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Russian troops seized a military hospital and a missile base in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea Monday, in the latest show of force in the battle for the country’s disputed future.
Pro-Russian militias joined Russian troops in taking over the hospital in Simferopol -- the region’s main administrative city -- herding staff members into a hallway to apparently “meet the institution’s new directors,” Reuters reported, citing Interfax. The report said 20 patients at the hospital are gravely ill.
Russian soldiers disarmed servicemen at a Ukrainian Army missile base overnight Friday. Ukrainian military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov told a local TV station that some 200 troops approached the building and threatened to charge it if the Ukrainian soldiers refused to give up their weapons.
Crimea's parliament has set a March 16 referendum on joining Russia, which has been denounced by Ukraine's government.
NATO will starts AWACS reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania to help monitor the crisis in Ukraine, the alliance said Monday, according to Reuters.
NATO ambassadors, acting on a recommendation from NATO's top military commander U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, approved the flights Monday, a NATO spokesman said.
While separatists in Crimea are keeping up the pressure for unification with Moscow, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk vowed Sunday not to give up "a single centimeter" of his country's territory. During commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ukraine's greatest poet, Yatsenyuk said, "This is our land."
Standing before the crowd gathered at the Kiev statue to writer and nationalist Taras Shevchenko on Sunday, Yatsenyuk said, "Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land. And we won't budge a single centimeter from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this."
Yatsenyuk will address the United Nations Security Council about the situation in Crimea Thursday, Interfax reported Monday.
Interfax also quoted Yatsenyuk telling reporters he believed Russia sought to "undermine the foundations of global security and revise the outcome of World War II.''
President Barack Obama will meet Wednesday with Yatsenyuk to discuss options to peacefully resolve Russia's military intervention in Crimea.
Also Friday, one of Russia's most famous prisoners suggested Russia is ruining its longstanding friendship with Ukraine by its aggressive and pro-separatist actions in Crimea. Mikhail Khodorkovsky made the remarks in a lecture to students at Kiev Polytechnic University Monday.
"We are losing Ukrainian-Russian friendship" because of Russian actions, Khodorkovsky said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused to have any dealings with the new Ukrainian leaders who replaced fugitive pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych.
But Khodorkovsky expressed support for them, saying they came to power thanks to "a revolution of justice." Khodorkovsky, once Russia's wealthiest man, was pardoned last December by Putin. Many believe he was convicted of tax violations and other crimes and sent to prison on trumped-up charges.
"Ukraine must become a European state," the former tycoon told the students. For that to happen, Khodorkovsky said there must be foreign investment, eradication of corruption and a modern-day Marshall Plan of international assistance
Putin defended Russia’s actions in Crimea, claiming they were in keeping with international law. President Obama has warned the March 16 vote would violate international law. But in Moscow, Putin made it clear over the weekend that he supports the referendum in phone calls Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Minister David Cameron.
According to the Kremlin, Putin said, "The steps taken by the legitimate leadership of Crimea are based on the norms of international law and aim to ensure the legal interests of the population of the peninsula."
The Associate Press and Reuters contributed to this report.