NOVOFEDORIVKA (AFP) - About 200 pro-Russian protesters on Saturday stormed a Ukrainian air force base in western Crimea, forcing the soldiers to leave as the Ukrainian flag was taken down.
The unarmed crowd yelling "Russia! Russia!" broke through to the base in the town of Novofedorivka and started smashing windows.
Ukrainian servicemen barricaded themselves inside buildings and threw smoke bombs at the intruders from the roof. Some of the people threw the smoke bombs back at the soldiers.
Russian officers stood outside watching as the protesters took down the Ukrainian flag and put up the white and blue flag of the Russian navy.
"It's my unit and I have to protect it!" a Ukrainian soldier yelled to the Russian officers from the roof.
A Russian military officer then went inside the building to negotiate with the Ukrainians as the crowd of protesters were told to leave. Several dozen soldiers were later seen walking out of the base, leaving it empty, with Russian soldiers standing outside.
The spokesman of the Ukraine defence ministry in Crimea, Vladislav Seleznyov, cited sources at the base as saying that the attackers were mostly non-locals.
"There are some locals among the attackers, but a lot of non-locals. We do not recognise these faces," the source from the base said, according to Seleznyov.