Videos of Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine ordering an “emergency” evacuation posted on February 18 were actually filmed on February 16, an analysis by RFE/RL’s Russian Service of metadata from the messaging app Telegram shows.
In the video posted online and on Telegram on February 18, Denis Pushilin, the de-facto head of the separatist-occupied Donetsk region, claimed an increase in the number of Ukrainian military personnel and weapons along the line of contact.
He ordered the evacuation, claiming that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was soon to give an order to “invade the territory” of separatist-controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk region.
A leader in the separatist-controlled Luhansk region issued a similar call based on similar claims.
An investigation by RFE/RL's Russia Service shows that the videos were actually made on February 16, indicating that the sudden evacuation was actually preplanned.
Ukrainian officials immediately denied any plans to launch any military operations in eastern Ukraine.
“Ukraine does not conduct or plan any such actions in the Donbas,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
“We are fully committed to diplomatic conflict resolution only,” he tweeted on February 18.
The separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine also claimed that nearby Russian regions were ready to accept those leaving the area.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had no information about the situation and did not know if they were being coordinated with Russia, Interfax reported.
Later, Russian officials said camps were being prepared for those coming from the area and President Vladimir Putin had promised each 10,000 rubles, about $130.
The White House has warned that the separatists who control areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine were preparing to fabricate a pretext to invade Ukraine.
Russia has massed troops on Ukraine’s northern, eastern, and southern borders, triggering fears of a further invasion.