Russian forces used at least four armored vehicles, as well as stun grenades, to break into a Ukrainian air force base, seizing control of one of the last Ukrainian military outposts in Crimea.
After an hours-long tense standoff between Russian and Ukrainian forces, gunfire and explosions could be heard as the vehicles broke down the gate at the air base located just outside Sevastopol. It appeared that at least two people had been wounded and were taken away in ambulances.
Reuters reported the troops were armed with automatic weapons and stun grenades.
Keeping the red flag: People wave Russian and Soviet flags as they watch fireworks in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Photo: AFP
The assault on the base in Belbek came as an ominous mood was settling over the town. Russians and their many supporters want the Ukrainian forces to join their side or leave Crimea. Signs calling for the death of the base commander had been posted outside the installation.
On Saturday afternoon the Russians delivered an ultimatum demanding that the Ukrainians surrender their weapons and abandon the base. After several hours, they forced their way in.
“Why did you shoot?” one Ukrainian angrily demanded. The assault brought on a torrent of shouting, but no panic.
Yuli Mamchur, the Ukrainian base commander, said he had ordered his men not to resist to avoid casualties.
“We have done everything we could,” Mamchur told his men after the Russians took over the base.
“You acted with honor. There is nothing we should be ashamed of.”
Prior to the Russians storming the base, Mamchur had ordered his men to their stations. But those at the gate were armed only with sticks.
Ukrainian troops spent the afternoon burning documents and toasting with champagne two lieutenants who were married on what may be the base’s last day in Ukrainian hands.