Ukraine crisis: Colonel captured during storming of Crimea's Belbek airbase set free

After deaths threats and imprisonment, the leader of Ukrainian military resistance is leaving Crimea

Kiev

Colonel Yuli Manchur, who became the most prominent face of Ukrainian military resistance in Crimea has been freed by the Russians who captured him after his base was stormed, The Independent has learned.

The Commander of Belbek airbase was  said to have been released this afternoon and is now believed to be on his way out of Crimea by road along with his wife Larisa.

Former colleagues who met him briefly stated that Col Manchur did not show any obvious signs of injury, but looked drained and unwell and may require medical treatment. It is believed that one of the conditions of his freedom was that he would leave Crimea which was formally annexed by Moscow, triggering one of the most severe international crisis in recent years.

It is believed that the Col Manchur and a number of others who were released with him, would be decorated by the Ukrainian government; their conduct had been the only bright light in what had been a humiliating episode for the country. However, the Colonel and many other senior Ukrainian officers in Crimea, had spoken of their disappointment at not receiving any clear instructions or guidance from Kiev during the grueling weeks of siege by the forces of Moscow and their separatist allies.

 

The defence minister, Ihor Tenyukh, resigned this week amid growing public anger about the impotence shown by Kiev as bases were taken over and ships captured in Crimea by the Russians.

Col Manchur was last seen being taken away for what he had been told was a meeting with senior Russian officers last Saturday after the walls of Belbek were smashed down by Armoured Personnel Carriers. He told his troops, who had sang the national anthem with guns pointed at them, that he would return to report to them the terms which would be offered for safe passage for those who wanted to do so.

The next day officials of Crimea's separatist government claimed that Col Manchur had been released along with another officer who had been held at another location. But Mrs Manchur and officers at Belbek told The Independent that he had not contacted them and his mobile telephone had been switched off.

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 Col Manchur had attracted particular venom from Crimean separatists for his widely publicised refusal to surrender his base. The brakes in the family car, a Renault Megane, had been cut; there had been death threats; posters had been put up in ultra Russian nationalist Sevastopol demanding his execution for treachery.

The Ukrainian government had been vocal in demanding his release, asking for international help to secure this. The acting president, Oleksander Turchynov denounced the “abduction”; Vitali Klitschko, who is expected to run for the post in forthcoming elections, put out a series of statements saying that the Colonel was almost certainly being held in the detention facilities of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.

Col Manchur had, however, before his incarceration, complained, about how he and his fellow Ukrainian commanders had received no help from the Kiev government despite repeated requests. A telling example of this came during a particularly tense stand-off with the Russians; his mobile phone rang, it was the Ministry of Defence in Kiev. What were the instructions? We, the journalists, eagerly asked. “Nothing, they asked me to use my own judgment. That has been the case ever since this started.”

There were many in Belbek who felt let down by the Ukraine government. Larisa Mamchur was one of them. The day the base was overrun, she spoke of the anger felt by the troops and their families. “We have been abandoned by the new government in Kiev. All these new ministers have been full of big words, but they simply abandoned us to all the dangers.”

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