Ukraine bans Russian men from entering the country as tensions rise over vessel seizure
- Move follows martial law being declared in 10 regions over fears of a Russian land invasion
Ukraine has blocked Russian men aged between 16 and 60 from entering the country in a sweeping ban that will affect travel for hundreds of thousands of people.
The move comes amid rising tensions after Russian border guards opened fire on and captured three Ukrainian vessels and 24 crew on Sunday, prompting Ukraine to institute martial law in 10 regions to prevent what it described as a possible land invasion by Russia.
The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, tweeted that the latest measure was designed to prevent Russia from forming units of “private” armies, “which in reality are representatives of the armed forces of the Russian Federation”, on Ukrainian soil. Russian soldiers were active in Crimea before the peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014.
Some exceptions would be made, such as in the case of funerals, Ukraine said.
In a separate development, the three commanders of the Ukrainian vessels captured in the Kerch Strait last weekend were being transferred to Moscow, a Russian official said. Russia says the sailors violated its border, while Ukraine says its ships were acting in line with international maritime rules.
Millions of Russians have family members in Ukraine and vice versa as both countries were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Russians made 1.5m trips to Ukraine last year, the country’s border guard service said, according to Reuters.
Ukraine also appears to have blocked all foreigners, including Russians, from travelling through the country to Crimea. A new bridge runs from Russia to the annexed peninsula, while there are also direct flights. Travellers who enter Crimea without first crossing through Ukrainian immigration risk a ban and prosecution.
The move comes shortly before the holiday season, when travel across the border is expected to increase significantly. Russia has said it will not reciprocate the ban.
“It is terrifying even to talk about a mirrored response, because an attempt to mirror what is happening in Kiev could lead to insanity,” said Maria Zakharova, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman. “It could simply lead to collapse, nationally speaking.”
Late on Thursday the Ukrainian Orthodox church, which has been under the authority of the Russian Orthodox church for centuries, was granted independence, in a blow to Moscow. The Ukrainian church’s independence drive has been seen as a proxy for political tensions, which were further fuelled on Friday when the Ukrainian intelligence agency searched the home of the leader of Kiev’s biggest and oldest monastery, which is part of the Russian Orthodox church.