Russian armour smashed into a base of Ukrainian troops yesterday in the first serious military action in the confrontation over Crimea.

Machine guns and stun grenades were used in the assault by Russian soldiers as they ended the siege of Belbek military airport in a brutal show of power. The commander of the base, Colonel Yuli Manchur, was arrested.

I saw the attack, which came when three armoured personnel carriers (APCs) punched a hole through the perimeter wall of the base, followed by soldiers in balaclavas. There were bursts of automatic fire and loud explosions as the troops surged through.

The Ukrainians stood unarmed as the Russians, among them Spetznaz special forces in black, began to surround them.


There were several casualties among the Ukrainians, at least one believed to have been hit by a Russian vehicle.

The Ukrainians lined up facing Russian troops 2.5m away, with guns aimed at them. The two sides shouted at each other with insults soon flying.

One Russian officer, apparently trying to calm the situation, shouted: "It's okay, no more shooting, you're safe". The ripostes ran: "You are making us safe by attacking us? We are here without guns, why are you hiding behind guns and your masks?"

The Ukrainian soldiers began to get telephone calls from their families saying that their apartments, outside the perimeter wire, were being broken into.

As more and more Russians came in, Manchur led his men in singing the national anthem. The Russians watched as the verses were roared out, followed by full-throated cries of "Glory to Ukraine, Glory to our Heroes".

Manchur then told his men: "You should be proud of yourselves, I am proud of you."

- Independent