UPDATED: Russia Fires on Ukrainian Ship in the Kerch Strait
25 November, 2018

The latest developments from November 25 in the Azov Sea conflict saw Russia firing at a Ukrainian ship leaving six people injured. While three Ukrainian ships have been seized by Russian special forces, according to the Naval Forces of Ukraine (NFU).

READ MORE: Azov Sea Crisis: Ukrainian President Supports Proposal for Martial Law

"After the exit from the 12-mile zone, Russia's FSB (State Security Service, - ed.) boats opened fire on the crew members of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. A small armored artillery boat by the name of "Berdyansk" was damaged. The boat lost its course... Weapons are used to inflict harm," the NFU press statement reads.

They later reported that three Ukrainian ships, including "Berdyansk," were captured.

"According to our operational information, small armored artillery boats "Berdyansk" and "Nikopol" were hit by the enemy's fire and inso lost their track. The "Yany Kapu" raid tugboat was also forced to come to a halt. The ships were captured by the Russian special forces," the NFU wrote.

There were 24 naval officers on the three Ukrainian ships captured.

In a comment to Hromadske on November 26, Russian Ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova has stated that three of the wounded Ukrainian naval officers captured yesterday are in a hospital in Kerch, annexed Crimea, while the others are being questioned by investigators.

The three wounded officers have been named by the Russian federal news agency as 27-year-old Vasyl Soroka,  24-year-old Andriy Artemenko and 18-year-old Andriy Eyder. 

On the evening of November 25, President Poroshenkо convened the war council for an emergency meeting in response to Russia’s actions in the Azov Sea. He also instructed the Foreign Ministry to contact G7 and the United Security Council about the situation.

“Ukraine, together with a group of EU countries, the U.S.A., Canada and other partners have developed a draft UN resolution on Russia’s militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the Azov Sea, which will be considered by the UN General Assembly in December,” a statement from the Presidential Administration reads.

During the war cabinet meeting, President Poroshenko proposed declaring martial law, Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Secretary, stated.

“There was a war cabinet meeting with the President of Ukraine. Having heard the report from the Head of the General Staff and the Defense Minister regarding the events which occurred in the Kerch Strait, the war cabinet has stated that the attack by Russian military on a naval ship is nothing more than an act of Russian aggression,”  he said.

At midnight Kyiv time, the National Security and Defense Council then met to consider the question of martial law.

According to the Russian news agency Interfax, the Russian security service (FSB) have confirmed that it opened fired and subsequently captured Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait near annexed Crimea.

The FSB border guard service have referred to the incident as a “provocation from Kyiv,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report.

Then on November 26, the FSB published videos of the sailors being questioned, in which they admit to allegedly illegally "enter Ukrainian territorial waters."

How did it all start?

The morning of November 25 did not start peacefully in the Sea of Azov, the area that has become subject of political tension between Ukraine and Russia over the past few months. 

The sea that according to Ukraine's former president Leonid Kuchma's controversial 2003 agreement with Russia can be used freely by both Ukraine and Russia saw possibly the biggest tension in its history. 

READ MORE: How Russia Is Making Waves in the Azov Sea

On the morning of November 25, the Ukrainian Naval Forces (UNF) stated on their Facebook page that "Russia carried out openly aggressive actions against UNF ships."

Photo credit: Ukrainian Naval Forces

They further explained that two Ukrainian ships were executing a planned relocation from a Black Sea port in Odesa to the Azov Sea port in Mariupol when a Russian vessel rammed a Ukrainian navy boat resulting in damage to its main engine and guardrail. None of the occupants of the boat were injured at the time, they added.

READ MORE: Is Russia Annexing The Azov Sea?

The FSB in turn stated that Ukraine violated Russia's border.

Photo credit: Ukrainian Naval Forces

"Around 7 a.m. today three UNF ships crossed Russian state border and illegally entered the temporarily closed area of Russian territorial waters," Russian Interfax news service reported FSB as saying on November 25.

Later, UNF reported that Russia closed off the passage in the Kerch strait for Ukrainian military ships resulting in Ukrainian vessels having to wait for over two hours. According to the Ukrainian Naval Forces, Russia also upped its military presence with three naval vessels and two military helicopters circling the newly-built Russian Kerch bridge.

As of 4:30 p.m. Kyiv time on November 25, Ukrainian vessels were still not able to cross the Kerch strait passage, the UNF spokesperson Oleg Chalyk told Hromadske disproving the contrasting information circulating in Russian media.

A video later appeared on a YouTube channel Otvertka74 showing the ramming. It appears to had been filmed from the Russian ship that hit the Ukrainian boat. 

Off-camera voice is heard in the video encouraging the crash and directing the captain where to go to facilitate the ramming. It is unclear whom the YouTube channel belongs to.

READ MORE: Russia’s Blockade of Azov Sea Ports is a Problem. What’s the Solution?

The Ukrainian military later claimed it intercepted a radio dialogue between Russian border guards and their commanders. One man can be heard saying "We should keep attacking, we have to finish them."

Note: This article was edited on Dec. 1 to change the number of Ukrainian naval officers on board of the three vessels captured by FSB from 23 to 24, as per the SBU's clarification.

/By Maria Romanenko