Three Ukrainian navy boats seized by Russia a year ago were vandalised before being handed back to Ukraine, the country’s navy said. The fast gunboats Nikopol and Berdyansk and the tugboat Tany Kapu were welcomed by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and onlookers waving national flags arrived in Ochakiv, a Ukrainian naval port on the Black Sea on Wednesday evening. But Ukraine’s navy said the vessels had been stripped bare and left so badly damaged that they had to be towed home by tug. “The Russians ruined them,” said Admiral Ihor Voronchenko, the head of the Ukrainian Navy. “They even took the ceiling lights, plug sockets, and lavatories,” he said. Mr Zelenskiy, who reviewed the vessels as they returned on Thursday morning, said: “I am very happy that our navy vessels are back where they belong. As promised, we have brought back our sailors and our ships. “Some of the equipment is missing, as well as some weapons. There will be an investigation. We will see all of the details.” Russia blocked the Kerch strait with a tanker and deployed fighter jets to stop the three vessels entering the Azov Sea last year Credit: Pavel Rebrov/Reuters Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which oversees the border service that seized the vessels, denied tampering with the ships and said they had been “handed over to the Ukrainian side in normal condition.” The three vessels were boarded by Russian forces after they tried to pass through the Strait of Kerch in November last year. Russia says they illegally violated the Russian border, then impounded the vessels and jailed 24 crew members pending trial. Ukraine described the move as an act of war and a flagrant breach of the treaty that gives the countries joint sovereignty of the only channel between the Black and Azov seas. Mr Zelenskiy said the return of the boats as the latest in a series of small steps “towards peace” ahead of a key summit with Vladimir Putin next month. Mr Zelenskiy inspects the artillery boat Nikopol Credit: Arkhip Vereshchagin/TASS The two presidents will meet in person for the first time in Paris on December 9, at talks brokered by France and Germany that are designed to end the conflict in east Ukraine, which has killed 13,000 people since 2014. In September the ships’ crews were released in a prisoner swap that also saw Russia free Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker and activist who had been held on trumped-up charges since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The sides have also agreed to pull back troops from key points on the line of contact in eastern Ukraine. The narrow sea way between Crimea and Russia’s Taman peninsula is the only passage for ships sailing to and from Ukraine’s industrial port of Mariupol, to which the flotilla was bound when it was seized. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and opened a bridge across the strait in 2017 in defiance of Ukrainian objections. Mariupol is a few miles from the frontline where Ukrainian and Russian-directed separatist forces have been fighting a static war for five years.
Home Current News Russia ‘ruined’ Ukrainian naval vessels before handing them back, says Ukrainian navy