Armoured vehicles break into Ukraine base in Crimea, shots fired

Armoured vehicles broke into Ukrainian base in Crimea where armed men pointed guns at Ukrainian soldiers.


Reuters/associated Press/afp March 22, 2014
Ukrainian soldiers walk out of an air force base in the small city of Novofedorivka, in the Saki district of western Crimea. PHOTO: AFP

BELBEK: Armed forces including armoured vehicles have broken inside a Ukrainian airbase in Crimea, firing from automatic weapons into the air, an AFP correspondent saw.

An armoured vehicle rammed through the gate of the base, and an ambulance was also seen approaching with sirens blaring, as armed men went inside and pointed guns at Ukrainian soldiers.

The sound of stun grenades could be heard coming from the complex. A man in camouflage and sunglasses then dismantled a camera that provided a live feed of the front gate to the base.

Some of the unarmed Ukrainian soldiers sang the Ukrainian anthem and shouted "Glory to Ukraine!"

The situation later calmed down and the gunmen lowered their weapons and could be seen walking around inside the base.

But the gunmen were hostile to the journalists present and forced AFP to hand over its video memory cards.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian defence ministry in Crimea Vladislav Seleznyov said on Facebook that pro-Russia militia were inside the base.

"The base has been surrounded by (Russian) special forces," he said, citing sources at the scene.

"There is information that one journalist was injured," he added.

Earlier Saturday the Belbek base wrote on its website that troops inside had received an ultimatum from Russian forces to lay down their weapons and surrender or prepare to be stormed.

Ukraine had already accused Russia on Friday of a "military invasion and occupation" of the Crimea peninsula, where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk called on Moscow "to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations," according to the Interfax news agency. "Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine."

The crisis was sparked when Ukraine's deposed president, Victor Yanukovych, ditched a deal for closer ties to the EU and instead turned toward Moscow. Months of protests followed, culminating in security forces killing dozens of protesters and Yanukovych fleeing to Russia.

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