WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department on Sunday ordered the families of all American personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine to leave the country amid heightened fears of a Russian invasion.
The department told the dependents of staffers at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv that they must leave the country. It also said that non-essential embassy staff could leave Ukraine at government expense.
The move came amid rising tensions about Russia’s military buildup on the Ukraine border that were not eased during talks Friday between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva.
State Department officials stressed the Kyiv embassy will remain open and that the announcement does not constitute an evacuation. The move had been under consideration for some time and does not reflect an easing of U.S. support for Ukraine, the officials said.
In a statement, the State Department noted recent reports that Russia was planning significant military action against Ukraine. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry has accused NATO countries of escalating tensions around Ukraine with disinformation.
Late Friday, the U.S. embassy in Kyiv tweeted photos of a shipment it said had just arrived from the U.S., with “close to 200,000 pounds of lethal aid, including ammunition for the front line defenders of Ukraine.”
Britain has sent anti-tank weapons to Ukraine as part of efforts to bolster its defenses against a potential Russian attack.
In another development, the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania plan to send U.S.-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, a move that the United States fully endorsed Saturday amid Kyiv’s escalating tensions with Russia.
The defense ministers of the three Baltic states said in a joint statement that they “stand united in our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in face of continued Russian aggression.”
The State Department added: “The security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea, and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice. Demonstrations, which have turned violent at times, regularly occur throughout Ukraine, including in Kyiv.”
The department’s travel advisory, which had warned against traveling to Ukraine because of COVID-19 as well as the tensions over Russia, was changed Sunday to carry a stronger warning.
“Do not travel to Ukraine due to the increased threats of Russian military action and COVID-19. Exercise increased caution in Ukraine due to crime and civil unrest. Some areas have increased risk,” the department advised.