US tells Ukraine embassy staff's families to leave as war fears rise

State Department also tells non-essential staff to leave at government's expense

A general view of the US Embassy in Kyiv. The US State department announced the reduction of staff levels in their embassy in Kyiv, starting with nonessential personnel and family members.   EPA
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The State Department has ordered the families of all American personnel at the US embassy in Ukraine to leave the country amid heightened fears of a Russian incursion.

The department told the dependants of staffers at the US embassy in Kiev that they must leave the country. It also said that non-essential embassy staff could leave Ukraine at government expense and advised US citizens to depart at their own expense.

"Military action by Russia could come at any time," a senior US State Department official told reporters. 

"The United States Government will not be in a position to evacuate US citizens in such a contingency, so US citizens currently present in Ukraine should plan accordingly, including by availing themselves of commercial options should they choose to leave the country."

Ukraine had already been on a no-travel advisory for Americans due to Covid-19 concerns. That warning has now been updated to: "Do not travel due to the increased threat of Russian military action," the official said.

Rising tension about Russia’s military build-up on the Ukraine border was not eased during talks on Friday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva.

"We continue to pursue the path of diplomacy," the senior US official said.

"But if Russia chooses further escalation, then the security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders in Russia-occupied Crimea and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice."

State Department officials said the Kiev embassy would stay open and that the announcement did not mean an evacuation. The move was under consideration for some time and did not reflect an easing of US support for Ukraine, the officials said.

The State Department noted recent reports that Russia was planning significant military action against Ukraine.

But the Russian Foreign Ministry has accused Nato countries of increasing tension around Ukraine with disinformation.

“The security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice," the State Department said.

“Demonstrations, which have turned violent at times, regularly occur throughout Ukraine, including in Kiev.”

Updated: January 24, 2022, 3:22 PM