Civilian ships must stay out of the northwest part of the Black Sea, says the Ukrainian army
The Ukrainian Navy has closed the northwestern part of the Black Sea to civilian shipping, it announced on Wednesday. The move aims to protect civilians from acts of piracy by the Russian Navy, according to a statement posted on the Ukrainian military’s Facebook.
Ukraine says warships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet threatened a cargo ship in a bid to force it in “a dangerous part” of the region, “so that the occupiers can use the civilians as a human shield.” The statement claims the Russians have sworn to open fire unless the ship’s crew complies.
“This is nothing less than 21st century hacking”, say the military.
The target of the alleged Russian hack has been identified as Helt, a Panamanian-flagged general cargo ship. According to ship traffic trackers, he left the Ukrainian port of Chernomorsk on February 20 and sailed south. It recently changed direction and is now moving northeast, according to data from marinetraffic.com.
The Russian army has so far not commented on these accusations. Russia has previously insisted that it was not deliberately attacking civilian targets in Ukraine and that its aim was to dismantle the country’s military infrastructure.
Russian border guards accused Ukrainian troops of launching rockets at two civilian ships and injuring a crew member on one of them.
In a separate incident last week, the Russian Navy reported that it had captured Ukrainian troops stationed at Snake Island, near the Ukraine-Romania border. Kiev had declared its soldiers dead at the hands of the Russians, but later admitted that its troops had apparently surrendered rather than fighting heroically to the last man, as President Volodymyr Zelensky had originally claimed.
Russia launched an offensive against Ukraine last week, saying it was necessary to protect the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and prevent a possible war with NATO in the future. Ukraine and the Western nations that support it have accused Russia of trying to conquer the nation in an unlawful war of aggression. Moscow denies having territorial ambitions in Ukraine and has pledged to withdraw its troops after the demilitarization and “denazification” of the country.
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