Ukraine crisis: Trapped forces are left with an impossible dilemma in Crimea as Russian endgame approaches

In a state no longer their own and with ‘Russian friends’ lost, servicemen are fearful

Belbek

“My grandfather is buried in the military cemetery here, so is my father, and that is where I am going to end up, I don’t think I will be leaving Crimea, this is where I was born and this is where I will die. I feel more and more that I will be killed here”.

It has been three long and hard weeks for Major Vladislav Korgic and his fellow Ukrainians; days of threats, of intimidation, insults and ultimatum. Shots had been fired, attempts made to break down the main gate. Now, the final act of the drama of Belbek airbase is about to be played out as the Russians seek to extinguish the last remaining embers of resistance.

“We have sworn an oath to the state of Ukraine and we must abide by that and bear the continuous pressure which has been put on us. We have to be constantly ready for attack. Our men are not combat troops, we specialise in aviation. The Russians are here with infantry, armour, spetznatz [special forces]”, said Major Korgic, a decorated fighter pilot with 17 years’ service.

“But this is also a regiment with a proud history, it was formed during the war, we provided the security for the Yalta conference. If necessary, we have to fight for country, fight for our families. The politicians should have brought this to a negotiated end: the politicians have failed us.”

The force here is likely to be the last men standing as base after base continues to fall. Yesterday was the deadline set by for the remaining Ukrainian troops: they would have to go under the Kremlin’s command or return to their "homeland", the separatist government in Crimea had warned.

Colonel Yuli Mamchur was having none of that. This was the man who had led his men, unarmed, undaunted by shots being fired over their heads, to demand from Russian troops, the return of facilities which had been seized. He was not fazed when 10 Russian armoured personnel carriers drew up in the morning, followed by delegation of a Russian officers, officials and members of the recently raised Self Defence Force’ They had a demand for Colonel Mamchur: the parliament in Moscow had passed the motion annexing Crimea he was told, the garrison must disarm and depart.

“One of them said that we were here illegally, they said we were breaking the laws of the United Nations, can you imagine? People like these talking about international law?” laughed the Colonel. “ I told them that the Moscow parliament wasn’t my parliament. I would wait for orders from my government in Kiev.”

But there were no orders by the end of the day, as had been the case week after week, a source of bitter complaint from Colonel Mamchur and other senior officers. At one point this week, after a military installation was stormed in the state capital Simferpol, the acting prime minister Arseniy Yatsenuyk had declared that Ukrainian forces had been authorised to open fire. 24 hours later his government announced that they would be pulled out, but no plan of withdrawal was presented.

Standing at the airbase on a beautiful day of blue skies and gentle wind, Colonel Mamchur insisted that all his troops had remained at their post. But that was not the case. Some were leaving, clutching bags and plastic sacks; in fact parts of the facility were being stripped, two men, carrying away a washing machine, stopped for a breather. “No point in leaving it for the Samoobrona [Self Defence Force] to loot; we are moving it for safekeeping”, said one of them jovially. How much longer will they stick it out? “The soldier shook his head, no longer smiling: “We don’t know, the commander will decide, it’s been hard.”

That is not just for those serving, but their families as well. “ Look over there, my apartment, 200 meters away” Major Korgic pointed at block of flat beyond the perimeter wall: “I have my wife there with our daughter; she is just seven years old. I have spent just two of the last 20 days with them. It pains me to know what they are going through. We have to move our daughter from school, because of things which are being said about me. My wife has to put up with daily abuse, being called things like ‘Bandera’s Bitch….’”.

Stepan Bandera was the nationalist leader from western Ukraine who proclaimed independence from the Soviet Union during the Second World War, thinking he had found a powerful ally in Hitler. In the event he fell out with the Germans who arrested him and his cohort and sent them to concentration camps. The hard right groups who took part in the protests in Kiev’s Maidan, overthrowing Viktor Yanukovych, had claimed Bandera as one of their inspirations.

Read more: PM: Russian oligarchs with UK links could face sanctions
Q&A: The effects of sanctions

“These same people used to cheer us as their military on parades not so long ago, now they call us traitors. What’s happening is tearing families apart. I have two sisters, and also their husbands, in the Russian Navy, they know what is going on here, you can imagine just how worried they are, it is a terrible, terrible situation”, Major Korgic said, stopping for moment and staring at the ground.

“I don’t know what I am going to do if I survive this. My father is Ukrainian, my mother is Russian. I was born here in Crimea, my wife was born here. What are we going to do in mainland Ukraine? But will we be accepted if we stay? How will they treat us? I have lost Russian friends who contacted me after the referendum to ‘ congratulate’ on us becoming a part of Russia. They couldn’t understand why I said ‘no, I remain a Ukrainian.’”

Major Korgic had served as an observer in Iraq, Sudan and Sierra Leone. “Please don’t say I was with Western missions, it was international missions. I have my own views about what has been done by Western missions in Iraq, in places like Libya,” he wanted to stress. “Then, on the other side you have Russia. They now see enemies everywhere, it is them against the world, paranoid. We are the ones in the middle, paying the price."

News
people
News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes