By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times
MOSCOW—Ukrainian forces at two naval facilities in Crimea reported Wednesday that they were attacked by gunmen linked to Russia in violation of an earlier agreement to give them until Friday to leave the breakaway region.
“So-called pro-Russian self-defense forces of Crimea aided by Russian gunmen in unmarked uniforms stormed and gained control of our navy chief’s headquarters in Sevastopol,” Alexei Mazepa, regional spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, said in a phone interview. The headquarters building was under Russian control by midday, he said.
Ukrainian forces on the peninsula have largely been surrounded and barricaded by Russian troops and pro-Russian militia who seized control of Crimea late last month. On Tuesday, following a controversial referendum among Crimeans, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the Ukrainian region would become part of Russia.
A Russian journalist who witnessed the assault on the headquarters said it was launched by about 200 armed pro-Russian militia in Russian army uniforms and masks and by Russian Cossacks. The attackers broke down the gates of the base and surrounded the main building.
Ukrainian naval officers barricaded themselves in the building and the assault subsided when Vice Adm. Alexander Vitko, commander of Russia’s Crimean-based Black Sea fleet, arrived to negotiate, said journalist Oleg Klimov by telephone from the Crimean city of Sevastopol.
“As soon as Vitko was gone, the storm continued as the Cossacks and militiamen broke down the door and threw at least one stun grenade inside,” he said.