Ukraine has accused Russian-backed fighters in eastern Ukraine of shelling a village in the Luhansk region, striking a kindergarten full of students on Thursday morning. Luckily there were no casualties. However, Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian military have been blaming each other for the shelling. The shelling started at 9 am and continued till 1 pm.
A kindergarten in the village of Stanytsia Luhanska was struck first around 9am local time, with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky saying rebels shelled the building which is located close to the frontline on Kiev's side in a "big provocation." Ukraine's Ministry of Defense later said that shelling had stopped as of 1 p.m. local time, according to Reuters.
Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation on Thursday claimed on Facebook that pro-Russian rebels shelled 22 settlements in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. They added that several civilians and military personnel were injured.
"A total of 32 shells were fired by terrorists," the statement said. "The shelling damaged kindergartens and communal infrastructure â half of the village was left without electricity."
Videos on social media show the scale of damage suffered following the shelling on the kindergarten, where students were present at the time of bombing. According to the JFO, three staff of the kindergarten were hurt, and children and caregivers were evacuated.
"The shelling of a kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska by pro-Russian forces is a big provocation," Zelenskyy tweeted on Thursday. "It's important that diplomats and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] remain in Ukraine, [as] their monitoring activities are an additional deterrent."
The kindergarten was struck first at 9 am. Around an hour later, Ukraine reported fresh shelling in Popasna, about 50 miles south of Stanytsia Luhanska, with a school and two surrounding residences being struck. There were no early reports of injuries.
Russia on the other hand has been trying to paint a completely opposite picture. Pro-Kremlin social media posts claimed that the kindergarten was on their side of the frontline, while Russian rebels attempted to reverse the narrative, claiming Ukrainian troops had fired at them.
The reports came as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused Moscow of attempting to create a false flag operation to justify an invasion, raising fears that the situation would worsen if Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov made a statement blaming Ukraine for the assaults and urging Kiev to back down.
Meanwhile, a video purportedly showing a strong column of smoke rising from the Russian embassy in Kiev has surfaced, sparking fears that critical documents are being burned before diplomats escape.
Other photos on social media show a massive troop movement across Belarus, Russia, and the annexed Crimea. Some show Russian tank barracks that had been cleared, others depict new build-ups of attack helicopters and vehicles, while still others showed tanks and artillery pieces forming up in convoy and preparing to move.
Amid all these, following reports of the violence, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a last-minute change of plans on Thursday, and will speak at a United Nations Security Council meeting on Ukraine before heading to Munich.
"The evidence on the ground is that Russia is moving toward an imminent invasion," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said in a statement Thursday. "This is a crucial moment."