Dec. 28 (UPI) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron demanded Friday that Russia release Ukrainian sailors who were captured with their three ships in the Kerch Strait.
In a joint statement, Merkel and Macron called Russia's detainment of the sailors over the last month illegal.
"We demand safe, free and unimpeded transit for all ships through the Kerch Strait and the immediate and unconditional release of all illegally detained Ukrainian seafarers," the statement said.
Last month, Russia captured the ships after firing upon them and injuring six crew members. The next day, Ukraine imposed martial law against Russia. The Kremlin had said the sailors would be arraigned at a court in the city of Simferopol in Crimea, which was forcibly annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.
Russian prosecutors argued that the sailors crossed the Russian border illegally, but Ukrainian officials said that they were well within their rights to sail in the Kerch Strait, where they were stopped.
At the time, the Russian foreign ministry called the response to the incident "artificial hysteria" by Kiev and the West for political reasons.
The United Nations earlier this month demanded that Russia release the Ukrainian sailors and warships. The response was part of an overall resolution condemning Russia for its militarization of Crimea and its occupation.
"We regret the latest vote," Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky said of the resolution at the time. "The Kiev regime thus receives new signals that it's allowed everything and all will be forgiven, while Russia will be unconditionally blamed in advance for all its sins and crimes."