Ukraine Update: 18 February, 2024 (Afternoon)

Separatist officials in eastern Ukraine have warned of a ‘large-scale Ukrainian attack’ coming soon and have called for the evacuation of women, children and the elderly to start immediately. The Ukrainian government countered with a statement calling the attack rumor false and nothing more than a lie designed to give Russia a pretext to invade. As this back and forth was taking place, Russian media has been releasing reports that claim Ukraine is stepping up attacks on the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Shelling has increased around these regions for a second consecutive day.

In a video posted online but apparently recorded on Wednesday, Denis Pushilin, the pro-Moscow leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, gave a stark warning.  “Very soon, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky will order the military to go on an offensive, to implement a plan to invade the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics. From today, Feb. 18 a mass organized transfer of the population to Russia is being organized. Women, children, and the elderly will need to be evacuated first. We urge you to listen and make the right decision.” The evacuees will go to the Rostov region of Russia, where camps and accommodations are being set up by the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations.

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A car bomb exploded outside of a government building earlier today in the center of Donetsk. The explosion occurred around 6:00 PM Donetsk time (11 AM Eastern Standard Time). Video and photos allegedly from the scene show a car engulfed in flames. The blast was reportedly heard around the city. The vehicle reportedly belonged to Denis Sinenkov, chief of the People’s Militia.

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US officials now estimate the number of Russian troops near Ukraine to be somewhere between 160,000-190,000. This is a marked increase from the estimated 100,000 troops present in late January, 2022. According to Michael Carpenter, US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe this represents the largest military mobilization to take place in Europe since the end of World War II. Adding to the tense situation, on Saturday Russia will conduct an exercise of its strategic nuclear forces, in which ballistic and cruise missiles will be test-fired.

Author’s Note: Next Update Will Be Posted Around 8 PM EST