Fear grows in Ukraine over Russian troop build-up

Russia says its deployment of an estimated 100, 000 soldiers and heavy weaponry to areas near the border with Ukraine poses no threat, as tensions escalate between the neighbouring countries.

Video Transcript

CHARLES STRATFORD: Ukrainian soldiers on the front line are on the highest level of alert since the signing of an often-violated ceasefire agreement with pro-Russia separatists seven years ago. Russia says its deployment of an estimated 100,000 soldiers and heavy weaponry to areas near the border with Ukraine poses no threat. Ukrainian military say they are preparing for the worst.

- (THROUGH INTERPRETER) I was mobilized and came back to the front line. I believe this is a crucial moment to defend my country.

CHARLES STRATFORD: World leaders and NATO have urged Moscow to pull back its forces. Most of these houses were destroyed in fighting in 2015. Around a million people live in a 10-kilometer wide so-called contact zone that stretches on both sides across the front line. Oksana says she fled with her son Zhenya from separatist-controlled areas two years ago.

- (THROUGH INTERPRETER) I have lived here since 2019. I used to live in Odlivka, but I had to flee because of my political views. It has been quiet these last few days. But this is the second night in a row my son wakes in the middle of the night screaming.

CHARLES STRATFORD: There is similar devastation in pro-Russia separatist-controlled areas.

- (THROUGH INTERPRETER) They have been shooting recently. Everyone waits, but nobody knows how the negotiations will end.

CHARLES STRATFORD: The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France, the so-called Normandy Format, have repeatedly failed to find a particular solution to the conflict. Ukraine refuses Russia's demand that it talk directly to pro-Moscow separatist leaders. Russia refuses to withdraw from Crimea, which it occupied in 2014. Analysts say political deadlock on many levels remain.

KATHERINE QUINN-JUDGE: The breakdown in the current cease fire was fairly predictable because the sides weren't negotiating in good faith. They stopped negotiating in good faith probably in about October. And they'd reached the point where they were, instead of trying to find common ground, they were deliberately putting forth proposals that they knew would annoy the other side or that they knew would be nonstarters. And once that starts to happen, then you know that the breakdown of the ceasefire is only a small-- it's only a matter of time.

CHARLES STRATFORD: Russia calls it a military exercise. Ukraine says it is a dangerous provocation. After seven years of failed peace negotiations, the UN says almost 3 and 1/2 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and protection. In Eastern Ukraine, Charles Stratford, Al Jazeera, Kiev.