Russia evacuates diplomats from Ukraine, takes down mission flags

KYIV/ODESSA, Ukraine, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Russia has started evacuating diplomatic staff from all of its missions in Ukraine, TASS news agency reported on Wednesday, citing a representative of the Russian Embassy in Kyiv.

The embassy as well as the consulate general in Odessa were seen on Wednesday with Russian flags taken down.

"Several cars left the territory of the consulate in the morning," a member of the Ukrainian National Guard who was on duty near the Russian consulate in Odessa told Reuters.

Russia's foreign ministry announced an evacuation of diplomatic staff from Ukraine for what it called safety reasons on Tuesday, a day after President Vladimir Putin recognised independence of two breakaway regions in Ukraine's east and ordered Russian troops "to keep peace" there, while massing military along Ukrainian borders.

The United States and its allies unveiled more sanctions against Russia on Wednesday over its recognition of the two separatist areas, while making clear they were keeping tougher measures in reserve in case of a full-scale invasion by Moscow. read more

Last week a video showing smoke rising from the Russian Embassy's chimney circulated online. An employee said that staff had burnt documents before departure, TASS quoted him as saying on Wednesday.

"This is an ordinary procedure. In cases like we have now there is a set of measures that should be taken for security reasons," the employee said, according to TASS.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry requested President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to break off diplomatic ties with Russia in response the recognition of independence of separatist-held regions.

Zelenskiy said on Tuesday he was weighing the request. read more

Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in Kyiv, Iryna Nazarchuk in Odessa, Alexander Marrow in Moscow; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Heinrich

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