UK & World News

  • 3 March 2014, 3:44

Ukraine: Gangs 'Smuggle Weapons Into Crimea'

We travelled by road from the Ukrainian capital Kiev to Crimea in the far south.

The journey takes you through endless farmland, ploughed fields of the famous black earth and soviet monuments to the fallen of the Second World War.

As we approached the border we were stopped at a checkpoint by unidentified armed men in combat fatigues.

At first they tried to grab our camera, but Sky News' Moscow bureau cameraman, Vadim Nechaev, managed to talk them around.

They searched our car and wanted to take our body armour - we could see several of the guards already sporting 'press' flak jackets, new press helmets in hand.

Our team is usually based in Russia and our foreign ministry accreditation seemed to help - eventually they were persuaded to allow us in and they decided they wanted to show us their side of the story instead.

They describe themselves as 'peaceful citizens' - local volunteers providing security against what they claim is a coup being perpetrated by 'fascists and thugs'.

"I'm from Sevastopol I'm a peaceful citizen, I'm a pensioner," one guard told us.

"I'm just making sure that everything is in order here at the entrance to Crimea, that no-one is smuggling anything that could turn our Crimea into another Maidan (Kiev's Independence Square)."

They took us to see a stockpile of weapons they claim they have seized from cars on the way into Crimea.

They showed us shotguns, hunting rifles, axes, and ammunition, along with a photo they say shows a sniper in army fatigues.

Evidence, they insist of armed gangs from Kiev.

A masked man told us: "I am asking you please look at this. I think these barbarians and Nazis, these nationalists, were trying and are still trying to turn our Slavic world into hell."

As we were filming we saw a man and woman being forced out of their car at gunpoint - the guards claimed they had found rifles.

The woman was crying, the man was handcuffed.

It is not clear what they planned to do with them.

Some of the guards were Cossacks from Kuban in southern Russia.

They told us they had come to help their countrymen fight against fascists and thugs.

"This is the land of our ancestors," their leader told us, "who spilled their blood in the Second World War."

"Now the fascists are on the rise again and we are here to show that it's not going to work."

They were flying the Russian flag from the checkpoint and we saw an empty Russian army truck leave their camp, but they insisted they were not acting on orders from Moscow.

They said the Kremlin should send troops to help them fight, to defend Russian citizens' rights.

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