Pro-Russian Forces Capture Ukraine Navy Headquarters in Sevastopol

After Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on March 17, the government said they would seize all Ukrainian property and disband the Ukrainian military in the peninsula. They are keeping their word, as Crimean forces took control of Ukraine’s Navy headquarters in Sevastopol on Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, irregular local militia members entered the naval headquarters, which was then paid a visit by the head of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. Shortly afterwards, a number of Ukrainian soldiers walked out looking solemn, carrying their belongings in plastic bags.

A representative of the so-called self-defence units said they had carried out an operation to liberate soldiers held captive. "We wanted to set free the prisoners in the base that are being illegitimately held there by their commander," said Vladimir Melnik, who said he was the head of a local self-defence unit. He said a criminal case would be opened against the commander.

While Crimeans voted on Sunday, Ukraine’s government and defense ministry said they would never leave Crimea. Kiev did not recognize the referendum or considered the results legal. Ukraine Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh was confident his soldiers could defend Crimea.

"We are seeing an increase in the number of Russian servicemen in Crimea," he said. "And the Ukrainian armed forces are therefore taking appropriate measures along the southern borders."

Tenyukh said every senior Ukrainian officer in Crimea "clearly knows what is to be done depending on the situation".

"Decisions will be taken depending on how events unfold. But let me say once again that this is our land and we will not be leaving it."

The exit polls on Sunday showed over 90% of Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. Crimean leaders flew to Moscow on Monday and formally asked to join Russia, and on Tuesday President Vladimir Putin made it official. Pro-Russian forces opened fire on a Ukrainian base in Simferopol only hours later and killed one soldier. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called the act a "war crime." After the soldier was confirmed to have died, Ukrainian military personnel received permission to use their weapons.


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