KIEV, Ukraine, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Ukrtelecom, Ukraine's largest telecom provider, reported Friday that there was almost no phone or internet service across the Crimea region following sabotage by unknown elements.
Ukrtelecom, the country's only land-line provider, said that unidentified people seized telecommunications nodes and destroyed cables, effectively severing data and voice connectivity between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine.
The telecom disruption follows other incidents in Crimea concerning unidentified pro-Russian groups, some of whom were suspected by the Ukrainian government of being sent by Russia. Earlier Friday, armed men whom Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov claimed were Russian soldiers began patrolling the Simferopol airport in Crimea. Their presence, Avakov said, is regarded as "an armed invasion and occupation." On Thursday, gunmen seized control of two government buildings in Crimea, and raised the Russian flag above the buildings.
Clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian interim government groups turned deadly in the mostly pro-Russian Crimea region, with two reported deaths and 35 injured.
In the midst of Ukraine's political transition, the U.S. administration has repeatedly called upon Russia to respect the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine. Despite assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, suspicion and uneasiness persist that Russia is maneuvering to take advantage of its vulnerable neighbor.