NOVOLUHANSKE, Ukraine – “Calm down,” said Denis, the 28-year-old driver, after several mortar rounds hit the road behind us. As we sought cover inside the local army headquarters, half a dozen other mortar shells exploded around us.
We had a hastily arranged press tour of a tractor repair facility that had caught fire just hours before. A Ukrainian commander pointed to two holes left by the explosions, which he said injured a 27-year-old soldier.
“This is a provocation” from the Russian-backed rebels on the other side of the border, said Commander Anatoly Semenko. He showed a video of the soldier’s arm bleeding, and said he would probably have to be amputated.
With that, Mr. Semenko said that it was not safe for us to linger on this site, and when a small convoy of military vehicles departed, the shelling began again. As far as we can tell, there was no return fire from Ukrainian forces.
It is unclear whether the press tour was targeted by the rebels. But another tour run by the Ukrainian military was also met with heavy shelling in the town of Stanitsya Luhanska on Saturday.
Artillery fire rose across eastern Ukraine on Saturday, raining down along the demarcation line between Ukrainian territory and insurgents. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said in a rebel statement that the insurgency from mortars, artillery and rocket-propelled grenades had doubled from two days earlier.
The battle for the high level of rhetoric also took place quickly. In the breakaway region, thousands of people have been evacuated across the border to Russia, in anticipation of a Ukrainian attack.
Ukrainian officials dismissed it as a propaganda hoax to create an excuse for Russia to intervene. They in turn warned of “fake flag” attacks by the separatists, which the separatists would describe as terrorist attacks from Ukraine.
One of the evacuees, Inna Shalpa, said she did not know where she and her three children were going on the Russian bus on Saturday, but she was sure they had to move. “We mostly worry about the kids,” she said.
Following a steady diet of Russian state newscasts, the crowds flocking to the bus had little doubt that a Ukrainian attack was imminent, which Ukrainian officials accused of being a provocation. fictional.
From all appearances, most flames are directed towards eastern Ukraine from rebel forces. As shells fell on Saturday morning, Tanya Tinyakova stood on the doorstep of her home in the village of Luhansk, in the thick layer of artillery fire, pondering whether it was time to pack up and go.
“When we were so nervous, we would leave,” she said. “But we built this house with our own hands. We don’t want to leave. This is ours. We have nowhere to escape to.
Tinyakova, 31, said: “Even if we had a place to go, we wouldn’t want to, because this is our home.”
But Tinyakova and thousands of others like her may be left with no choice, as President Biden has warned the world that a Russian attack is almost certain in the coming days. She and thousands of others nearby added to the misfortune of living in an area that has worried security analysts for weeks because of its proximity to hazardous industrial infrastructure, including a power plant. important, a giant waterworks and a sprawling chemical plant.
The water works serve millions of people on both sides of the border, including residents of the city of Donetsk, one of the two rebel capitals. Cutting off the water supply during the fighting in 2014 accelerated the flow of refugees from the city.
On Saturday, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the Donetsk People’s Republic, as saying the shelling had damaged a pumping station and water pipes, as well as water supplies. risk of being affected. The loss of water to people in Russia-backed regions is a setback for Ukraine, reinforcing Russia’s assertion that the situation is increasingly dire for civilians.
But the biggest concern surrounds the chemical plant, which is located in rebel territory and is one of Europe’s biggest fertilizer producers. It was feared that a shell fired by Ukrainian forces in response to intense rebel shelling from the vicinity of the plant could go astray. If it hits pressurized tanks or more than 12 miles of pipeline containing toxic ammonia gas, it could create a toxic cloud that could be the pretext for a Russian invasion.
In addition, the United States has warned that the Russian government may stage an incident with toxic chemicals to justify intervention.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, which only reports on fire to government-held territory, said in its statement that 59 mortars and artillery shells had landed in Svitlodarsk, the village closest to the plant. , before 2 p.m., the shelling continued with another salvo around 4 p.m.
Residents near Svitlodarsk said both sides had shelled in recent days.
Earlier on Saturday, the Ukrainian army speak One soldier was killed and another wounded while fighting along the front lines in the area, near chemical plants and water supply works.
Valerie Hopkins report from Novoluhanske, Ukraine; Andrew E. Kramer from Severodonetsk, Ukraine, and Ivan Nechepurenko from Avilo-Uspenka, Russia.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/19/world/europe/ukraine-russia-shelling.html A press tour goes wild in Ukraine as Russian-backed shelling intensifies