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Ukrainian sailor: ‘We left one country, but came back to another’

Published time: March 12, 2014 10:23

Naval ship Hetman Sagaydachny (Screenshot from RT Video)

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A young Ukrainian Navy sailor turned up in hot water when he decided to resign, refusing to serve the fleet after the change of government in Kiev. After his commanders rejected his resignation, he had no choice but to head back home to Crimea.

“When we left for our mission, we left one country, but came back to a different one,” Maksim Knyazev, contract senior seaman of the military base А0248 of the ship Hetman Sagaydachny in the city of Odessa in southern Ukraine, told RT.

Maksim, 22, from Sevastopol has always dreamed of going to sea. That’s why he joined the navy. The recent events in Kiev happened when he was on sea mission. All the information he got was from his commanders who, according to Maksim, told him “nothing about the events in Ukraine.”

The Hetman Sagaydachny was due to arrive in one of Crimean ports, but the vessel changed its course and arrived in the port of Odessa “because of the coup,” according to the ship’s commanders.

“Our commander [Rear Admiral Andrey Tarasov] just said that Russia “has stabbed Ukraine in the back” and is taking over Crimea, that a Russian ship was waiting for us and is going to provoke us; will probably fire on us,” he told RT.

According to Maksim, the commanders were saying that “America will save them all, the US troops will come to Ukraine and they will join forces against Russia.”

Without leaving the board of the ship, the sailor didn’t hesitate which side to choose as he always considered himself to be Russian and Crimea to be a part of Russia. Knyazev tendered his resignation several times, but it always rejected.

When Knyazev arrived in Odessa, he immediately called his parents and learned what was really happening in Ukraine and that the Crimean authorities started speaking about its independence and prepared to call for a referendum.

Maksim Knyazev, contract senior seaman of the military base А0248 of the ship Hetman Sagaydachny (Screenshot from RT Video).

Despite all the threats from his commanders, Maksim had made a decision not to stay on the ship any longer.

He contacted his father in Sevastopol, who immediately decided to rescue his son.

“In the current situation in the country, when pro-fascist powers carried out a military coup and came to power, I don't want my son to be serving as an instrument in the hands of these people,” Igor Knyazev, Maksim’s father, himself a retired seaman, told RT.

After a family gathering, Igor Knyazev planned an operation to bring his son home from a Ukrainian navy ship and on Saturday, March 8, he brought Maksim back from the Hetman Sagaydachny.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian media, backed by the coup-appointed government in Kiev, have branded Maksim a traitor, labeling him a deserter.

"I then got a phone call from the ship telling me I would be prosecuted, that I need to come back, that they want to sort it out in a peaceful way that they would let me go,” Maksim told RT, “But back at the ship when I appealed for resignation, they just smiled.”

According to Knyazev, his whole situation was wrongly portrayed to the rest of the crew, to the people with whom he served side-by-side.

“They [the crew] were told that I was captured and I’m now facing 20 years in jail," adds the sailor.

Meanwhile, Maksim is not the only one who refused to swear allegiance to the coup-appointed government in Kiev. According to Knyazev, there are “more sailors abroad the ship who wanted to return to Crimea” and “who don't want to serve in the Ukrainian Navy.”

“But they are not allowed to leave the ship. They are told it's impossible, that martial law has been declared,” Maksim told RT, “But it's not true. They are told you can't resign or leave for Crimea."

Meanwhile, the young sailor doesn’t want to finish his seamen career and dreams of sailing again, but under the Russian tricolor. In Sevastopol he has already registered for joining the Russian Navy.

Igor Knyazev, father of Maksim Knyazev (Screenshot from RT Video).

On March 2, the Ukrainian armed forces dispatched to Crimea switched to the side of the authorities of the Crimean Autonomous Region and Navy Chief Rear Admiral Denis Berezovsky swore allegiance to the people of Crimea.

On Tuesday the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea adopted an independence declaration from Ukraine, which is necessary in order to hold a March 16 referendum. After this declaration, the Crimean authorities said they will never rejoin Ukraine.

On the referendum Crimea’s people – about 60 percent of whom are ethnic Russians – will decide whether they want the Crimea to remain part of Ukraine or join Russia.

If the referendum shows citizens are in favor of joining Russia, the Crimean authorities will request that their country to become a constituent republic of the Russian Federation.