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A Ukrainian officer holds his flag as he smokes a cigarette before pro-Russia militia and Russian armed forces backed by armoured vehicles broke inside the Ukrainian airbase in the small city of Belbek near the Crimean city of Sevastopol on March 22, 2014.
Viktor Drachev—AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine ordered its troops to pull back from the breakaway region of Crimea on Monday, as Russia continued to tighten its grip on the disputed peninsula.

Russian forces have seized Ukranian ships and military installations in Crimea, including a naval base where two wounded Ukranian servicemen were taken prisoner and as many as 80 were held on-site, the Associated Press reports. Russians have stormed three military facilities in the last three days.

It is not clear how many Ukranian troops are still in Crimea, but acting President Oleksandr Turchnynov ordered the Defense Ministry to return all Ukranian servicemen to the mainland, his office confirmed to the AP. Turchnyov told lawmakers in Kiev that Ukranian troops would be evacuated with their families amid threats from the Russian army. The order to retreat followed days of signals from Ukrainian authorities that they were preparing to give up on Crimea, despite the bravado of lawmakers in Kiev that the country isn’t quitting without a fight. Russia formally annexed Crimea last week.

The Crimea skirmish is likely to dominate President Barack Obama’s overseas trip this week, as he heads to the Netherlands for a summit on nuclear security. The summit was supposed to be the focus of his trip, but the Group of Seven industrialized countries—Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S—have now scheduled talks to discuss the situation in Ukraine.


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