Ukraine pulls troops from Crimea
Simferopol, March 24, 2014
Ukrainian troops and their families began evacuating from Crimea on Monday, as Kiev effectively acknowledged defeat by Russian forces who stormed one of the last of their remaining bases on the peninsula.
Thousands of Ukrainian troops have been besieged on bases in Crimea, offering no armed resistance but refusing to surrender, since President Vladimir Putin declared Moscow's right to intervene at the start of the month.
On Monday, bowing to the reality on the ground, Kiev's leadership announced Ukrainian forces were being pulled out to spare them and their families further Russian threats. A few hours later many were already on their way out.
Scores of troops from a marine base seized earlier in the morning gathered, some with their families, at an assembly point about 1000 metres (yards) away. Most were in combat uniform, wearing trademark black berets with Ukrainian cockades depicting a winged anchor and sword. Some were in civilian clothes.
"Yesterday we had an agreement: we would lower our flag and the Russians would raise theirs. And this morning the Russians attacked, firing live ammunition. We had no weapons. We did not fire a round," said one marine, Ruslan, who was with his wife Katya and 9-month-old son.
Troops hugged each other in farewell. Some chanted "Hurra! Hurra!" in defiance. One marine in full uniform who declined to identify himself wept and blamed the government in Kiev for the chaotic end to the standoff.
"This is all Kiev's fault. We are defeated. We suffered and ministers in Kiev did not bother to issue us a proper order," he said. "They smeared our flag and honour."
As two military trucks, a bus and 10 civilian cars pulled out of the gates, servicemen shouted through the open windows of the bus: "Long live the marines."
Moscow formally annexed Crimea last week and its forces have been seizing the last Ukrainian bases in recent days. - Reuters