Russian service members has open fired on one of the Ukrainian Navy armored artillery boats wounding at least one sailor, the Ukrainian Navy said in a statement.
The Navy has identified the attacked vessel as U175 Berdyansk, one of its Gyurza-M class artillery boats involved in the confrontation with the Russian Coast Guard vessels in the Kerch Strait. The statement added that the vessel was damaged with a lost engine following the incident. The statement added that the Navy is now responding with deadly fire to protect itself.
The incident was also confirmed by Borys Babin, the Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, in a Facebook post.
Mr. Babin added that the Ukrainian Navy is deploying rescue team and reinforcement for the boats currently engaged in confrontation with Russian Coast Guard vessels.
Earlier in the day, Russian Coast Guard ships has rammed an Ukrainian Navy tugboat, named Yana Kapu, in the vicinity of the Sea of Azov off the Crimean Peninsula beginning the confrontation. Yana Kapu, along with two small armored artillery boats, named Berdyansk and Nikopol, were transiting from the Black Sea port of Odessa to Mariupol in the Sea of Azov, via the Kerch Strait between Crimea and Russia following a homeport change.
The Ukrainian Navy ships were confronted by Russian Coast Guard vessels including a Project 745P Sorum-class seagoing tug, named Don; Suzdalets corvette; Project 12200 Sobol class patrol boats and Project 12150 Mangust class patrol boats. The Russian Coast Guard is part of the Border Guard Service of Russia under the Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB).
According to the Ukrainian Navy statement, Don has rammed the Ukrainian tug and as a result the main engine of the ship, hull, and guardrail was damaged. FSB’s Crimean border department said in a statement that the Ukrainian Navy vessels entered the waters illegally and deliberately provoked the conflict.
Following the incident, Russia blocked off the strait by positioning a tanker ship under the Kerch bridge, connecting Russia with Crimea. Dozens of cargo ships which were awaiting passage are now stuck.
The Sea of Azov has been an area of heightened tensions between Moscow and Kiev since Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014. Russia has control over access to the Sea of Azov as it controls the Kerch Strait, and Kyiv accuses Moscow of harassing ships heading for Ukrainian ports, such as Mariupol. Both sides have recently increased their military presence in the Azov region.