Kerch Crisis — a better chronology

13 min readDec 6, 2018

Andrey Illarionov has so far provided the most complete reconstruction of events involving Russia’s attack on Ukrainian Naval Forces ships near the Kerch Strait. The Russian-language version can be found here.


November 23 (Kyiv time)

9.00 — Ukrainian Naval Forces small armored artillery boats Berdiansk and Nikopol depart from Odesa to Mariupol.

Their route is from a Ukrainian port to another Ukrainian port, from the internal waters of Ukraine through neutral waters to internal waters of Ukraine. The boats were tasked with passing unnoticed by the intelligence services of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the neutral waters of the Black Sea on the morning of November 25 to rendezvous with the harbor tugboat Yany Kapu. The vessels, operating in accordance with the norms of the Russia-Ukraine Treaty of 2003 on the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, were to pass through the internal (for Ukraine) waters of the Kerch Strait and arrive in Mariupol by 18.00 on November 25.

November 24 (Kyiv time)

15.05 — At a distance of 28–30 miles southeast of Cape Meganom, Russian intelligence detects two Ukrainian Naval Forces ships — the support ship Gorlovka (U-753) and sea harbor tugboat Yany Kapu (A-947), making to the northeast in the direction of the Kerch Strait.

The small Russian anti-submarine ship Suzdalets begins to accompany them. Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov later says Russian President Vladimir Putin was informed about the movement of Ukrainian ships from the moment they were detected in neutral waters.

15.17 — A Russian Mi-8 helicopter circles around the Ukrainian ships at a height of 100 meters.

15.37 — Ukrainian convoy establishes contact with Suzdalets, says it is acting according to their plan. Suzdalets replies: we are also working according to plan, and it is to escort Ukrainian ships.

18.35 — The Russian border service FSB boat Sobol joins the Suzdalets.

21.07 — Sobol informs Ukrainian ships about the passage of the Kerch Strait and the rules for navigation through the Kerch-Yenikale Canal (KYC). The commander of Gorlovka replies that “crossing the state border of the Russian Federation” and the passage of the Kerch Strait ship is not planned.

21.23 -Sobol informs Ukrainian navy vessels about closure of the Kerch Strait from the Black Sea from 10.00 pm on November 24 to 10 pm on November 26. No reason is given. However, official warning about live fire exercises and closing of the strait, which is public access, has been made public only for the period between 5.00 and 17.00 from October 30 to November 30, with the exception of Sundays.

November 25 is a Sunday. Live fire exercises are not taking place. There is no ban on the passage through strait. The coordinator for Navarea III in Spain does not confirm the closure of the Kerch Strait. Ukrainian Naval Forces ships wait during the morning of November 25 at a distance of 6–7 miles from the 12-mile zone around the Crimea, on the edge of the Kerch Strait.

November 25 (Kyiv time)

01.05 — FSB ship Izumrud detects Berdiansk and Nikopol sailing east in the direction of the Kerch Strait.

02.45 — The rendezvous of Berdiansk and Nikopol with Gorlovka and Yany Kapu seven miles south of the 12-mile zone around the Crimea.

02.45–04.30 — Refueling of both boats from the support vessel Gorlovka is carried out.

03.58 (according to FSB 4.35) — 2 hours and 2 minutes before the planned crossing of the 12-mile border and 4 hours before the planned passage of the Kerch Strait, Berdiansk contacts Russia’s coastal FSB post (in Takil), with the seaports of Kerch and the Caucasus and informs them about the planned passage of the ships of the Ukraine’s Naval Forces (harbor tugboat Yany Kapu, Nikopol and Berdiansk) to the port of Berdiansk on the Kerch Strait at 08.00 Kyiv time.

04.05 — Kerch port dispatcher BEREG-23 replies to Berdiansk: “We copy. Over and out, 1.6”

04.07 — Kerch port dispatcher BEREG-23 informs the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s small anti-submarine ship Suzdalets the location of the Ukrainian Naval Forces’ vessels.

04.45 — The commander of Sobol informs the commander of Berdiansk that peaceful passage through the territorial sea of the Russian Federation is temporarily suspended. The coordinator for Navarea III in Spain does not confirm the closure of the Kerch Strait.

04.50 — The commander of Berdiansk reports to the commander of Sobol that, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty between the Russian Federation and Ukraine “On Cooperation in the Use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait of December 24, 2003,” Ukrainian ships have the right to freedom of navigation and ready to take on board Russian pilot.

05.30 — Commander of Sobol tells commander of Berdiansk that in the KYC there is a procedure for passage, which is carried out in accordance with the approved schedule of Kerch port, and the application for passage of the strait is submitted 48 and 24 hours ahead of time, and is confirmed in 4 hours. In connection with non-fulfillment of this requirement, the passage of Ukrainian Navy Forces vessels to the KYC is prohibited.

05.30 — Russian border boats Sobol (crew of 6) and Mangust (6 people), border guard ships Don (47) and Izumrud (24), small anti-submarine ship Suzdalets (86, including 9 officers). Total of five Russian ships — 169 people, total tonnage — 3,596 tonnes) versus Ukrainian ships escorted (total on three ships — 23 people, total tonnage — 411 tonnes).

05.38 — Berdiansk approaches the border of the 12-mile zone, duplicates his notice of intention to pass through the Kerch Strait.

05.40 — Kerch port dispatcher responds to Berdiansk: “I copy.”

06.08 — Ukrainian boats and harbor tug cross the 12-mile zone around the Crimea (declared by Russia as a state border, but not recognized by either Ukraine or the world community).

06.23 — Four Russian border ships and one Russian warship attack the tug Yany Kapu and Ukrainian boats, preventing them from further passage.

06.26 — Russian authorities order Ukrainian ships to leave the 12-mile zone. The Ukrainian side responds that it is in the 12-mile zone in accordance with the Russia-Ukraine Treaty of 2003.

06.34 — The Don patrol boat (displacement 1,620 tonnes, speed 13 knots, armament — two 30-mm 6-barrel artillery guns, crew of 47 people, including six officers and four midshipmen) rams Yany Kapu (displacement 303 tonnes, traveling at 11 knots. The tug’s crew is six people, with no officers. Captain of the tug is a senior shipman first class). A Russian Mi-8 helicopters circles above.

06.44 — The Don again rams the Yany Kapu tug.

Radio traffic:

It is necessary, ***, ******* (to hit) them ***** (fuck it). Hammer the fuckers*** Smush them like a pancake**** Medvedev (probably referring to Gennady Medvedev, deputy head of the FSB Border Service.) is already yelling. It seems the president is already running this ***** (fucking) *** (pancake).

- I know. I understand. Well, we are trying.

*** His ******* (hit) the nose (of the tug)?

We tried. He is preventing this.

Around 07.00 — Don misses the Yany Kapu and crashes into Izumrud vessel, causing serious damage.

Radio traffic:

- We’ve had a collision with the Izumrud. It’s serious.

- Did the two ships collide, or what?

- Yes.

07.21 — The Don again rams the Yany Kapu tugboat.

Radio traffic:

Press him! … Clamp him down … Clamp him, push im down! Crush him from the right! Crush him. I’ll get him from here… Press him… Helm straight… Received, helm strait… C’mon, c’mon… Take left 5 and 5… Take left 10… Cut the engines… Port the helm… Astern! Astern! Go on… Hold on, everyone! … Port the helm! 8.21 … Port the helm! … Engine stop!

The on-line Bellingcat investigation group said the Yany Kapu was rammed four times, but Ukrainian Naval Forces Commander Ihor Voronochenko says the boat was rammed 15–16 times.

07.35 — Ukrainian ships Berdiansk and Nikopol (each displacing is 54 tonnes, speed 25 knots, armament — two 30-mm artillery guns, five crewmen) uncover artillery guns and, raising their barrels by 45 degrees the Russian ships approach the site of where the Yany Kapu tugboat was rammed.

Russian ships are trying to ram the Ukrainian ships, but because of the superior maneuverability of the ships and the skill of the captains, they fail.

The sea battle unfolds in the southern part of Kerch Strait with attempts by Russian vessels to ram the Ukrainian ships (in FSB terminology: dangerous maneuvers).

07.52 — Berdiansk requests permission for passage through the KYC.

08.40 — Kerch port control appoints Ukrainian ships anchorage number 471 to wait for their turn along the KYC passage and the Kerch Strait.

10.54 — Ukrainian Naval Forces say freedom of navigation in the Kerch Strait is guaranteed by international law.

11.08 — Ukrainian boats and a tugboat are parked at quadrant 471 south of Kerch, awaiting permission to pass the strait. The Russian dispatcher, as the reasons for the delay of passage by the Ukrainian ships of the Kerch Strait, does not mention either their violation of the state border or their violation of the passage of the strait. The reason for the ban on the passage is not given. They say it was possible before, but now it is impossible. It is also reported that negotiations are allegedly being held between the political leaders of the countries to solve the issue of passage.

Radio traffic:

“We recommend one thing to you — you are not carrying out instructions. You are telling me something you expect me to do. I will simply continue and persist. It’s easier to go outside and wait while waiting for permission. I understand that our leaders are deciding this issue there, not at our level. We are carrying out our duties. We are defenders. I tell you — leave the territorial waters. Stay there and wait for permission. Take into account the precedent of the passage of your ships recently. They calmly passed. Why do we have this situation now? You have been told that (passage) is temporarily suspended. It’s not for us to decide what the reasons are. It’s just temporary. It’s not permanent.”

“You were allowed to pass before and there were no problems. No one built obstacles for passage. But now they told you that passage has been temporarily suspended. We don’t know the reasons. It it was open for passage, we would tell you and allow free passage.”

11.40 — Closure of the Kerch Strait is confirmed by the coordinator for Navarea IIi in Spain.

11.55 — Ukrainians receive information about Don’s readiness to use anchor chains to stop block passage of Ukrainian ships.

13.03 — Two Ka-52 attack helicopters of Russia’s Armed Forces approach and imitate an attack on the Ukrainian ships, sighting them with onboard laser weapons control systems. Later a pair of Su-25 attack aircraft passes.

13.41 — Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry calls the actions of Russian ships aggressive.

13.42 — Kerch traffic control reports that a ship has been stranded under the Kerch Strait bridge.

It turns out that this is Russian tanker NEYMA (IMO: 8895528), deprived of independent progress and being repaired at 2017 at the Kerch ship repair plant, which two Russian tugboats — the Bystry (port of Novorossiysk) and Gandvik (port of registry Kandalaksha) move under the bridge. Movement on the strait is declared closed in both directions.

13.50 — the crews of the Ukrainian ships are watching the tugs Bystry and Gandvik push NEYMA tanker in front of their eyes in order to let three Russian warships under the bridge — Russian minesweeper Vice Admiral Zakharin and two patrol ships (Raptor class, FSB border guards Russia). Later, the Russian vessel Penguin passes under the bridge.

14.00 — Russian special services suppress radio communications and navigation at sea signals, threatening international navigation system in the Kerch Strait. Ships that cannot pass through the strait on both sides of the Crimean Bridge begin accumulating.

17.29 — Russian attack planes pursue Ukrainian Naval Forces ships

17.36 — Three Ukrainian ships leave quadrant 471 and head for the exit of the Kerch Strait in order to return to their home port in Odesa.

Radio traffic:

- Sharapov, what commands did you just receive? What orders were given earlier?

- Shein contacted me (most likely, the captain of the 1st rank Andrei Borisovich Shein, the former head of the FSB border guard service in Crimea and Sevastopol, his current position is unknown. — Approx. RS). I just, frankly, would like to clarify, of course: Block them? He said, well, at least block the tug. But I’m now sitting around … and thinking. It’s impossible to block to the north, or south to the exit, to keep them from leaving territorial waters. It’s impossible?

- From exiting.

- From exiting? Wow.

17.59 — Don radios the Ukrainian ships violators of the state border and requires them to immediately stop.

18.03–11 Russian ships and boats (Suzdalets, Yeisk, Vice-Admiral Zakharyin, MB-173, Kinel, P-845 (Raptor), Izumrud, Don, Sobol, Mangust, Lamantin, with a total tonnage of 6,450 tonnes and a total crew of 383 people, pursue three Ukrainian ships (411 tonnes, 23 people), demanding the vessels stop and threatening to use weapons. Joining in the pursuit of the Ukrainian ships are two Ka-52 “Shark” helicopters, two Su-24M bomber jets, three Su-25 attack aircraft, a Su-30SM fighter from, respectively, Russia’s 39th helicopter regiment of the Russian Air-Space Forces, 37th Air Army and 43rd Independent Naval Attack Aviation Regiment.

18.08 — Ukrainian ships go on the air declaring their lack of intent to use weapons and carry out armed aggression. The say they are operating according to norms of international law.

Radio traffic:

- I am a schooner 1–3–6. Desna. I am moving along the Kerch Strait towards the Black Sea. I have no intention of using weapons. There is no armed aggression. I do not use weapons. I do not use artillery. I act in accordance with agreements between Ukraine and the Russian Federation on the state border and cooperation on the use of the Kerch Strait.

- I am schooner 1–7–5. Do you read me.

18.30 — A Russian special forces group has been deployed to the Don with the purpose of boarding the Ukrainian ships.

18.31 — Volodymyr Yelchenko, Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the UN, appeals to the UN Security Council in connection with the situation in the Kerch Strait.

19.45 — Izumrud begins firing warning shots at Ukrainian ships.

Radio traffic:

9–9–5. 4–9. I have left the 12-mile zone. I do not use weapons.

19.55 — Outside the 12-mile zone, Izumrud opens fire on the Berdiansk. According to the SBU, the Ka-52 and Su-30 also fired two missiles each at the Ukrainian ships.

19.58 — The Berdiansk, located 40 km from Kerch, 13 miles from the coast of the Crimea, is damaged eight times from shelling, twice from 30-mm shells in the upper superstructure. Three crew members are injured. The commander asks for help. The ship begins to drift.

Radio traffic:

- I need help, I need help. Mayday, mayday. My geographical coordinates: 44 51 0. 36 23 4. I need help. I need help.

Lying wounded. Lying wounded. Lying wounded. I need help. I need help.

Radio traffic:

- I cannot contact the Izumrud. There’s too much static. There are these Ukrainians there. They are drowning or something.

- Wow. Did he do something to kill them?

- Yes.

Radio traffic:

- Hands up! All on the ship, hands up. If there are weapons or hands under clothing, we will open fire to kill.

- I need help, I need help.

20.15 The Berdiansk is captured by a group of Russian special forces.

Radio traffic:

- I’m work with the tug boat. The tug stopped, but people standing with machine guns.

- The tug has stopped, but there are people with machine guns.

- Yes sir.

- We understand. .

- You have heavy machine guns on board. Turn on the light on the deck. Come out with your hands up.

20.15 — A group of Russian special forces captures the tugboat Yany Kapu.

20.27 — Ka-52 helicopter fires at the Nikopol, which is hit and loses speed. One seaman is wounded.

21.30 — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko convenes a meeting of top military commanders.

22.08 — Ukrainian troops in the Donbas put on full alert.

22.21 — Group of Russian special forces captures the Nikopol.

22.21 — RIA Novosti disseminates misinformation about the “massive shelling of residential areas of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic by Ukrainian troops.”

22.51 — NATO makes a statement about the full support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

23.38 — Military leaders recommend Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council propose introduction of martial law.

November 26 (Kyiv time)

00.10 — Russian vessels start towing the Ukrainian ships to Kerch.

05.40 — Ukrainian ships arrive in Kerch, Ukrainian sailors are taken prisoner.




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