Story by the Associated Press; curated by Dave Urbanski
BELBEK AIR BASE, Crimea (AP) — As pro-Russian forces surrounded a Ukrainian-held air force base in Crimea, two lieutenants stood side-by-side and tied the knot.
Ukrainian airmen smile as Lieutenants Galina Volosyanchik, left, and Ivan Benera, right, prepare to kiss as they celebrate their wedding at the Belbek airbase outside Sevastopol, Crimea, on Saturday, March 22, 2014. (Image source: AP/Ivan Sekretarev)
The couple completed their wedding vows Saturday under the gaze of Belbek base commander Col. Yuliy Mamchur, who has been hailed in Ukraine for his refusal to yield to numerically superior pro-Russian forces.
As medic Galina Volosyanchik and communications officer Ivan Benera were being handed a gift and bouquet of flowers, Mamchur said: "You will always remember this, the whole world is here watching."
As Volosyanchik held her flowers, she wiped away tears.
Two Lieutenants, Galina Volosyanchik, center left, and Ivan Benera, center right, react as they are welcomed by senior officers and comrades celebrating their wedding at the Belbek airbase outside Sevastopol, Crimea, on Saturday, March 22, 2014. (Image source: AP/Ivan Sekretarev)
Colleagues then drank champagne and shared toasts.
A Ukrainian officer raises a cup to toast his comrade's wedding at the Belbek airbase outside Sevastopol, Crimea, on Saturday, March 22, 2014. (Image source: AP/Ivan Sekretarev)
Hours later armed pro-Russia forces smashed into and took control of Belbek base — which had been the last major military facility to remain under Ukrainian control in the peninsula — firing shots and ramming through concrete walls with armored personnel carriers. At least one person was wounded, Mamchur said.
An APC also smashed open the front gate of the Belbek base near the port city of Sevastopol, according to footage provided by the Ukrainian Defense ministry. Two ambulances arrived and then departed shortly after, and at least one of them was carrying what appeared to be a wounded person, an Associated Press journalist said.
After the troops poured inside, Mamchur called his soldiers together, they sang the Ukrainian national anthem and then stood at ease. He said they are going to turn over their weapons.
Russian forces have been seizing Ukrainian military facilities for several days in the Black Sea peninsula, which voted a week ago to secede and join Russia.