At least five blasts heard in separatist-held Ukraine city of Donetsk: Witness

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DONETSK (REUTERS) - At least five explosions were heard in the separatist-held eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk early on Thursday (Feb 24), a Reuters witness said.

Following the blasts, four military trucks could be seen heading for the scene. Hours earlier, the Kremlin said two separatist breakaway regions in Ukraine had asked for Russian help to repel "aggression" by the Ukrainian army.

Earlier on Wednesday, two separate convoys of military equipment with no identifiable insignia were moving towards Donetsk along different roads from the direction of the Russian border, a Reuters witness reported.

One convoy included nine tanks and an infantry fighting vehicle, while the other was made up of trucks and fuel tankers, said the reporter, who was in the territory of two Russia-backed rebel regions recognised as independent by Moscow on Monday.

Ukraine declared a state of emergency on Wednesday and told its citizens in Russia to flee, while Moscow began evacuating its Kyiv embassy, in the latest ominous signs for Ukrainians who fear an all-out Russian military onslaught.

Meanwhile, satellite imagery taken on Wednesday showed new deployments in western Russia, many of them within 16km of the border with Ukraine and less than 80km from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, a private United States company said.

The images showed field deployment, military convoys, artillery and armored personnel carriers with support equipment and troops. The images released by Maxar Technologies, which has been tracking the build-up of Russian forces for weeks, could not be independently verified by Reuters.

Most of the troops and equipment were positioned in smaller unit-sized formations on farm land and along tree lines, Maxar said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the US company's images had shown a new deployment of more than 100 military vehicles and dozens of troop tents in southern Belarus near the Ukraine border.

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