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Ukraine rebel leaders say evacuating civilians to Russia

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Eastern Ukraine’s separatist pro-Moscow republics said they will begin evacuating civilians to Friday as fears of a large-scale conflict grow.

“From today, a mass centralised departure of the population to the Russian Federation has been organised. Women, children and the elderly are subject to be evacuated first,” said Denis Pushilin, head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)

In a video message on the Telegram messaging service, he accused Kyiv of planning an imminent attack on the pro-Moscow breakaway territories.

“The president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky in the near future will give the order for (his) soldiers to go on the offensive,” Pushilin said.

The leader of the Lugansk separatist region in eastern Ukraine Leonid Pasechnik also urged residents to evacuate “to prevent civilian casualties”.

“I call on residents of the republic… to leave for the Russian Federation as soon as possible,” Pasechnik said in a statement, saying anyone who had received orders to mobilise or who works in key jobs should remain.

Pasechnik called on “all men able to hold a weapon to rise to protect their land.”

Pushilin said Russian authorities and the neighbouring southern Russian Rostov region were ready to accept the civilians and had prepared “host places” for them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to hand the evacuees a sum of 10,000 rubles (around 100 euros).

His spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state media that local authorities in the Rostov region will organise housing, food and medical help for the evacuees.

Putin ordered his emergencies minister Alexander Chupriyan to fly out to the southern region which borders the separatist republics.

Rebel leader Pushilin called on people to listen to the authorities and cooperate with the evacuation plan.

“Temporary escape will protect your life and health, and that of your relatives,” Pushilin said.

He announced the evacuation as fears of a large-scale conflict in eastern Ukraine grow.

The West says Russia could attack Ukraine at any moment, despite Moscow saying it has pulled back some of its forces from Ukraine’s borders.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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