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Ukraine troops make last stand

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Ukraine troops make last stand

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BELBEK AIR BASE, Crimea (AP) – Ukraine’s armed forces took what may prove to be one of their final stands today in Crimea, as pro-Russian forces stormed and seized control of an air force base amid a barrage of gunfire and explosions.
A tense blockade of the Belbek air base that has endured for more than a week looked set for an inevitable culmination following the seizure of one Ukrainian-held military facility after another in recent days.
It was the last major Ukrainian military facility in Crimea to fall into the hands of pro-Russian forces. The Ukrainian Defence Ministry hasn’t provided details of how many bases it still controls on the peninsula.
Crimea residents voted last week to secede from Ukraine and join Russia – a process that was formalised this week with the blessing of President Vladimir Putin. The vote, which was held under condition akin to martial law under the gaze of apparently Moscow-led militia forces, has been rejected as illegitimate by the international community.
The assault on the Belbek base mirrored events at other Ukrainian-held military facilities on the peninsula in recent days.
In footage provided by the Ukrainian Defence ministry, a Russian-made BTR-80 armoured personnel carrier could be seen smashing open a front gate at Belbek, a base across the bay from the port city of Sevastopol.
APCs crashed through walls at two other locations and were followed by armed personnel, who advanced in crouching position as they secured the area. Four BTR-80s were involved in the assault, Ukrainian officials said.
Ukrainian troops offered no resistance. Later, a separate motley group arrived at the scene. The crowd appeared to be made up of professional soldiers, members of a recently-formed militia unit and Cossacks.
The cause of the explosions wasn’t immediately clear, although Ukrainian officials said they were stun grenades used to disperse any potential resistance.
Two ambulances arrived and then departed shortly after. Ukraine’s Defence Ministry said one reporter and a Ukrainian soldier were injured in the raid.
After the takeover, Belbek base commander Col Yuliy Mamchur called together his men, who sang the Ukrainian national anthem and then stood at ease. He then told his men to put their weapons in the base’s armoury.