As tensions over the Russia-Ukraine conflict soared, the United States in late January ordered the departure of all family members of U.S. Embassy personnel, citing the “threat of Russian military action.” It also told nonessential staffers that they could leave.
The January move prompted U.S. allies such as Britain and Canada to follow suit and temporarily withdraw some staffers amid a buildup of Russian troops and weapons on Ukraine’s borders. But others, including the European Union, have opted to stay, instead urging more diplomacy as a way to stave off war.
The differing approaches highlighted a growing rift among Western nations over how to confront Moscow.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko last month called the evacuation of diplomatic families this “premature.”
“It is extremely important to avoid activity that could be used in the information space to increase tensions in society and destabilize the economic and financial security of Ukraine,” Nikolenko wrote on Twitter on Jan. 24.
He said that only a handful of the 129 diplomatic missions in Ukraine had announced evacuations. Here is where some of those nations stand.
After the order for diplomats’ families to leave Ukraine, U.S. officials in Kyiv held a virtual town hall in late January and warned hundreds of Americans that the embassy would not be in a position to evacuate them in the event of a conflict.
But the White House approved a Pentagon plan for U.S. troops in Poland to help Americans who evacuate Ukraine in the event of an invasion, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The decision to remove some staffers from Ukraine was “based on one factor only: the safety and security of our colleagues and families,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
“I want to be clear that our embassy in Kyiv will remain open and we continue to maintain a robust presence to provide diplomatic, economic and security support to Ukraine,” he said.
But on Sunday, the department announced it would halt all consular services at its embassy in Kyiv and instead would “maintain a small consular presence in Lviv” to handle emergencies. Citizens looking for passport, visa or routine consular services should “seek these services at U.S. Embassies in neighboring countries,” the department announced.
The State Department issued an advisory saying it had ordered the departure of “most U.S. direct hire employees” from the embassy in Kyiv on Saturday.
Last month, the embassy also issued an alert advisory ranking Ukraine as “Level 4: Do Not Travel.” According to the alert, security conditions along Ukraine’s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea and eastern Ukraine “are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice.”
The advisory said U.S. citizens “should consider departing now using commercial or other privately available transportation options.”
U.S. officials declined to offer more details about why the departure order was being made at that time, but they relayed President Biden’s remarks that an invasion “could happen at any time.”
The United States also warned citizens in nearby Belarus — where Russia has repositioned forces in recent days — to keep an eye on “political and military tensions in the region” and avoid public demonstrations. It urged Americans there to “regularly reevaluate possible departure plans in the event of an emergency.”
Global Affairs Canada announced on Jan. 25 that it would “temporarily withdraw” the children of embassy staffers and family members accompanying them. In a statement, it also cited “the ongoing Russian military buildup and destabilizing activities in and around Ukraine.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, told Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper that the move to send diplomats’ families home was understandable. But he warned that it was undercutting Ukraine’s morale.
“Overreacting to what the Russian Federation has been doing … is making Ukrainian society nervous,” Podolyak said in an interview in response to Canada’s announcement.
Britain temporarily withdrew some staffers and dependents from its embassy in Ukraine, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a Jan. 25 statement.
About half of the embassy staff would return to Britain, the BBC reported.
E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said last month that most member nations would not immediately be scaling back their embassy staffs.
“We are not going to do the same thing because we don’t know any specific reasons,” Borrell said ahead of a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers, Reuters reported.
“Negotiations are going on,” he said.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry said last month that families of key staff members were able to leave but that diplomats would stay.
“This is the appropriate measure in the current situation,” said ministry spokesman Christofer Burger.
On Saturday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock announced she would take steps to “further reinforce the crisis prevention measures that have already been taken,” including to reduce the diplomatic staff at the German Embassy in Kyiv. Germany’s Consulate General in Donetsk is being temporarily being relocated to Lviv.
Etienne de Poncins, France’s ambassador to Ukraine, in a Sunday statement recommended French citizens in Ukraine prepare a supply of water, food, warm clothing and a full tank of fuel. He advised French visitors to postpone all trips to Ukraine but said that France is not “at this stage” making a general announcement for French residents of Ukraine to leave the country.
The Australian government last month urged its citizens to leave Ukraine immediately because of the “increased risk of armed conflict,” Australia’s ABC News reported.
“Australians in Ukraine should leave now by commercial means, where safe to do so, noting that flight availability could change or be suspended at short notice,” the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a Jan. 25 statement.
It raised its advisory for Ukraine to “Do Not Travel.”
The Jerusalem Post reported on Jan. 26 that Ukrainian Jews were warned that they should prepare to be evacuated to Israel as the threat of an invasion loomed.
Top officials in the Israeli government and Jewish organizations held a briefing late January on the level of threat to Jewish communities in Ukraine, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. They also discussed the possibilities of an evacuation program for up to 75,000 Ukrainians thought to be eligible under the Law of Return — which “grants every Jew, wherever he may be, the right to come to Israel” and eventually become a citizen.