Ukraine was preparing to impose a nationwide state of emergency on Wednesday and told its citizens to leave Russia, amid growing signs that it was veering closer to a full-blown war with its northern neighbour.
Kyiv’s move to introduce emergency rule came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called up the reserve troops and his administration pleaded with the west to hit Russia with even tougher sanctions.
The measures underlined the gravity of the situation facing Kyiv after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian “peacekeeping” forces into the breakaway eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The US unveiled sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, accusing Putin of beginning an “invasion” of Ukraine. These followed similar moves from the EU and the UK, which cast the measures as part of a first wave of economic curbs on Russia.
But Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, called on the west not to delay tougher sanctions if it wanted to deter Moscow from “further aggression”.
“First decisive steps were taken yesterday, and we are grateful for them. Now the pressure needs to step up to stop Putin. Hit his economy and cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now,” Kuleba tweeted.
Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, announced on Wednesday that additional defensive weapons were being sent to Ukraine “in light of the increasingly threatening behaviour” displayed by Russia.
The Ukrainian president urged calm and said that he did not believe Russia would launch a major assault, although he said preparations were being made should one occur.
Zelensky said that the deployment of reserve troops was not a mass mobilisation, stating: “We must increase the readiness of the Ukrainian army for all possible changes in the operational environment. We are talking exclusively about citizens assigned to the operational reserve.”
The state of emergency is expected to be approved by parliament on Wednesday. The powers will fall short of martial law, which would put Zelensky in charge of all decisions, but would allow for measures to be implemented by special commissions composed of central and regional government authorities.
The emergency order will apply to all of Ukraine except for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which have been under a separate regime since 2014 when Russia fomented a proxy separatist war in the two regions after annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
Oleksiy Danilov, the national security chief, said that the emergency measures would include enhanced security procedures in public places, restrictions and inspections on transport, and document checks.
“These are preventative measures imposed so that calm is preserved in the country, so that our economy continues to operate, so that our country continues to operate,” he said.
“The main aim of the Russian Federation is to reach their goals through domestic destabilisation,” he added. “Today’s decision was adopted to prevent this.”
Separately, Ukraine’s government told its citizens on Wednesday to avoid travelling to Russia, while Ukrainian citizens residing in Russia should “leave its territory immediately”.