Ukraine navy left high and dry after Crimea losses

Ukraine navy left high and dry after Crimea losses
A cat walks on the quay next to the frigate Getman Sahaydachniy (U130), flagship of Ukrainian Navy in southern Ukrainian city Odessa.

ODESSA, Ukraine - A clutch of rusty old naval boats bob about mournfully in the Black Sea off the harbour of Ukraine's southern city Odessa near an ageing missile boat.

"The only way to get those pieces of junk moving is to get some paddles and start rowing," an officer says derisively.

Close by floats the remaining flagship, the Getman Sagaidachniy frigate named after a 17th century military leader -- where sailors live cheek-by-jowl in cramped living quarters.

These are the sad remnants of Ukraine's navy.

Already in a sorry state after years of corruption and neglect, the force was eviscerated when Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March last year.

Moscow snatched the pride of the fleet which was moored in its strategic ports, and convinced thousands of sailors to jump ship.

"It was a tragedy for our navy", officer Vitaliy Martynyuk, who was studying in the Crimean city of Sevastopol at the time of the annexation, says dejectedly.

Two-thirds lost

Military expert Sergiy Zgurets says that with the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine lost two-thirds of its navy.

All the most important ships by class and capability are now stuck in the occupied territory and that represents a big problem for Ukraine, he says.

"We need a huge amount of effort and expenditure to create a new fleet from scratch," Zgurets says. "There is nothing left of it".

The flagship Getman Sagaidachniy moored now in Odessa, was only saved from the occupation by pure chance.

When Russian special forces soldiers without insignia started seizing strategic locations around Crimea, the frigate was on its way back home from a training mission in the Gulf of Aden.

Nearby, the missile boat Pryluky is one of the few ships that managed to return to continental Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea.

But it is in such a sorry state that the crew jokes it was much cheaper for Russia just to give the boat back rather than dispose of it.

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