MOSCOW -- Russian troops stormed and captured the Ukrainian military’s last remaining land base in Crimea on Monday, a Ukrainian official said.
The Russian commandos, backed by two helicopters and three armored personnel vehicles, attacked a marine unit near the resort city of Feodosiya about 5 a.m., Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznev wrote in his Facebook account.
Shots were fired in the air and the attackers used stun grenades, Seleznev said. Later three trucks were seen leaving the site carrying Ukrainian marines whose hands were bound.
“After the storming, marine battalion commander Col. Dmitry Delyatitsky and deputy commander Rostislav Lomtev were flown away in a Russian helicopter in an unknown direction,” Seleznev wrote.
[Updated at 10:10 a.m. PDT on March 24: Meanwhile, Ukrainian and Russian officials were carrying on talks on evacuating Ukraine’s loyal servicemen and families from the peninsula, a top Ukrainian military official said during a briefing Monday in Kiev.
“About 50% [of Ukraine servicemen stationed in Crimea] joined the Russian side,” said Olexandr Razmazin, army deputy chief of staff, the UNIAN news agency reported. The decision has been made to carry out the evacuation, he said, “but we need to work out a legal way to do it.”
Earlier in the day, Ukrainian acting President Olexandr Turchinov ordered the Defense Ministry to conduct “a redeployment” of Ukraine troops from Crimea.]
Dmitry Tymchuk, a Ukraine defense expert told The Times that more than 200 Russians were involved in the assault in Feodosiya.
“Ukraine marines didn't shoot back but engaged the attackers in a hand-to-hand combat,” Tymchuk, head of Kiev-based Center for Military and Political Research, said in an phone interview. “But they were greatly outnumbered by the Russian invaders.”
Tymchuk said about 30 Ukraine marines were taken prisoner by the Russians; Seleznev said the number was at least 60.
“Russian military are in a hurry to claim that there are no longer any Ukraine army bases in the peninsula to prevent the U.N. General Assembly from declaring Crimea a demilitarized zone at its session on Thursday,” Tymchuk said in a phone interview. “The General Assembly may theoretically demand that both Russia and Ukraine withdraw their troops from the peninsula, but Russia can make an argument that there are no Ukraine troops in Crimea any longer and prevent the issue from being discussed.”
Two Ukraine naval vessels in the Donuzlav Lake continue to resist Russian efforts to capture them, Tymchuk said.
Russian troops have been steadily increasing their control over Ukraine's Crimean peninsula since Feb. 27, when heavily armed Russian commandos in unmarked uniforms captured the regional parliament in the city of Simferopol. The same day, the parliament called for a referendum on secession from Ukraine and elected a new pro-Moscow government that immediately asked for Russian military assistance.
The referendum on March 16 was held with Russian troops blockading Ukraine army and naval bases and cutting off the only land route into the peninsula from mainland Ukraine.
More than 96% of Crimean voters, with a turn out of more than 80%, favored joining Russia in the referendum, a decision not seen as a surprise in a region where the majority speaks Russian but widely rejected by the international community. Moscow last week officially annexed Crimea, home base for the Russian Black Sea Fleet base.
Since that announcement, Russian troops have been seizing the remaining Ukraine army and naval bases across the peninsula. Ukraine troops, apparently intent on not provoking a conflict, have largely refrained from opening fire on the attackers. However, one Ukraine officer was killed and at least three injured in the assaults, media reports said.
At least five commanding officers of the Ukraine army and navy, including the latter’s deputy commander in chief of Ihor Voronchenko, reportedly are still being held by Russian troops.