Monday, July 22, 2024

State Department: It is Past time for Private Citizens to Leave Ukraine

Washington, DC – Secretary Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov today to urge a diplomatic resolution to Russia’s unprovoked military build-up around Ukraine. He reiterated that further Russian aggression on Ukraine would be met with a resolute, massive, and united Transatlantic response. Today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III ordered the temporary repositioning of the 160 members of the Florida National Guard – who have been training Ukrainian forces since late November – to other locations in Europe.

The Department of State ordered the departure of most US direct hire employees from the US Embassy in Kyiv due to the continued threat of Russian military action. The Department previously authorized the voluntary departure of US direct hire employees and ordered the departure of eligible family members on January 23, 2022. The Department’s travel advisory for Ukraine was updated today, notifying that as of Sunday, February 13, 2022, consular services at the US Embassy in Kyiv are being suspended. The Embassy will maintain a small consular presence in Lviv, Ukraine (close to the border with Poland) to handle emergencies but will not be able to provide passport, visa, or routine consular services.

Briefing members of the press, a Senior State Department official said, “These developments mean that it isn’t just time to leave Ukraine. It is past time for private citizens to leave Ukraine.” The official said that “a couple of thousand American citizens” have informed the Department in recent days of their presence in Ukraine, and they are in active contact with them. “A percentage of them have indicated they wanted to leave. And there’s another substantial part of that group that have said they’re choosing to remain in Ukraine. And even while we strongly urge them to reconsider and advise them to leave because of the dangers that we foresee, we fully respect their right to make their own choices,” said the official.

The Senior State Department official said that although the US continues to work intensively to try to ensure that Ukraine does not become a war zone, it appears increasingly likely that this situation is headed towards some kind of active conflict. “Even while we are taking these steps to reduce our official footprint, we’re of course continuing to support the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people, consistent with our strategic partnership with Ukraine and consistent with our principled support for Ukrainian sovereignty and its territorial integrity.”

The US does not have a facility in Lviv, and the decision to move consular operations there is due to its proximity to US diplomatic and consular facilities in neighboring countries. “We can maintain close coordination with colleagues in those neighboring countries and ensure that should military action on the part of Russia begin, we can move those people safely should we decide to do so,” said the Senior State Department official.

Most of the personnel departing Ukraine will be coming back to the US, where they will continue to work on Ukraine, while some of them may go to neighboring countries to support their colleagues in US embassies and consulates there, depending on how this situation develops.

In a statement today, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that Secretary Austin has ordered the temporary repositioning of the 160 members of the Florida National Guard who have been deployed to Ukraine since late November. These troops, assigned to the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, have been advising and mentoring Ukrainian forces as part of Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine. The troops are repositioning elsewhere in Europe. “The Secretary made this decision out of an abundance of caution — with the safety and security of our personnel foremost in mind — and informed by the State Department’s guidance on US personnel in Ukraine. This repositioning does not signify a change in our determination to support Ukraine’s Armed Forces, but will provide flexibility in assuring allies and deterring aggression,” said Kirby.

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