Ukrainian rebels to evacuate civilians to Russia amid crisis

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Spiking tensions in eastern Ukraine have aggravated Western fears of a Russian invasion and a new war on the edge of Europe. A humanitarian convoy was hit by shelling and pro-Russian rebels ordering the evacuation of civilians from the conflict zone.

A separatist leader in eastern Ukraine has announced the evacuation of civilians to Russia amid soaring tensions. Denish Pushilin, the head of the separatist government in the Donetsk region, said in a statement Friday that women, children and the elderly will be evacuated first, and that Russia has prepared the necessary facilities to accommodate them.

The separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted in 2014 and has killed over 14,000 people.

The Kremlin declared massive nuclear drills to flex its military muscle, and President Vladimir Putin pledged to protect Russia’s national interests against what it sees as encroaching Western threats.

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U.S. and European leaders, meanwhile, sought ways to keep the peace and Europe’s post-Cold War security order. Western officials fear the long-simmering conflict could provide the spark for a broader war. The drumbeat of warnings that a larger conflict could start at any moment continued Friday after U.S. President Joe Biden warned that Washington saw no signs of a promised Russian withdrawal.

A cascade of developments this week have have further exacerbated East-West tensions and fueled war worries.