Pro-Russian forces storm Ukrainian base in Crimea

Forces aligned with Moscow have been seizing Ukrainian military facilities for several days in the peninsula

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Pro-Russian forces stormed a Ukrainian air base in the Crimean region, tearing through concrete walls with armored vehicles and firing automatic weapons in the air, while at least one person was wounded, the base commander said.

A personnel carrier stormed through the open gate of the Belbek base near the port city of Sevastapol, Ukrainian Defense Ministry footage showed, according to the Associated Press.

The sound of stun grenades could be heard coming from the complex, Agence France-Presse reported. A man in military fatigues then dismantled a camera that provided a live feed of the front gate to the base.

Meanwhile, some of the unarmed Ukrainian soldiers sang their country’s 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.

Ongoing crisis

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,” according to Reuters.

A Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman 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.

Pro-Russian forces have been seizing Ukrainian military facilities for several days in the peninsula, which voted a week ago to secede and join Russia after a referendum in the Russian-majority region.

After the referendum – which was regarded as illegitimate by Western countries, Russia formally annexed Crimea.

With Crimea under effective control of Russian forces, Ukraine’s interim government is concerned is rising that Ukraine’s eastern regions will agitate for a similar move.

Elsewhere, more than 5,000 pro-Russia residents in Donetsk, a major city in eastern Ukraine, demonstrated in favor of holding a referendum on the possibility of splitting off and becoming part of Russia.

(With the Associated Press, AFP and Reuters)