military presence along Ukrainian borders since the end of October 2021. On Feb. 16, CNN, citing Ukrainian intelligence, reported that there were more than 148,000 Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, including more than 126,000 ground troops – but not enough for a full-scale invasion.

The Russian Federation has officially denied plans to carry out a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, but continues to provide arms and orders to its proxy forces in the Donbas.

Meanwhile, Russian proxies in the Donbas conflict zone have escalated their attacks on Ukrainian positions, with 47 separate attacks conducted across the entire contact line on Feb. 17.

Some of the attacks damaged civilian structures, including a kindergarten.

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