Russia, Ukraine naval dispute lands before sea tribunal in Hamburg

Last November, Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships and captured dozens of sailors, sparking outrage in Ukraine. The case is now being heard at a UN sea tribunal in Hamburg, but Russia has vowed not to show.

A naval standoff between Russia and the Ukraine will be heard before an international sea tribunal in Hamburg, Germany on Friday.

The incident last November saw tensions between Moscow and Kyiv skyrocket after Russia fired on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Kerch Strait, eventually boarding the ships and detaining 24 sailors.

What will happen in court:

The hearing is taking place at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), who will hear arguments from Ukraine.

  • Ukraine argues that the navy vessels have immunity under an international maritime convention.
  • Ukraine has demanded that Moscow drop all charges against its sailors and to release them.
  • They've also called for the return of its three naval vessels.
  • Russia has refused to attend the hearings, arguing that the ITLOS doesn't have jurisdiction over "military activities."
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What is the naval dispute about?

Last November, an incident erupted near the Kerch Strait in the first open military clash between Ukraine and Russia since 2014 when Moscow annexed Crimea.

Russian coast guard ships fired on the Ukrainian vessels as they tried to pass from the Black Sea to the Azov Sea. Russia seized the Ukrainian ships and detained 24 sailors, who are being held in pretrial detention until July.

Ukraine has said its ships were located in international waters when the incident took place. Russia, however, claims that the Ukrainian ships entered Russian territorial waters without permission.

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DW News | 28.11.2018

Ukraine: Ratcheting up the tension

What is the ITLOS? The tribunal is an independent judicial body that was established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The court deals with maritime disputes and hearings are open to the public. A total of 21 judges sit on the tribunal, which is based in the German port city of Hamburg.

What happens next: The tribunal will hear the case on Friday and Saturday. The court is set to release a decision by the end of May. With Russia declining to take part in the proceedings, it not certain that they would comply with the court's findings.

Ukraine: Living on the front lines

Caught in the crossfire

Every evening, the shelling begins around sunset. The front lines near Donetsk see nightly mortar and machine gun fire as the conflict between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists’ rages on. Caught in the crossfire are many elderly civilians who are too impoverished to go elsewhere. Ivan Polansky, above, surveys the damage on his home in Zhovanka.

Ukraine: Living on the front lines

‘Waiting for a shell’

Residents of Zhovanka in the so-called ‘gray zone,’ a thin strip of land separating warring militaries, line up to see a visiting doctor. Medics hold pop-up clinics in the town once a week. "Each day, you are waiting for the shell to land on your house and you never know when it’s going to come," said local resident Ludmila Studerikove.

Ukraine: Living on the front lines

Without electricity and heating

Zhovanka was once home to 1,000 people, but the number has dwindled to about 200 since the war began in mid-2014. It has been three months since residents have had electricity and gas. "Sometimes I’m so scared that I lay in bed at night and just shake,” Studerikove said. “My husband stays by my side and holds my hand."

Ukraine: Living on the front lines

Nowhere else to go

Olexander Voroshkov, program coordinator for the regional charity SOS Kramatorsk, said residents continue to live in half-destroyed homes with leaky roofs, even through the winters, because rent in nearby Ukrainian cities has skyrocketed since the beginning of the conflict. "Rents in Kramatorsk are now similar to those in Kiev, but the salaries are much lower than in Kiev," Voroshkov said.

Ukraine: Living on the front lines

Reliance on humanitarian aid

Women line up to receive medicine and multivitamins in Zhovanka. Food and humanitarian supplies are delivered to the town by charity organizations, as crossing checkpoints sometimes requires people to wait more than a day in line. "We had everything; we had fresh air, nature. It was very nice here. Now we just have the cold," said local resident Vera Sharovarova.

Ukraine: Living on the front lines

Adapting to DNR frontlines

Vera Anoshyna, left, speaks with neighbors in Spartak, a town in what is now the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). Anoshyna said she has done her best to adapt to the conflict. "If you don’t have water, you find it," she said. "If you don’t have electricity, you find a solution. But you never know where the next bomb will land."

Ukraine: Living on the front lines

Six broken ribs

Svetlana Zavadenko stands before her home in Spartak. She was injured when the walls collapsed after several mortars exploded in her yard. Neighbors had to dig Zavadenko out of the rubble and she was sent to the hospital with six broken ribs and a ruptured liver. She smokes “Minsk” brand cigarettes and laughs when asked what she thinks about the war.

Ukraine: Living on the front lines

'We lost hope'

Zavadenko recovered from her injuries and lives alone with several pets. Spartak has not had electricity, gas, or water services since 2014, so she uses a grill to cook her food. For firewood, she goes to an abandoned furniture factory nearby and collects plywood. "Last winter we thought [the war] would finish, but now, honestly, we lost hope," she said.

Ukraine: Living on the front lines

Possibility of a drawdown

Damage from shelling on the outskirts of Donetsk. Despite past failures in deescalating the war, a new ceasefire may be in sight after an October peace summit in Berlin, where Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he was ready to end hostilities in eastern Ukraine and would withdraw troops from the region.

Ukraine: Living on the front lines

'We lost too many soldiers to stop now'

Even if both sides agree on a ceasefire, they will face opposition from their militaries, who claim their sacrifices were too heavy to simply put down their weapons. "We lost too many soldiers to stop now," said Vladimir Parkhamovich, colonel of the 81st Airmobile Brigade in the Ukrainian military. "If they give us an order [to stop] we’ll consider them traitors."

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