Crimea Airport Seized By Pro-Russian Forces
Pro-Russian forces have taken over the main airport in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, leading to scores of flights being cancelled in and out of the region.
It is also claimed that Crimean airspace is under the control of Russian military after soldiers were seen at the entrance to the air traffic control centre on the outskirts of the capital.
At least one flight from Kiev was told to turn around in mid-air and leave Crimean airspace, according to Ukrainian sources.
Passenger Demjin Doroshenko, originally from Ukraine, was on a flight told to return to Kiev.
He told Sky News: “The plane was told to turn around. We tried to land in Simferopol but that was refused, we tried to land in Odessa but that was refused, so we had to go back to Kiev.”
At Simferopol airport pro-Russian forces wearing the red armbands of the self-defence force stood guard at the gates and inside in the departure area.
Passengers at the check-in desk were told all flights to Kiev and Istanbul had been cancelled. Only flights to Moscow were running.
Staff also told passengers the disruption was due to the “political situation”.
When asked how long they would be at the airport one of the guards told Sky News: “Maybe a long time. The people are thanking us for being here.”
Ukraine’s government has appealed for the West’s help to stop Moscow annexing Crimea.
But the Black Sea peninsula, overrun by the pro-Russian troops, appeared fixed on a course that could formalise rule from Moscow within days.
On March 16 a referendum in Crimea will ask voters to decide whether to split with Ukraine and join Russia.
The Crimean parliament on Tuesday voted for independence from Ukraine in a move apparently setting up the legal framework to join Russia.
Western nations have said they will not recognise the vote as legitimate.
Earlier, Ukraine’s deposed leader Viktor Yanukovych insisted he remained his country’s legitimate president.
Speaking in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, the pro-Kremlin ex-leader of Ukraine remained unswayed in his argument that “extremists” had taken power in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.