Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk, delivered a video address to local residents, in which he announced that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky was going to launch an offensive on the territory of the People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in the near future.
"The armed forces of the People's Republic of Donetsk, having experience in conducting military operations, remain in constant combat readiness. We are fully prepared to protect the civilian population and infrastructure,” Pushilin said.
Russian President Putin ordered to pay 10,000 rubles (about $130) to every refugees arriving in the Rostov region.
Earlier, Valery Zaluzhny, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said that Ukraine had no plans for an offensive in the Donbass. According to Zaluzhny, the Armed Forces of Ukraine strictly comply with the Minsk agreements and the norms of international humanitarian law, and "do not plan any offensive operations or shelling of civilians."
The authorities of the People's Republic of Donetsk ordered to start a massive and centralized evacuation of the population to Russia as the Ukrainian forces prepare for an offensive. Local residents will be evacuated to Russia, the Rostov region. It goes about several hundreds of thousands of people, Interfax news agency said.
The head of the People's Republic of Donetsk also said that the people would be evacuated to the Rostov region, in accordance with an agreement with the Russian administration.
The authorities of the People's Republic of Luhansk also decided to evacuate their citizens.
Leonid Pasechnik, the head of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Luhansk, also announced the evacuation of the residents of the republic.
"In order to prevent civilian casualties, I urge the residents of the republics who do not have mobilization orders, who do not participate in the works to maintain essential services of social and civil infrastructure, to leave for the territory of the Russian Federation as soon as possible,” Pasechnik said in his address to the residents of the People's Republic of Luhansk.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba stated that the information about the offensive operation of Ukraine in the Donbass was part of the Russian propaganda.
"Ukraine neither carries out nor plans any of such actions in the Donbass. We are fully committed to a purely diplomatic settlement,” Kuleba said.
The crisis on the borders of the unrecognised republics of Donetsk and Luhansk with Ukraine escalated on February 17. Kiev and the self-proclaimed republics accuse each other of artillery shelling.
On February 17, it was reported that a shell fired from a system of the Armed Forces of Ukraine hit the building of a kindergarten in the settlement of Luhanskaya. At least three people suffered shell shock. The Armed Forces of Ukraine blamed the self-proclaimed republics for the shelling.
The people's militia of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Luhansk later said that they had evidence indicating the involvement of the Ukrainian military in the shelling of the kindergarten.
Sergei Uvitsky, a Russian silver medalist of the 2010 European Karate Championship, Secretary General of the Kyokushin Karate Federation, was killed in the zone of the special military operation