Kiev: Six Ukrainian military officers detained by Russian troops in Crimea have been released and were being evacuated from the Black Sea peninsula, but five still remained in custody.
Russian forces over the last few weeks have stormed one Ukrainian military base after another in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia after residents voted in a contentious referendum March 16 to secede from Ukraine.
A Defence Ministry spokesman said the officers who were released included Col Yuliy Mamchur, a commander who has earned wide acclaim for defying the pro-Russian forces who besieged his base for almost three weeks.
President Oleksandr Turchinov said he hopes to see the freed officers today in the capital, Kiev.
"Those officers that so bravely conducted themselves will indubitably be awarded and promoted for their courage," he said.
Five more serviceman, including one colonel, were still being detained, according to Defence Ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov. He said he spoke to the colonel yesterday and said he was coming under sustained pressure to switch over and work for the Russians.
Military authorities in Ukraine have come under heavy criticism for failing to give clear instructions to troops marooned and outnumbered by the massive pro-Russian military forces that fanned out across Crimea this month.
In addition to storming bases, Russian troops have also seized numerous warships in Crimea, leaving Ukraine`s navy almost entirely depleted. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who met yesterday with his Ukrainian counterpart Andriy Deshchytsia, called the confiscations "piracy."
Sikorski also voiced concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin had drawn up "an ambitious plan that could possibly go far beyond Crimea."
Deshchytsia said Ukraine`s army and civilians would organise to resist any Russian incursions into eastern Ukraine, which is heavily populated by Russian speakers.
"As far as eastern Ukraine regions are concerned, I must say that we will defend them," he said.
In Brussels, President Barack Obama said Russia must not be allowed to "run roughshod" over its neighbours as it has done in Ukraine. He said no amount of propaganda coming out of the Russian government can make right something the world knows is wrong.
In another sign of the seething tensions between Moscow and Kiev, Russia accused Ukrainian officials yesterday of barring Russian commercial airline crews from going outside their planes in Ukrainian airports.