Connect to share and comment

Ukraine's navy at end of rope in Crimea

PlacardEnlarge
(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

As the flags go down one by one on Ukraine's fleet in Crimea, Russian forces are laying siege to the few ships left in a strongly pro-Russian community that is hostile to the new government in Kiev.

The Ternopil and Slavutich, Ukraine's biggest ships in Sevastopol, once stood side by side on the north side of the bay.

Thursday evening, the Ternopil, a corvette built to repel submarines, was stormed by Russian forces and towed across the bay.

On Friday, it was moored next to a Russian Black Sea fleet ship, its mast now flying the white and blue Russian navy flag.

The command ship Slavutich -- which was still flying the Ukrainian flag on Friday -- has been left in hostile territory and the pathway leading to it blocked by Russian military and pro-Moscow militias.

"Why are you filming those Maidan madmen?" a man yelled angrily from a Russian base seeing the camera pointed at the ship -- a reference to Ukraine's new government.

A local woman wrinkled her nose in disdain hearing about the Ukrainian ship.

"I've lived here all my life, I know where all the Russian ships are and I never cared for Ukrainian ones," she said.

One of the last sources of information from the Ukrainian ships, the newspaper "Ukrainian Navy" headquartered in Sevastopol, went offline Friday and stopped taking phone calls.

After Russia took control of the Ukrainian navy's headquarters in the city Wednesday, and its commander, rear admiral Sergiy Gayduk, was detained and driven to Crimea's border with Ukraine, naval officers still in Crimea have stopped answering their phones.

At the Black Sea Naval Academy, the Ukrainian flag went down and a Russian flag went up Thursday as the commander of the Black Sea fleet Alexander Vitko told the officers that the institution will now have a new head on Russian President Vladimir Putin's orders.

But as the ceremony was nearing an end, a group of students started defiantly singing the Ukrainian anthem before going back inside the school, videos shot by onlookers showed.

- Serve Russia? 'Why not?' -

The new pro-Russian authorities meanwhile invited those serving in the navy and the military to switch allegiances and join up with the Russian armed forces.

Sevastopol's maverick mayor Sergiy Chaly on Thursday said the Ukrainian servicemen are welcome to come register their names and either leave Crimea to continue serving at other Ukrainian bases or receive salary for three more months before making a decision to leave the military or continue to serve Russia.

Dozens responded to the call Friday to register their names at the headquarters of the pro-Russian militia in the outskirts of Sevastopol, surrounded with barbed wire and sandbags.

A deputy commander of the headquarters, sitting in a makeshift situation room with giant charts and lists of numbers of pro-Russia activists, declined to be interviewed, explaining that he "only talks to Russian television channels".

A young man named Maksim standing outside in line said he now wanted to serve Russia.

A student studying to be a military doctor, Maksim said he also had a military contract with Ukraine's interior troops.

"I served in Sevastopol, not in Ukraine," he said. "Times change, and people stay the same," he said of changing allegiances.

Asked if he had a guilty conscience about making the switch, he said: "Yes".

"But," he said: "I am a doctor first and a soldier second, and the Hippocratic oath is to the people, not any government."

For three months, he was in Kiev, standing with riot police face to face with the protesters on Independence Square.

"We were hit, we were abused," he said. "Only a fool was not scared there."

"After that experience, I don't want to serve Kiev anymore," he said.

ma/dt/gk

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140321/ukraines-navy-at-end-rope-crimea