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In eastern Ukraine, the worst-case scenario

Between provocations, manipulations and violence, events have rushed since Friday, February 18 in the Donbass, raising fears of an offensive from Moscow. On Saturday morning, a Ukrainian soldier was killed by shrapnel and the leaders of the two pro-Russian separatist republics in this region of eastern Ukraine declared “general mobilization”.

In quick succession, on Friday, the separatist authorities announced explosions and staged the evacuation of the population to Russia. This violence, presented as Ukrainian provocations, could serve as a pretext for Russian military intervention. The images, filmed by the separatists then widely broadcast by televisions under the orders of the Kremlin, could allow Vladimir Putin to justify the operation to his own public opinion. Pro-Russian authorities initially said a car bomb had exploded near an official building in Donetsk, a city under their control. Then, in the neighboring city of Lugansk, a section of gas pipeline caught fire after a “powerful explosion”, according to Russian news agencies quoting correspondents on the spot then a second detonation had sounded. None of these incidents resulted in casualties.

In this area of ​​latent conflict since the annexation of Crimea and the start of the conflict in Donbass in 2014, the ceasefire has suddenly been shattered for three days with a significant increase in shooting (411 violations in the region of Donetsk and 1,050 in Luhansk, according to observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). This new violence has accelerated calls for the evacuation of populations.

On the social networks of the separatists, then in the Russian public media, the images multiplied: children gathered in the yards of schools and orphanages for a hasty departure, families leaving their homes, long lines of cars heading for the Russia. The local representative of the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Donetsk announced the planned evacuation of 500,000 to 700,000 people – a statement to be taken with extreme caution. This orchestrated climate of fear was accentuated by the sound of gunfire in the distance. Panic spread to some residents, who rushed to supermarkets, banks and gas stations to anticipate any shortages.

Suspicion of an operation organized in advance

During the day, the evacuations seemed to be well prepared, with lists of assembly points distributed by the local authorities so that the inhabitants find themselves in front of schools, hospitals, shops… On the doors of the buildings, notices were taped to call men aged 18 to 55 not to leave. “It is better that they stay in the republic”said Denis Pushilin, the separatist leader of the Donetsk region who, a few hours earlier, had very officially announced the evacuation of civilians to Russia, “primarily women, children and the elderly”. His counterpart from the Lugansk Republic, Leonid Passechnik, did the same before calling “all men capable of holding a weapon to defend their country”. Both accuse Kiev of preparing an operation after the multiplication of clashes to invade their two republics.

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