Metadata shows pro-Russian separatists filmed evacuation video days earlier
Metadata from the messaging app Telegram indicates that pro-Russian separatist leaders created videos ordering "emergency" evacuations from eastern Ukraine two days ago, but posted them on Friday, Bellingcat first reported and Axios can confirm.
Why it matters: U.S. officials have for days now accused Russia of preparing to fabricate a pretext to invade Ukraine. The two-day-old metadata from the leaders of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics could undermine claims that they ordered the evacuations due to an imminent threat of a Ukrainian offensive.
Driving the news: The head of the DPR, Denis Pushilin, said in a video posted online and on Telegram Friday that his forces have observed an increase in the number of Ukrainian military personnel and weapons along the line of contact.
- He claimed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will soon give an order for the military "to invade the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics," and ordered children, women and elderly civilians to be evacuated to Russia.
- The head of the LPR posted a similar video a short time later.
- The Ukrainian government has denied planning any kind of offensive operation and has accused the separatists of escalating tensions with artillery shelling over the past 48 hours.
- A State Department spokesperson called the separatist claims "further attempts to obscure through lies and disinformation that Russia is the aggressor in this conflict."
Between the lines: The most intense artillery shelling in eastern Ukraine since 2015 broke out on Thursday, one day after Pushilin apparently filmed the video.