An apparent car bomb reportedly exploded outside a government building in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine Friday, raising fears that a “false flag” operation to precipitate a Russian invasion was already underway.
The vehicle exploded in a parking lot in the center of the city at around 7 p.m. Moscow time, reported Russian state-run media agency RIA Novosti, which cited a Telegram channel for the People’s Militia Department of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
The blast reportedly could be heard throughout the city of about 900,000 people.
Other Russian-backed news agencies claimed the vehicle belonged to Denis Sinenkov, chief of the People’s Militia. It was not immediately clear if anyone was killed or severely injured in the blast, though some reports claimed one person was injured.
The Post was unable to immediately confirm whom the vehicle belonged to or who was behind the explosion.
Earlier Friday, separatist leader Denis Pushilin ordered a mass evacuation to Russia of all women, children and elderly civilians in the area, claiming Ukraine was planning to invade the separatist-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
“In recent months, we have been observing a daily increase in the number of military personnel and lethal weapons by Ukraine, including Smerch and Uragan multiple launch rocket systems, NLAW rocket launchers, as well as Javelins and Stingers along the entire line of contact,” Pushilin said in a video statement.
“Today their guns are aimed at civilians, at us and our children. The armed forces of the enemy are in combat formations and are ready for the forceful capture of Donbass.”
Ukraine immediately denied the accusation.
“We categorically refute Russian disinformation reports on Ukraine’s alleged offensive operations or acts of sabotage in chemical production facilities,” Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba tweeted. “Ukraine does not conduct or plan any such actions in the Donbas. We are fully committed to diplomatic conflict resolution only.”
As shelling attacks hit eastern Ukraine this week, government officials and Russian separatists each blamed the other for the attacks.
On Thursday, a shell hit a kindergarten building in the village of Stanytsia Luhanska, one of approximately 500 explosions recorded in the region that day. Friday saw nearly 600 explosions recorded in the area, with one diplomatic source telling Reuters the violence was the most intense since a 2015 cease-fire halted major combat operations.
“They’re shooting — everyone and everything,” the diplomat said. “There’s been nothing like this since 2014-15.”
On Friday, the United Kingdom revealed they have intelligence exposing “Russian plans to engineer a pretext for the invasion of Ukraine.”
“We know the Russian Government’s playbook. Do not be deceived,” the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office tweeted. “We call on Russia to de-escalate, and to engage in meaningful talks. #StandWithUkraine”
The London government indicated that the most likely false flag operation involved a staged attack on civilians that would be blamed on Ukraine’s military or “terrorists.” Another possibility, the Foreign Office said, was that Moscow would provoke violence in order to cast its forces as peacekeepers.
On Thursday, the UK’s Defence Ministry outlined possible invasion routes Russia could take as tens of thousands of its forces sit along Ukraine’s border.
The US currently believes Russia has massed between 169,000 and 190,000 military personnel “in and near” Ukraine, up from approximately 100,000 as of Jan. 30, according to Ambassador Michael Carpenter, the US envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“This estimate includes military troops along the border, in Belarus, and in occupied Crimea; Russian National Guard and other internal security units deployed to these areas; and Russian-led forces in eastern Ukraine,” Carpenter said in a statement to an OSCE meeting in Vienna, describing it as “the most significant military mobilization in Europe since the Second World War.”