Ukraine officials flee to bomb shelter during shelling attack as invasion fears grow

Military officials from Ukraine were forced to take cover in a bomb shelter during a shelling attack, as fears of a Russian invasion grow.

The officials were on a tour of the frontline, where Ukrainian soldiers and Russian backed separatists are already fighting in the east of the country.

A journalist from The Associated Press, who was accompanying the Ukrainian officials on the tour, witnessed the attack and how they had to seek shelter.

There has been a spike in violence, which Western leaders – such as US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson – have said could be signs Russia is gearing up for war.

An increase in skirmishes is seen as Russia looking for an excuse to launch an attack.

Ukrainian forces have been fighting pro-Russia rebels since 2014 in a conflict that has killed some 14,000 people.

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.

But Ukraine and the two regions of the country held by Russian-backed rebels accused each other of escalating tensions.

Ukrainian soldier killed as Russia ramps up ‘fake’ claims

Ukraine’s military said shelling killed a soldier early on Saturday in the government-held part of the Donetsk region and that separatist forces were placing artillery in residential areas to try to provoke a response.

It came after Russia claimed on Saturday at least two shells fired from a government-held part of eastern Ukraine landed across the border.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba dismissed the claim as “a fake statement”.

On Friday, the rebels began evacuating civilians to Russia with an announcement that appeared to be part of their and Moscow’s efforts to paint Ukraine as the aggressor.

Denis Pushilin, head of the pro-Russian separatist government in the Donetsk region, released a statement on Saturday announcing a full troop mobilization and urging reservists to show up at military enlistment offices.

A similar announcement quickly followed from Leonid Pasechnik, separatist leader in the Luhansk region.

Mr Pushilin cited an “immediate threat of aggression” from Ukrainian forces, accusations that Ukrainian officials vehemently denied earlier.

He said: “I appeal to all the men in the republic who can hold weapons to defend their families, their children, wives, mothers. Together we will achieve the coveted victory that we all need.”

The announcement came as a mass evacuation of women, children and the elderly from the rebel-held territories in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to neighboring Russia got under way.

President of Ukraine calls for talks with Putin

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him and seek a resolution to the crisis.

“I don’t know what the president of the Russian Federation wants, so I am proposing a meeting,” Mr Zelenskyy said at the Munich Security Conference, which is seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Mr Zelenskyy said Russia could pick the location for the talks.

“Ukraine will continue to follow only the diplomatic path for the sake of a peaceful settlement.”

US president Joe Biden said on Friday he is now “convinced” Mr Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and assault the capital, Kyiv.

After weeks of saying the US was not sure if Mr Putin had made the final decision, Mr Biden said that his judgment had changed, citing American intelligence.

“As of this moment, I’m convinced he’s made the decision,” the US leader said.

“We have reason to believe that.”

Boris Johnson warned on Saturday Putin would be “absolutely crazy” to invade Ukraine, saying that it would result in a long war which could kill Russians and Ukrainians alike.

But President Putin denies he intends to invade Ukraine.

Asked about Western warnings of a possible Russian invasion on Wednesday that did not materialise, Mr Putin said: “There are so many false claims, and constantly reacting to them is more trouble than it’s worth.

“We are doing what we consider necessary and will keep doing so.

“We have clear and precise goals conforming to national interests.”

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