Russian forces captured the Ukrainian sailors on November 25 / Photo from UNIAN

The Delegation of the European Union (EU) to the Council of Europe (CoE) says it expects that Russia will immediately free 24 Ukrainian sailors captured near the Kerch Strait on November 25, 2018.

"[We are] worried about their deteriorating health situation, relatives of captured Ukrainian sailors met with [EU] Ambassador [Meglena] Kuneva. [The] EU expects Russia to immediately release the captured sailors and to ensure that the injured crewmen receive appropriate medical treatment," the EU Delegation to the CoE tweeted on January 23.

UNIAN memo. On the morning of November 25, Russia blocked the passage to the Kerch Strait for the Ukrainian tugboat "Yany Kapu" and two armored naval boats "Berdyansk" and "Nikopol," which were on a scheduled re-deployment from the Black Sea port of Odesa to the Azov Sea port of Mariupol. The Ukraine Navy Command noted that the Russian side had been informed of the plans to re-deploy the vessels in advance in accordance with international standards to ensure the safety of navigation. The Russian coast guard ship "Don" rammed the Ukrainian tugboat, damaging the Ukrainian vessel. As the Ukrainian boats were heading back in the Odesa direction after being rejected passage via the Kerch Strait, Russian coast guards opened aimed fire on them. All 24 crew members on board were captured and later remanded in custody for two months, being charged with "illegal border crossing" (the sailors are facing up to six years in prison). Three crewmen were wounded in the attack. Russian-controlled "courts" in occupied Crimea ruled that all 24 detainees should be remanded in custody, after which they were transferred to the Moscow-based Lefortovo and Matrosskaya Tishina detention centers. Moscow's Lefortovo district court in the middle of January 2019, decided to keep the Ukrainian sailors in remand until the end of April 2019.