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Ukraine urges UN court to order release of detained sailors

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (Michał Józefaciuk/Wikimedia)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Ukraine has called upon the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to order the immediate release of 24 Ukrainian sailors and three navy ships that were seized by Russia near the Kerch Strait off the coast of Russia-occupied Crimea in November 2018.

At the start of the May 10 hearing in the Hamburg-based court, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister for European Integration Olena Zerkal said the tribunal should use “interim measures that require Russia to immediately release the Ukrainian naval ships and their crew members and return them to Ukraine.”

Russia claims the Ukrainian Navy ships illegally entered Russian territorial waters near Crimea, which Russia seized and annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The first day of the hearing on May 10 was devoted to Ukraine’s arguments. The judges are expected to rule in the case on May 25.

Russia is not taking part in the trial. The Kremlin has said the United Nations court does not have jurisdiction over its military activities.

Ukraine has been seeking the release of the sailors and ships since Russian forces attacked and seized them near the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov.

In January, the European Union reiterated its call for Moscow to release all the detained Ukrainian citizens, including the sailors, that Russia is holding.

Brussels maintains that the sailors were “illegally detained” by Russia within the territorial waters Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Crimea Peninsula.

Outgoing Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko insists the sailors are “prisoners of war” and has said Moscow’s actions are “blatant proof that Russia continues to show cynical disrespect for human rights.”

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have been tense since Moscow annexed Crimea in March 2014 and began providing military, political, and economic support to separatist formations waging a war against Kyiv in parts of eastern Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled in November 2016 that the war in eastern Ukraine is “an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.”