Crimean Airspace Closed after Russian Transports Reportedly Land

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KIEV, Ukraine-

Airspace over Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula was closed late Friday, officials said, and a Kiev newspaper reported that at least five Ilyushin-76 Russian transport planes landed at a Russian naval airstrip near Simferopol.

The reported moves followed a day of major escalation of the strategic confrontation between Crimea’s Russian-speaking majority and the new authorities in power in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev.

Ukrainskaya Pravda, a credible and popular liberal online publication, said at least five transports landed at Gvardeyskoye military air strip near Simferopol. A convoy of 10 Russian armored personnel vehicles were viewed by witnesses to be heading from Sevastopol toward Simferopol, the report said.

Armed Soldier in Crimea

An unidentified armed soldier stands guard near Simferopol International Airport in the Crimea region of Ukraine on February 28, 2014. ( Courtesy: RFE/RL)

Online airspace monitoring website Flightradar24 reported on its Twitter account that airspace over Crimea has been closed.

A duty officer at Simferopol airport, where dozens of armed Russians in military fatigues patrolled from the early morning hours, told the Los Angeles Times that airspace was closed over the area until at least 6 p.m. Saturday. The online flight schedule board also showed that all flights not already landed or taken off had been canceled.

Oxana Ozhigova, spokeswoman at Borispol international airport, near Kiev, confirmed that all flights from the capital to Simferopol were canceled for the next 24 hours because the airport wasn’t accepting incoming flights.

On Friday evening, unknown persons captured several communication stations of the Ukrtelecom company responsible for much of the telephone and Internet communication in Crimea, the company said in a news release distributed to UNIAN news agency.

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