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Ukraine’s soldiers under siege in Crimea

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March 19, 2014, 12:23 p.m. | Ukraine — by Oksana Grytsenko

Ukranian soldiers stand guard inside the Ukrainian navy headquarters in Simferopol on March 18, 2014. Russia's Constitutional Court unanimously ruled on March 19, 2014 that President Vladimir Putin acted legally by signing a treaty to make Crimea part of Russia, in an essential step in the Russian legal process towards ratifying the treaty. AFP PHOTO/ Filippo MONTEFORTE
© AFP

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea -- On March 19, the morning after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian troops located across the peninsula came under seige.

Pro-Russian self-defense groups backed by Russian soldiers without epaulettes began pressuring the Ukrainians to defect and swear an oath to the people of Crimea, or leave Crimea immediately. Those who have refused both options experienced raids on their bases.

At 9 a.m. Kyiv time, some 150 civilians broke through the entrance gate to Ukraine’s naval headquarters in Sevastopol. The pro-Russian crowd, led by women and a masked man, pushed their way onto the territory and shoved aside the soldiers, ripping down the Ukrainian flag and replacing it with a Russian one.

Although Ukraine's military command said it would allow Ukrainian soldiers to fire guns in self-defense, an officer was shot and killed on March 18 during the storming of his base in Simferopol. The Ukrainian military did not fire their weapons during raids today.

“See what they do? They ram the gate, then move forward women and civilian men, and then the Russian soldiers go,” Vladislav Seleznev, a spokesman of Ministry of Defense in Crimea told the Kyiv Post. “How can the soldiers shoot at women?!”

The pro-Russians are going to apply the same strategy in Crimea's Novoozerne, storming Ukrainian naval headquarters using women and children as shields, Seleznev added. Based on his sources he reported that the self-defense groups are planning to break the fence using a tractor. “According to sources, women and children stand in first row, then there is a line of representatives of self-defense, and then some 60 Russian soldiers,” Seleznev wrote on Facebook.   

Earlier five Ukrainian ships had to sail from a coast and drift on Donuzlav bay near Novoozerne after pro-Russian self-defense groups started pressuring the sailors to give oath to Crimea, Seleznev reported.

The Ukrainian military pilots of Belbek airport, which is in some 10 kilometers from Sevastopol, have been besieged by Russian troops as well, who do not allow anybody in or out, wife of colonel Yuly Mamchuk, the head of the military base, told the Kyiv Post by phone.

At the same time it remains unclear what kind of order the Ukrainian commanders are going to give their soldiers, who have been besiged. 

“Don’t ask me about stuff like this, we don’t know,” Seleznev said.  

Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at grytsenko@kyivpost.com.

Editor’s Note: This article has been produced with support from the project www.mymedia.org.ua, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action.The content in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of the Danish government, NIRAS and BBC Action Media.

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