UPDATES WITH STATEMENT BY US STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON, CHANGES DECK
WASHINGTON (AA) - The US State Department has ordered families of its embassy staff in Ukraine to start leaving the country as soon as Monday, according to media reports.
Fox News, citing US officials, said on Saturday that the State Department is also expected to encourage US citizens to begin evacuating Ukraine next week by commercial flights while they are "still available".
The State Department is yet to make any official statement regarding the reports.
"We have nothing to announce at this time," a spokesperson for the State Department said when asked by Anadolu Agency about the reports.
"We conduct rigorous contingency planning, as we always do, in the event the security situation deteriorates," the spokesperson said in a written statement.
The official reminded that the US is already at a level four travel advisory for Ukraine due to COVID-19 and advised that US citizens should be aware of reports that Russia is planning for significant military action against Ukraine.
"If there is a decision to change our posture with respect to American diplomats and their families, American citizens should not anticipate that there will be US government-sponsored evacuations," the spokesperson said. "Currently commercial flights are available to support departures."
Late Friday, the US said it delivered some 200,000 pounds of "lethal aid" to Ukraine promised by President Joe Biden amid tensions with Russia.
The US alongside its European allies has been warning that Russia is setting the stage for the invasion of Ukraine and has pre-positioned more than 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine alongside significant artillery and tank deployments. Moscow has denied it is preparing for a military offensive, saying its troops are there for regular exercises.
Russian forces have also amassed in ally Belarus, just north of Ukraine. The Kremlin has maintained that there too troops are taking part in exercises. It has also been steadily building up its force levels in Crimea.
Russia in 2014 annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in a move that has never been met with international recognition, and which has been decried as illegal under international law.
That year also saw Moscow begin its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, a policy it has continued for eight years.
According to the UN, fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has seen more than 13,000 people killed since 2014.