Ukraine urges citizens to leave Russia as crisis escalates – CBC News

Russia began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv, and Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia on Wednesday as the region braced for further confrontation after President Vladimir Putin received authorization to use military force outside his country and the West responded with sanctions.

Ukraine welcomes Western sanctions against Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Western nations, including Canada, for sanctions against Russia and warned that the future of European security is being decided ‘now, here, in Ukraine.’ 1:02

The latest:

Russia began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv, and Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia on Wednesday as the region braced for further confrontation after President Vladimir Putin received authorization to use military force outside his country and the West responded with sanctions.

Hopes for a diplomatic way out of a new, potentially devastating war in Europe appeared all but sunk as the U.S. and key European allies accused Moscow on Tuesday of crossing a red line in rolling over Ukraine’s border into separatist regions — with some calling it an invasion.

Russia began pulling personnel from its diplomatic posts in Ukraine, state news agency Tass reported, a day after the Foreign Ministry announced a plan to evacuate, citing threats. By Wednesday afternoon, the Russian flag was no longer flying over the embassy in Kyiv, and police surrounded the building.

After weeks of trying to project calm, Ukrainian authorities also signalled increasing concern on Wednesday. The Foreign Ministry advised against travel to Russia and recommended anyone there leave immediately, saying Moscow’s “aggression” could lead to a significant reduction in consular services.

The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council called for a nationwide state of emergency — subject to parliamentary approval. Oleksiy Danilov said it will be up to regional authorities to determine which measures to apply, but they could include additional protection for public facilities, restrictions on traffic and additional transport and document checks.

Danilov said the state of emergency would last for 30 days but could be extended.

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A member of the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service looks on as a woman crosses the contact line between Ukrainian troops and pro-Moscow rebels in the settlement of Stanytsia Luhanska, Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

These were just the latest in a series of signs of escalating tensions:

Kyiv recalled its ambassador to Russia and considered breaking all diplomatic ties with Moscow; dozens of nations further squeezed Russian oligarchs and banks out of international markets; Germany halted a lucrative pipeline deal; the U.S. repositioned additional troops to NATO’s eastern flank bordering Russia; and the top U.S. diplomat cancelled a meeting with his Russian counterpart.

Cyberattacks disrupt key sites

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation said cyberattacks are disrupting government websites and those of some banks in his country. Mikhail Fedorov said Wednesday the distributed denial-of-service attacks targeted the websites of the Ukrainian parliament, cabinet and foreign ministry.

He said they also caused interruptions or delays on the sites of the defence and internal affairs ministry, which controls the police.

NATO has blamed recent cyberattacks in Ukraine on Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency and warned further attacks were likely as tensions over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine mounted.

Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, told a special meeting of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday that Moscow has been carrying out “hostile cyber operations on Ukraine and several other countries” and a campaign of propaganda and disinformation on “every conceivable social media platform in the world.”

Already, the threat of war has shredded Ukraine’s economy and raised the spectre of massive casualties, energy shortages across Europe and global economic chaos.

Even as the conflict took a new, dangerous turn, leaders warned it could still get worse. Putin has yet to unleash the force of the 150,000 troops massed on three sides of Ukraine. U.S. President Joe Biden has held back on even tougher sanctions that could cause economic turmoil for Russia, but said they would go ahead if there is further aggression.

Ukraine calls for more sanctions, Russia bristles

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Wednesday called European Union sanctions agreed on a day before “a first step” and also said further measures could follow. Sanctions are key because the West has ruled out taking on Russia militarily.

Following an address to the UN General Assembly, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters “the time for the next wave of sanctions has come” to deter Russia from taking further action.

ukraine crisis russia diplomats

Police officers and members of the Ukrainian National Guard are seen outside the Russian Embassy in Kyiv on Wednesday. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Responding defiantly to the steps already taken, the Russian ambassador in the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said “sanctions cannot solve a thing” in a statement on Facebook. “It is hard to imagine that there is a person in Washington who expects Russia to revise its foreign policy under a threat of restrictions.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has also bristled at the sanctions. “Russia has proven that, with all the costs of the sanctions, it is able to minimize the damage,” a statement read.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Kyiv of prioritizing land over people.

ukraine donbas region map

Meanwhile, a Russian-backed leader in the breakaway Donetsk region of Ukraine said Wednesday he would prefer to resolve questions about border demarcation with Kyiv peacefully, but reserved the right to ask Russia for help.

Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said he favoured dialogue.

LISTEN | Canada is joining Western nations imposing sanctions on Russia. CBC’s The Current looks at how sanctions work and whether they might deter Moscow: 

The Current19:54Examining the effectiveness of sanctions on Russia

Canada is among some Western countries that have sanctioned Russia for moving its troops into parts of eastern Ukraine. But will these financial penalties actually work? Matt Galloway discusses that question with Tanya Kozyreva, an investigative journalist whose reporting on sanctions and illicit financial activity earned her a Pulitzer Prize nomination; and Tony Brenton, the former British Ambassador to Russia and former director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce. 19:54

In Ukraine’s east, where an eight-year conflict between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces has killed nearly 14,000 people, violence also spiked again. One Ukrainian soldier was killed and six more sustained injuries after shelling by the rebels, Ukrainian military said. Separatist officials reported several explosions on their territory overnight and three civilian deaths.

In St. Petersburg, meanwhile, several hundred people reportedly staged a rally in support of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics in Eastern Ukraine, while Russia celebrated Defender of the Fatherland Day, which honours the country’s veterans and active servicemen, and often sees shows of patriotism.

After weeks of rising tensions, Putin took a series of steps this week that dramatically raised the stakes, including: 

  • Recognizing the independence of those separatist regions. Then, saying that recognition extends even to the large parts of the territories now held by Ukrainian forces, including the major Azov Sea port of Mariupol.

  • Asking for, and being granted, permission to use military force outside the country — effectively formalizing a Russian military deployment to the rebel regions.

Putin laid out three conditions that he said were the only ways out of the crisis: He called on Kyiv to recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, to renounce its bid to join NATO and partially demilitarize.

The first two demands had been previously rejected by Ukraine and the West as non-starters.

Call for more dialogue from Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday reiterated his call for talks with Putin. “Many times I suggested to the president of Russia to sit down at the negotiating table and talk. This is a question of dialogue, not a question of ‘condition,”‘ he said after a meeting with the presidents of Poland and Lithuania. The Kremlin has previously brushed off such calls.

Putin remained vague when asked whether he has sent any Russian troops into Ukraine and how far they could go, and separatist leader in Donetsk Denis Pushilin said Wednesday that there are currently no Russian troops in the region.

Pushilin’s remarks contradicted those of Vladislav Brig, a member of the separatist local council in Donetsk, who told reporters Tuesday that Russian troops had already moved in.

WATCH | Ukrainians in Canada anxious about threat of Russian invasion: 

ukraine diaspora concerns pauls 220222.jpg?crop=1

Ukrainians in Canada anxious about threat of Russian invasion

Russia’s encroachment toward Ukraine raises fear among Canadians with Ukrainian roots, while the Russian diaspora is divided over President Vladimir Putin’s actions. 1:59