Kiev, Feb 19 (EFE).- Ukraine denied Saturday that it is preparing a military offensive against the Donbas, but ethnic-Russian militias in the restive eastern region announced a general mobilization of all adult males.
A delegation of senior officials and lawmakers traveled from Kiev to the line of separation to deliver drones and encouragement to the troops as part of a mission that was also aimed at demonstrating that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government does not intend to use force to reassert control over the territory.
Shelling continued for a third consecutive day across the line of separation.
Each side accuses the other of targeting civilians and of using armament prohibited under the Minsk Accords that established a cease-fire and were meant to provide the basis for a permanent settlement.
Two Ukrainian soldiers died Saturday of shrapnel wounds, while a civilian on the other side of the line was injured.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Denis Monastirski and a group of foreign journalists had to scramble for cover after they were targeted during a tour near the front.
The leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics likewise accuse Ukrainian forces of violating the cease-fire.
Shells fired from mortars landed in the suburbs of Donetsk, according to the separatists and prosecutors in Russia opened a criminal investigation into an alleged Ukrainian bombardment of positions near the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, an accusation flatly denied by Kiev.
One of the officials who made the trip to the Donbas was Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, who said that the Kremlin was seeking to sow panic in the region about a Ukrainian offensive as a pretext for military intervention.
The separatists, with an estimated 30,000 combatants, are trying to bolster their forces.
“I call on all the men of the republic who can bear arms to come out and defend their families,” the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, said Saturday in a televised address, and several thousand volunteers have reported to garrisons.
The mobilization came a day after the republics initiated the evacuation to Russia of some 700,000 Donbas residents – women, children and the elderly – who have Russian passports.
Ukrainian media denounced the proclamations of the evacuation and the mobilization as propaganda maneuvers, while Kiev has invited residents of the Donbas to cross over to the territory controlled by the central government.
The Zelenskyy administration said that it is prepared to open humanitarian corridors if needed and international aid organizations are trying to amass enough provisions to meet the requirements of the roughly 2 million people living along the line of separation.