Shots fired as Russian troops force their way into Ukrainian base in Crimea

BELBEK AIRBASE, Crimea Sat Mar 22, 2014 3:46pm EDT

1 of 13. Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, drive an armoured vehicle onto the territory of a military airbase as they attempt to take over in the Crimean town of Belbek near Sevastopol March 22, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov

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BELBEK AIRBASE, Crimea (Reuters) - Russian troops forced their way into a Ukrainian airbase in Crimea with armored vehicles, automatic fire and stun grenades on Saturday, injuring a Ukrainian serviceman and detaining the base's commander for talks.

A Reuters reporter said armored vehicles smashed through one of walls of the compound and that he heard bursts of gunfire and grenades.

Colonel Yuliy Mamchur, the commander of the base, said a Ukrainian serviceman had been injured and that he himself he was being taken away by the Russians for talks at an unspecified location.

Asked if he thought he would return safely, he said: "That remains to be seen. For now we are placing all our weapons in the base's storage."

Belbek was one of the last military facilities in Crimea still under Ukrainian control following Russia's armed takeover and subsequent annexation of the peninsula, which has a majority ethnic Russian population and is home to one of Russia's biggest naval bases.

Earlier, the deputy commander of the base, Oleg Podovalov, said the Russian forces surrounding the base had given the Ukrainians an hour to surrender.

After the Russians entered, a Ukrainian officer who identified himself only as Vladislav said: "We did not provoke this, this was brute force. I do not know whether this base will be formally in Russian hands by the end of the day.

"Ever since World War Two, this place has been quiet, and they came in here firing, with APCs and grenades. I am very worried now."

Mamchur, the commander, told his troops he would inform the high command that they had stood their ground. The soldiers applauded, chanting "Long live Ukraine!"

Many stood to take pictures of each other in front of the Ukrainian flag, which continued to fly over the base.

The Russian takeover of Crimea has been largely bloodless, though one Ukrainian serviceman was killed and two others wounded in a shooting in Simferopol earlier this week.

Ukraine's Defence Ministry said on Friday that Crimea's bases were still formally under Ukrainian control, but most are now occupied by Russian troops and fly Russia's tricolor flag.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, Gabriela Baczynska and Alessandra Prentice; Writing by Kevin Liffey Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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Comments (52)
marisa70394 wrote:
Hang on Ukraine! Russia has lost Crimea before and they will lose it again!

Mar 22, 2014 9:35am EDT  --  Report as abuse
BlueCannon wrote:
Beseiged by pro-Russian troops, with limited supplies and no Kiev reinforcement in sight, the Ukraine defense ministry should recall, withdraw these dug-in but helpless soldiers, unless they switch own allegiance. It is not worthwhile to sacrifice in such overwhelming situation. Life goes on better for them outside Crimea.

Mar 22, 2014 9:44am EDT  --  Report as abuse
ProEto wrote:
Kiev continues to provoke Russian forces for violence against Ukrainians although they were very patient with these “bases”. Poor guys, they served there in these poorly maintained bases (look at the pictures!) mainly for watching over Russian and Tatar communities. Now after the re-unification with Russia, keeping the personnel there under Kiev orders makes no sense and is a pure provocation

Mar 22, 2014 10:26am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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