US State Department warns citizens against visiting Crimea, East Ukraine

January 6, 2015 11:25 pm 

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 — The State Department warned US citizens "to defer all travel to the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk" in a new travel warning issued Monday, as violent clashes continue in parts of the regions despite the Minsk ceasefire agreement, resulting in "thousands of injuries and deaths."

The new travel advice supersedes a previous warning issued in August last year.

According to the State Department, individuals, including US citizens, have been threatened, detained or kidnapped for hours or days after being stopped at checkpoints controlled by independence supporters in eastern Ukraine.

The travel warning also noted that the Ukrainian government does not allow foreigners who enter the country through independence supporters' checkpoints to pass through government checkpoints.

Independence supporters in eastern Ukraine "have taken on an increasingly strident anti-American tone", the State Department claimed, advising US citizens who choose to enter or remain in conflict areas to "maintain a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings".

US citizens must also stay cautious in the regions of Odesa, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, the warning read. "In addition, due to a recent increase in low level terrorism incidents, travellers in the cities of Odesa and Kharkiv should exercise extreme vigilance in public places after dark."

The new travel warning advises US citizens to defer all travel to Crimea due to reports of alleged "abuses against the local population by de facto authorities in Crimea". In addition, Ukrainian authorities prevent foreigners who enter the peninsula from any country other than Ukraine from entering mainland Ukraine, the State Department noted. Crimea seceded from Ukraine and rejoined Russia in March after more than 96 percent of local voters supported the move in a referendum, which has not been recognized by Kiev.

The travel warning also called on US citizens throughout Ukraine to avoid large crowds, be prepared to remain indoors during escalated protests, and expect possible energy blackouts.

An armed conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine in April, when Kiev launched a military operation against local independence supporters. Residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region established people's republics that later declared their independence following the February overthrow of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Kiev and the breakaway regions reached a shaky ceasefire agreement in September, brokered by Russia and the OSCE, but have subsequently accused each other of violating the truce. (PNA/Sputnik)

FPV/SSC

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