Updated Jan 24, 2022 - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, undersecretary for political affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. chargés d'affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and nonessential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

Why it matters: The move underscores U.S. fears that a Russian invasion could destabilize Ukraine and threaten the embassy's ability to assist Americans.

The latest: White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing on Monday that the U.S. does not intend to carry out an Afghanistan-like military evacuation, which is why Americans should leave Ukraine now.

  • The United Kingdom's Foreign Office announced earlier Monday it was also withdrawing some embassy staff and dependents from Ukraine's capital "in response to the growing threat from Russia," but that the British Embassy would remain open.

Driving the news: "On January 23, 2022, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. direct hire employees and ordered the departure of eligible family members from Embassy Kyiv due to the continued threat of Russian military action," the State Department said in a travel advisory.

  • "U.S. citizens in Ukraine should consider departing now using commercial or other privately available transportation options."
  • "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. Demonstrations, which have turned violent at times, regularly occur throughout Ukraine, including in Kyiv."

Between the lines: Senior State Department officials told reporters on a briefing call that it was not a specific change in the security situation that led to Sunday's decision, but the "totality" of the Russian military buildup and threatening posture toward Ukraine over the last several months.

  • The officials declined to offer estimates of how many family members will be evacuated or how many Americans remain in Ukraine, citing a lack of accurate data.
  • "Given that the President has said military action by Russia could come at any time, the U.S government will not be in a position to evacuate U.S. citizens," one official stressed.

The big picture: Russia continues to amass forces on all sides of the Ukrainian border, including with significant new deployments to Belarus and additional military aid to Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

  • The British government on Sunday accused Russia of hatching a plot to overthrow the Ukrainian government in Kyiv and install a pro-Russian puppet regime.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken met on Friday with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, where he agreed to provide written answers to Russia's demands for a freeze on NATO expansion.
  • Blinken said Lavrov once again assured him Russia has no intention of attacking Ukraine, but added: "We're looking at what is visible to all, and it is deeds and actions, not words, that make the difference."

Go deeper... In photos: Behind the frontlines in Ukraine

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper