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Armed 'self-defense squads' partially withdraw from Simferopol airport

Published time: February 28, 2014 11:18
Edited time: February 28, 2014 14:24
Armed 'self-defense squads' patrol outside of Simferopol airport, on February 28, 2014. (AFP Photo/Viktor Drachev)

Armed 'self-defense squads' patrol outside of Simferopol airport, on February 28, 2014. (AFP Photo/Viktor Drachev)

A few dozen armed men identified by airport officials as “self-defense squads” are leaving the Simferopol airport in Crimea, following their overnight raid of the airport terminal and their patrol of the grounds outside that followed.

Facts you need to know about Crimea and why it is in turmoil

Crimeans began protesting after the new self-proclaimed government in Kiev introduced a law abolishing the use of other languages in official circumstances in Ukraine. More than half the Crimean population are Russian and use only this language for their communication. The residents have announced they are going to hold a referendum to determine the fate of the Ukrainian autonomous region.

In the middle of the night at least three KamAZ trucks without license plates drove to the airport with about 50 men inside, the witnesses said.

One of the witnesses told LifeNews website that the armed men are members of ethnic Russians' "self-defense squads."

We were here and saw them arrive. Nice guys, polite. Not insolent. They have been patrolling the place to safeguard it from the possible arrival of radical Ukrainians.”

Airport spokesman Igor Stratilati denied reports of a takeover. He said that about 50 armed men arrived at the airport to search for Ukrainian airborne troops. However, after finding out that there were no military personnel present on the tarmac, they apologized and left the territory, Igor Stratilati told Echo of Moscow radio.

The head of the Simferopol airport security service, Vladimir Perepelitsa, confirmed that the people patrolling the territory of the airport are calling themselves "self-defense squads" and their intention is to prevent possible turmoil.

“We are constantly in touch with them,” Perepelitsa said, the Crimean information agency reported. “We are protecting passengers inside the airport, and they do the same outside. If everything goes as peacefully as it does now, then they will stay here for as long as it takes to provide security.”

Maksim Pastukhov, a correspondent with RT’s documentary channel who is now at the airport, has also reported that it’s being patrolled by "self-defense squads," adding that they in no way are hampering the airport from operating flights according to schedule.

“It’s all quiet inside the airport,” he said. “There are much fewer armed people outside than there were in the morning.”