US staff of security org. begin pullout from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine

The US and its allies have urged their citizens to leave Ukraine right away to avoid an invasion, warning an attack could occur at any time.

 A woman passes by a T-34 tank and other Soviet-era military vehicles while practising nordic walking in a park in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, Ukraine January 27, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)
A woman passes by a T-34 tank and other Soviet-era military vehicles while practising nordic walking in a park in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, Ukraine January 27, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

U.S. staff at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) started to leave the rebel-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, a Reuters journalist said, amid fears of a possible Russian invasion.

Several armored cars with the OSCE's logo were loaded with suitcases and seen leaving the mission's headquarters early on Sunday. The OSCE did not respond to a request for comment.

The OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has been deployed in eastern Ukraine since the outbreak of a war between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces that Kyiv says has killed more than 14,000 people.

The United States and its allies have urged their citizens to leave Ukraine right away to avoid the threat of a Russian invasion, saying an attack could occur at any time.

Russia, which has built up military forces to the north, east and south of Ukraine, has rubbished the idea it plans to attack and has accused Western nations of spreading lies and hysteria.

 Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces stand guard at combat positions near the line of separation from Russian-backed rebels in the town of New York in the Donetsk region, Ukraine February 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/OLEKSANDR KLYMENKO) Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces stand guard at combat positions near the line of separation from Russian-backed rebels in the town of New York in the Donetsk region, Ukraine February 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/OLEKSANDR KLYMENKO)

Two sources told Reuters that the United States decided to withdraw its staff from Ukraine, while Britain moved its monitors from rebel-held areas to ones under government control.

One diplomatic source said 160 OSCE staff were being taken out of Ukraine, including Dutch, Canadian, Slovakian and Albanian citizens. That number could not be immediately confirmed by another source.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president's chief of staff, told Reuters that Kyiv had an interest in the Special Monitoring Mission working at full strength, but declined to comment further on what he said was an OSCE matter.

Russia's foreign ministry spokesperson criticized the U.S. move and said the mission was succumbing to what she described as a "military psychosis" stirred up by Washington.

In a statement, the official, Maria Zakharova, urged the OSCE's leadership to prevent attempts to "manipulate the mission" and said its monitoring was needed now more than ever.

Russia and OSCE have had disagreements in the past over eastern Ukraine.

Moscow refused to allow another OSCE mission to keep monitoring the border between the rebel-controlled area in east Ukraine and Russia in September. Pro-Russian separatists blocked its monitors in their hotel in Donetsk for a week in October.

Denmark's OSCE monitors also left Donetsk, one diplomatic source said. Reuters could not immediately establish whether they were leaving the country or only rebel-held territory.

Overall, 21 OSCE monitors left the rebel-held city and more than 30 others also planned to withdraw from nearby government-controlled areas, a diplomatic source said.

Out of 680 OSCE monitors in Ukraine, 515 are based in the eastern part of the country, according to the mission's official website.