Russia-Ukraine Shelling at Border Intensifies as Fragile Peace Shattered

Russia-Ukraine tensions intensified on Monday as Ukrainian forces and Kremlin-backed rebels traded accusations of shelling in Ukraine's breakaway enclaves.

The Russian military said on Monday it had killed five Ukrainian men and destroyed two armored vehicles that allegedly "infiltrated" and crossed the border into southwestern Russia.

Russia's Southern Military District said in a statement that a group of Ukrainian "saboteurs" were blocked from breaching the Russian border by the Russian military and the FSB intelligence agency.

"As a result of the clashes, five border violators from the sabotage and intelligence group were destroyed," the district said, according to the Interfax news agency.

The military body alleged that the "saboteurs" were discovered by a border squad of the FSB on Monday, at around 6:00 a.m. local time, near the village of Mityakinskaya in Russia's Rostov Oblast, located near the border with Ukraine.

No losses were suffered by Russia's armed forces or FSB border guards, it added.

The Ukrainian military quickly dismissed the reports, saying that there are no Ukrainian armed forces present in the Rostov region.

"Not a single one of our soldiers has crossed the border with the Russian Federation, and not a single one has been killed today," Anton Gerashchenko, an official at Ukraine's interior ministry, told reporters.

Tensions have risen dramatically in eastern Ukraine in the last week, with reports of intensifying shelling and fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk People's Republic and its fellow breakaway Ukrainian enclave, the Luhansk People's Republic.

Western officials have estimated some 150,000 Russian troops are massed at the border with Ukraine. Moscow has consistently denied that it is planning to invade, and last week claimed that it had begun to withdraw some troops. Ukraine and the U.S. immediately rejected those claims as false.

On Monday, the Center for Public Relations (PSC) of the FSB claimed that a shell launched from Ukrainian territory had destroyed a border guard post in the Rostov region near the state border.

The post was located some 160 yards from Russia's border with Ukraine, Russia's FSB security service said, noting that there were no casualties.

"This is simply untrue," Ukraine's Defense Ministry hit back, accusing Russia of spreading misinformation. "The building depicted in the pictures and videos spread by the Russian propaganda media outlets looks a lot more like a small storage shed than a border guard post."

The People's Militia of the Russian-backed separatist enclave, the Donetsk People's Republic, also accused Ukrainian forces on Monday of attempting to sabotage a railway station after a suicide bomber's remains were allegedly found at the entrance of a market near a railway station.

Mass evacuations are taking place by train from the separatist areas of Ukraine to Russia's Rostov province amid the escalating tensions.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Joint Forces Command claimed that separatist forces launched "heavy armament fire" in their own Luhansk territory on Sunday night as part of a push to "falsely accuse" Ukrainian armed forces and escalate tensions.

"They conduct different provocations and produce fake news every day, even a couple of times per day," Ukrainian military spokesperson Pavlo Kovalchuk told reporters Monday.

"We couldn't stop them producing this fake news, but we always emphasize that we do not shoot at civilian infrastructure," he said.

The U.S. has warned that Russia may fabricate a pretext to justify an invasion of Ukraine.

Russia Ukraine conflict
Ukrainian troops patrol in the town of Novoluhanske, eastern Ukraine, on February 19, 2022. - Ukraine's army said Saturday that two of its soldiers died in attacks in on the frontline with Russian-backed separatists, the first fatalities in the conflict in more than a month. "As a result of a shelling attack, two Ukrainian servicemen received fatal shrapnel wounds," the military command for the separatist conflict said. ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images