The week before intensive diplomatic meetings began over the buildup of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, American and Ukrainian officials watched from afar as Russia began emptying out its embassy in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, Report informs, citing the New York Times.

On January 5, 18 people — mostly the children and wives of Russian diplomats — boarded buses and embarked on a 15-hour drive home to Moscow, according to a senior Ukrainian security official.

About 30 more followed in the next few days, from Kyiv and a consulate in Lviv, in western Ukraine. Diplomats at two other Russian consulates have been told to prepare to leave Ukraine, the security official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss national security matters.

How to interpret the evacuation has become part of the mystery of divining the next play by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Thinning out the Russian Embassy may be part propaganda, part preparation for a looming conflict or part feint, Ukrainian and US officials say. It could be all three, the New York Times said.

In recent days, the slow departures — which the Russians most likely knew that the Americans and the Ukrainians would see — have become part of the puzzle of what happens next. They are a more ominous data point, in addition to cyberattacks on Ukrainian ministries last week, and reports from Microsoft and the US government that far more destructive malware has been planted in Ukrainian networks but not activated.

US officials saw Russia’s embassy evacuations coming. “We have information that indicates the Russian government was preparing to evacuate their family members from the Russian Embassy in Ukraine in late December and early January,” a US official said in a statement.

Ukrainian officials say they saw the Russians leave.