The Ukrainian Government and Russian-backed separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk are currently trading accusations of each shelling the other, further escalating tensions within the Ukrainian border. Ukrainian and United States officials say that these Russian-backed separatists are only pursuing these allegations of shelling as a pretext to invade Ukraine.

According to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, separatists fired heavy artillery in the Stanytsia-Luhanska village where said shells hit a Fairy Tale Kindergarten. The artillery attack wounded multiple civilians, damaged public infrastructure, and knocked out portions of the village’s electricity. It was reported that 24 children were present in the kindergarten when an artillery round hit their sports room. A mortar landed on the playground seconds later.

Ukrainian Commander of the Ukrainian Military in Donbas Lieutenant-General Alexander Pavliuk reported that there were 49 incidents of separatist fire along the frontline, with over 39 artillery attacks since last week.

Furthermore, a car was also destroyed and subsequently blown up outside a government building in Donetsk, which Russian-backed separatists accused the Ukrainian government of an attack. It was later revealed that the car had belonged to Donetsk rebel military head Denis Sinenkov.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attributed the attack as a provocation by Russia and pro-Russian forces inviting Ukraine to retaliate. This heightens fears of the Kremlin using small escalations as a pretext to invade Ukraine proper.

To further escalate tensions, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Head of State Denis Pushilin claimed that Kyiv had been planning an assault on the Donbas region, a portion of Ukraine that has since been in the hands of separatists and the subject of constant fighting since 2014. Similarly, Luhansk People’s Republic leader Leonid Pasechnik also claimed this alleged military assault. Both claims were released without any substantive evidence to back them. In response to the allegations, Ukraine had stated that its forces have shown restraint despite the shelling and increased violence by the Russian-backed separatist proxies as they believe it is a provocation by Russia.

According to the Ukrainian Commander-in-chief of the military, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Russia was behind disinformation campaigns saying these allegations were “a campaign to spread mass disinformation, increase shelling of Ukrainian positions and civilian infrastructure with weapons banned by the Minsk agreements, and escalate the security situation.”