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Fears rise among Ukraine's Azov Sea communities over Russian naval exercises

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By Analise Borges & Mark Armstrong
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The Azov sea is a stretch of water shared by Russia and Ukraine
The Azov sea is a stretch of water shared by Russia and Ukraine   -   Copyright  Euronews

While the world follows the movement of Russian troops in Belarus, Ukrainian authorities are equally — if not more — concerned about the possibility of military drills in the Azov Sea, a shallow body of water shared between Russia and Ukraine.

The two neighbours already risk direct conflict every day, and Moscow's announcement of military drills in the region next week has added to the stand-off.

The Kremlin has issued a warning saying parts of the Azov Sea and the Black Sea will be blocked to all shipping, including commercial traffic, while its navy conducts exercises. That has sparked condemnation in Kyiv, where authorities said they would issue a response.

Both seas are essential to Ukraine's exports and for the livelihoods of many living on its shores.

One such person is fisherman Anatoli Yurievich from Yalta, who has been finishing in the Azov Sea for 50 of his 73 years.

Yurevich says he hasn’t felt a rise in tensions with Russia but that things would get difficult for him if something were to happen and the waters become off-limits.

What else would we do? There are no jobs," explains Yurevich, "everything is closed, except for those who are entrepreneurs or work on the land. That’s it. It will be the end."

Not far from him, residents of the port city of Mariupol are less worried about what is happening and blame the media for painting such a poor picture of events.

"When you turn on the news, you get scared," one man told Euronews correspondent Anelise Borges. "It seems like someone will knock on your door and there will be pain and blood."

"It happens that the media and journalists are very likely to exaggerate and what we need is more balanced information," explained another man, "but unfortunately at the moment, nobody presents this correct information to us."

Russia denies any plans to invade Ukraine, and Ukrainians seem less bothered than the West.

The communities in the Azov Sea region are used to working in the same waters as their Russian neighbours and hope that the relationship will continue in peace.