Ukrainian Air Force Col. Yuli Mamchur became a hero to his embattled nation three weeks ago when he defiantly confronted Russian occupiers blocking his men from entering the Belbek air base.
As base after base in Crimea fell to the Russians, Mamchur steadfastly refused to evacuate the air force quarters in Belbek, but on Saturday he had no choice but to surrender as Russian troops stormed his base with armored personnel carriers and stun grenades. His men were allowed to go free, but Mamchur was whisked away by the Russians, who have annexed the territory.
It’s been two days. Where’s Colonel Yuli Mamchur?
When he was driven away, it supposedly to meet with senior Russian officers. There were reports that he was freed, like Ukrainian Navy chief Serhiy Hayduk, but Mamchur's wife Larisa and his colleagues say he hasn’t been in touch and his phone is switched off.
Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov called the case an “abduction,” but many Ukrainians in Crimea say Kiev is all talk, including Larisa Mamchura. “We have been abandoned by the new government in Kiev,” she told the Independent. “All these new ministers have been full of big words, but they simply abandoned us to all the dangers.”
Earlier, the colonel expressed his own frustrations with the new Ukrainian government after a phone call with the Ministry of Defense in Kiev during siege of his base at Belbek. When he asked for instructions, the response was “Nothing, they asked me to use my own judgment. That has been the case ever since this started.”
While his defiant attitude has earned him praise in Ukraine and the West, its earned him nothing but scorn from Russians and pro-Russian Crimeans. The brake lines in his home vehicle were cut and the Mamchur family received death threats.
One hopeful sign for Mamchur is that he was taken by Russian regulars and not pro-Russian civilians, who are a far less reputable crowd. Ukrainian political leader Vitaly Klitschko believes he’s being held at Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol, but there’s nothing confirming that.
Mamchur was optimistic right up until the Russian takeover. On Thursday, two days before Russian and Cossack forces took control of Belbek, he said Ukrainian and Russian ministers were meeting to work out a solution to the problem, but Kiev again left them to their own devices.
He also presided over a wedding of a Ukrainian military couple, sharing champagne with them just hours before Russian forces broke through to the base. He also had his men sing the Ukrainian national anthem in one last show of defiance before parting with them.
The Associated Press reported that the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers did meet Monday to discuss the crisis, but no reports have come through about the discussion. Whatever the Russians and Ukrainians talked about, it was too little too late to help Mamchur, his men and their families in Belbek, something they’re all too familiar with.
Now only one police station in the Crimean capital of Simferopol is still under Ukrainian control on the peninsula, but the police force there is expected to leave for mainland Ukraine soon as well.