Ukraine: Serviceman killed in Crimean storming

Demonstrators hold a Crimean flag at Lenin's square in central Simferopol on March 18, 2014. FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

Last Updated Mar 18, 2014 4:00 PM EDT

KIEV, Ukraine -- Gunfire at a Ukrainian military facility in the capital of separatist Crimea killed one serviceman and a member of a local self-defense brigade, a police spokeswoman was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Details of the Tuesday violence in Simferopol were sketchy, but the outburst underlined the high tensions over Crimea's weekend vote to split off from Ukraine and join Russia. Earlier Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement to annex Crimea, which has a majority ethnic Russian population and is home to the Russian Black Sea under a lease with Ukraine.

Olga Kondrashova was quoted by Interfax as saying two other people were wounded in the gunfire at a remote-sensing and navigational facility.

Vladislav Seleznev, a spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces in Crimea, said on his Facebook page that the facility was stormed by unknown armed men and that one serviceman was killed and another wounded.

Seleznev told The Associated Press he did not immediately have more information than what he had posted.

Meanwhile, CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer, reporting from a base near Sevastopol, tweeted that Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded and that armed men outside warned that they would attack.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Tuesday accused Russia of committing a "war crime" by firing on the servicemen, Reuters reported.

"The conflict is moving from a political one to a military one because of Russian soldiers," he said at a defense ministry meeting, according to the news agency. "Today, Russian soldiers began shooting at Ukrainian servicemen and this is a war crime without any expiry under a statute of limitations."

After the incident, the government authorized its armed forces to use weapons to defend themselves, the Guardian reported.

A local news agency recently formed by pro-Russian Crimean authorities gave a different account, saying that snipers fired on self-defense units that had arrived to check out a report of armed men and that one of the self-defense brigade was killed.

Since Crimea's tensions soared three weeks ago, units of uniformed men without insignia have appeared, purportedly local residents defending their territory.

Russian forces effectively took control of Crimea after Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in the wake of months of protests and sporadic bloodshed.

Crimeans overwhelmingly voted in a Sunday referendum to seek to join Russia, which it had been part of for centuries until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukrainian jurisdiction in 1954.


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