The head of Ukraine’s border guard service, Serhiy Deyneko, says Russia should release four Ukrainian fishermen it detained for allegedly fishing illegally once their 10-day civil arrest term expires in occupied Crimea.
“We know all the citizens who were detained. The fishermen are being held in a detention facility in Kerch,” Deyneko told Interfax news agency on February 17.
He added there is no evidence so far that the Ukrainians were illegally fishing in the Sea of Azov.
"At the moment, we do not have information that clearly indicates that citizens detained by the Russian side were fishing illegally, so we can only evaluate the information we have available and to which we have access,” Deyneko said.
He said the Foreign Ministry and law enforcement agencies are cooperating and doing their “utmost to bring our citizens back to Ukraine as soon as possible.”
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry on February 17 summoned the Russian charge d'affaires and protested the fishermens' detention.
"We demand that the Russian side steadily adhere to the international and legal obligations and treaties which it is party to and immediately provide exhaustive information about the circumstances of the detention of the Ukrainian fishing vessel and its four crew members," the Foreign Ministry said on its website.
During the meeting, the Russian side was "presented with the demand to immediately release the Ukrainian fishermen and fishing vessel and return all fishing equipment."
On February 16, a Russian-administered court in Kerch on the Ukrainian peninsula ruled to arrest the four Ukrainian fishermen, who were detained along with their boat the previous day near the Crimean coast.
Deyneko said their boat was about 50 kilometers from the coast of Crimea.
Pavlo Melnyk, a Ukrainian lawmaker from the ruling Servant of the People party, named the fishermen as Serhiy Hoha, Oleksiy Ivanov, Vasyl Tyurkedzhi, and Maksym Tyeryekhov.
They all hail from the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhya.
The border guard force of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said it apprehended the fishermen on February 15 and accused them of “violating rules of catching aquatic biological resources.”
The FSB also said the boat’s captain had admitted guilt during questioning.
The fishermen didn’t have documents on their person and the catch on board the vessel was illegal, said Larisa Opanasyuk, the human rights ombudswoman on the Russian-occupied peninsula.
A 2003 Russia-Ukraine treaty stipulates unimpeded access to the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov, including the sharing of its aquatic resources.
On November 25, 2018, Russian border guards attacked, intercepted, and seized three Ukrainian Navy boats off Crimea, taking 24 crew members prisoner.
The sailors were freed as part of a prisoner exchange in September.
Russia invaded Crimea in early 2014 and has controlled the peninsula ever since, triggering Western sanctions that are still in place.