March 15, 2014, 9:07 p.m. | Oksana Grytsenko
A column of Russian military vehicles crosses the peninsula of Crimea.
SIMFEROPOL, Crimea — Several Russian military helicopters landed on March 15 in southern Kherson Oblast near Kremlin-occupied Crimea, bringing dozens of commandoes and seizing a natural gas plant.
The moves heightened tension on the eve of a Crimean referendum, which Ukraine and the West consider illegal. Russian troops unexpectedly invaded the Crimean peninsula on Feb. 27 and in the following days Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he might order the use of military forces in Ukraine.
Four helicopters landed near Strilkove village on the north of Arabat Spit, narrow piece of land on the south of Kherson region, bringing 60 commandos, the State Border Service reported. “The border guards together with soldiers (about 20 people) had to move back from the crossroad leading to Henichesk (city nearby) and had to take up defense,” it said in the report.
At about 3:30 p.m., six more helicopters landed there, bringing 60 more commandos. Several military vehicles were riding along the Arabat Spit at the same time.
The Russians told the Ukrainian border guards they came to defend from possble terrorist attack the local natural gas production station owned by Chornomornaftogaz, an Ukraine exploration company that Crimea authorities have declared as its own property.
While the border guards said there were no clashes, the Ministry of Defense said in its report that the Ukrainian army reacted, bringing forces of army aviation and airmobile battalion and forcing the invaders to leave the territory.
But based on the information of well-informed army expert Dmytro Tymchuk, head of the Center of Military and Political Researches, the Russians are still there. “At the moment our commandos are approaching the spot,” Tymchuk wrote on his Facebook page. “But there is the fact that (gas production) station for unknown reason wasn’t guarded.”
This incident sparked an angry reaction from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which called on Russia to immediately leave the occupied territory of Kherson Oblast.
“Ukraine Foreign Ministry declares the military invasion by Russia and demands the Russian side to immediately withdraw its military forces from the territory of Ukraine,” the Ministry said in a statement.
“Ukraine reserves the right to use all necessary measures to stop the military invasion by Russia,” it added.
Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.