Women and children first as Russian forces seize base

19th March 2014, Comments 0 comments

Women and children led a Russian take-over of a Ukrainian navy base in Crimea, the deputy commander told AFP, as some 50 servicemen were seen leaving with their heads bowed in the second such seizure on Wednesday.

"The self-defence militias came first, women and children marching in front of them, and the Russian soldiers behind," Viktor, who did not give his surname, said from the occupied base.

"The Ukrainian soldiers, who were armed, did not react. The base is completely under Russian control, but the arms depot is guarded jointly by Ukrainians and Russians now," he said.

The events at the Novoozerne base in western Crimea mirrored a similar seizure of the main navy headquarters in Sevastopol, home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet, in the south of the peninsula.

Ukraine's navy said women were first to enter the base in that take-over, after Ukraine on Tuesday authorised its military to use their weapons as "self-defence" following a killing in Simferopol of one of their soldiers -- the first death in the stand-off.

Some 50 servicemen were seen filing out at Novoozerne as Russian soldiers in balaclavas stood by and pro-Moscow militants raised the Russian flag over the base.

No Ukrainian soldiers wanted to speak except Andriy who said he was "happy that this is all over, happy that everything is calm and that no blood has been spilled."

"There was no conflict or provocation by locals or the military," he said.

-'They came from Ukraine, not Crimea'-

As they came out with their heads lowered, the last blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag was taken down and replaced with the Russian tricolor.

"No filming!" shouted a Russian officer as the servicemen -- who face prosecution for desertion -- came out.

Some went to their dilapidated barracks outside the base with their wives, others left on an old minibus.

"We have a lot of friends here so it's safe. It's a pity to have to do this to them," said a bystander Alexander, who himself used to serve in the Ukrainian army but said he had left in the 1990s.

Aram, an ex-Soviet Army soldier, said: "I respect these soldiers but they came from Ukraine, not Crimea. Ukraine doesn't care what Crimea thinks".

The base -- one of the four biggest in Crimea -- is near Lake Donuzlav, where Russian forces earlier this month deliberately sunk three of their own ships to block Ukrainian navy vessels.

The Novoozerne base was built by the Soviets in 1976 and is dotted with decorative Cold War missiles and communications equipment.

Four Russian soldiers could be seen standing guard on Wednesday, others patrolled the main base building -- one with his finger on the trigger of his assault rifle.

None of them had Russian insignia -- a pure formality since Russian signs were clearly visible on their vehicles and had been put up around the base.

Even before the Ukrainian soldiers left, two men were seen fixing a new emblem on the gate -- a two-headed eagle, the symbol of the Russian empire.

© 2014 AFP

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