US orders families of embassy staff in Ukraine to leave country
The State Department has ordered family members of government employees at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country, while also allowing non-essential staffers to depart amid growing worries of a Russian invasion.
In an advisory, the agency authorized the voluntary departure of direct hire employees and ordered the departure of eligible family members due to “continued threat of Russian military action.”
“U.S. citizens in Ukraine should consider departing now using commercial or other privately available transportation options,” it adds.
“U.S. citizens in Ukraine should be aware that Russian military action anywhere in Ukraine would severely impact the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide consular services, including assistance to U.S. citizens in departing Ukraine,” it continued.
Senior State Department officials briefing reporters on Sunday said the authorized voluntary departure applies to non-emergency U.S. government employees, who now have the option to leave the country if they so choose. Family members, however, will be required to leave the country.
The officials didn’t give estimates on how many U.S. citizens were in Ukraine because the agency said it doesn’t maintain those numbers.
The State Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already advise American citizens not to travel to Ukraine due to the high risk of contracting COVID-19.
But the new orders come as Russia has massed at least 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine, sparking fears that Moscow may invade like when it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
The Biden administration has warned that such an invasion could occur by mid-February, though Moscow has denied intentions of invading the former Soviet state.
The advisory warned that security conditions along Ukraine’s borders, in Crimea, and in eastern Ukraine are unpredictable and can “deteriorate with little notice.”
State Department officials said Sunday that Washington still doesn’t know what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions are, adding the orders don’t change the U.S.’ commitment to Kyiv.
“As President Biden told President Putin, should Russia further invade Ukraine, the consequences will be severe and the United States will provide additional defensive materials to Ukraine above and beyond that already provided,” one official said.
The U.S. is still focused on a diplomacy as a way to diffuse tensions between the nations but has provided millions of dollars in defensive aid to Ukraine.
Kyiv has received a second shipment of weapons in a $200 million defensive aid package which was approved in December. The shipment included over 80 tons of weapons.
Updated: 7:37 p.m.
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