By Natalia Zinets and Maria Tsvetkova
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s top security official Oleksiy Danilov on Friday accused Russia of staging provocations in eastern Ukraine to try to goad Ukraine’s military to respond, but added that Kyiv would stick to peaceful ways to defuse the crisis.
Speaking alongside him in a joint briefing, Minister for Integration of the Temporary Occupied Territories Iryna Vereshchuk said Russia was trying to force Ukraine into making concessions and that Moscow refused to engage in peace talks.
Citing Ukrainian intelligence, Oleksandr Pavlyuk, the head of the Ukrainian army command in eastern Ukraine, said there was a high chance that future provocations could lead to civilian casualties.
Russian-backed leaders in eastern Ukraine packed civilians into buses on Friday and said they wanted to evacuate 700,000 people, heightening fears from the West that Russia could be creating a pretext to launch a full scale military offensive.
A Russian UAZ jeep also exploded outside the government building of the self-proclaimed separatist republic of Donetsk.
“Everything that is being stoked up today by the Russian Federation through its proteges on the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions is an attempt to provoke our armed forces, our troops into responses that they really wanted us to make,” Danilov said.
“There are no orders to liberate our territories by force,” he said.
Echoing previous statements by Ukrainian officials, Danilov said a full scale invasion of Ukraine was unlikely but that Ukraine was prepared for further provocations.
While the people in eastern Ukraine were being evacuated to Russia, Vereshchuk said Ukraine was willing to receive them instead and called on the international community to enable a wider corridor for civilians to cross into government territory.
She also appealed for Germany and France to help strengthen the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) conflict monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine.
“The Russian occupiers are escalating the situation, creating an informational background against which moods of panic begin,” Vereshchuk said.
Russia is trying to “undermine the situation, to force us to make concessions,” Vereshchuk said.
“I want to tell those people who are now deciding what to do, I tell those people who are in the temporarily occupied territory … Come to us … We are waiting for you, we will create all possible conditions so that you have a place to live, to eat, so that you feel that you are not alone.”
(Writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Philippa Fletcher)