/ Go to the photo bankOn Friday, the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic announced the start of a mass evacuation of the population to Russia after shelling by Ukrainian forces intensified in the breakaway Donbass region.Loud civil defence sirens have been heard in Donetsk after the announcement of mass evacuation from the self-proclaimed republic to Russia, a Sputnik correspondent reported.The sirens can be heard in the videos captured by the correspondent, and streets are seen to be completely deserted.Local authorities have yet to announce why the sirens sounded. The civil defence sirens go off in Donetsk regularly (once every two or three months) but, as a rule, the authorities of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) warn the population in advance.The sirens went off shortly after Denis Pushilin, the DPR head, announced a mass evacuation of the population to Russia amid ongoing shelling by Ukrainian forces.
"When the enemy shells the settlements of the republic, the life and health of our citizens may be endangered. Therefore, from today, 18 February, a mass centralised evacuation of the population to the Russian Federation has been organised. First of all, women, children and the elderly will be evacuated," Pushilin said.
He then said that facilities that will welcome the population are ready in Russia’s Rostov region “as agreed with Russian authorities”.”Evacuees will be provided with everything they need. All conditions have been created at the checkpoints for a quick transition,” Pushilin added.He claimed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would soon order the military to launch an offensive on Donbass, to implement a plan to invade the territory of the self-proclaimed DPR and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR).Shortly thereafter, the LPR head, Leonid Pasechnik, followed Pushilin’s lead and called on his population to flee to Russia, adding that Ukraine is planning to break into LPR territory.Over the past few days, the situation on the contact line between Ukraine and the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk has seen dramatic escalation, with the parties accusing each other of shelling. According to the DRP People’s Militia, Ukrainian sabotage groups which have entered the territory of the self-proclaimed republic planned to blow up tanks with chlorine. At least two members of the sabotage groups are said to have been killed, and three more have been injured.Kiev launched a military operation against the Donbass regions in 2014 after Donetsk and Lugansk refused to recognise the new West-backed Ukrainian government and proclaimed independence from the country.
A ceasefire was signed in Minsk a year later after talks organised by the Normandy Four: Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany. The agreement has not been implemented so far, with continued violations by Kiev.