The three Ukrainian ships. AFP

Ukraine on Monday imposed martial law for 30 days in parts of the country most vulnerable to an attack from Russia.

This is after President Petro Poroshenko warned of the “extremely serious” threat of a land invasion from Russia.

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On Sunday, Ukrainian sailors and warships were attacked and seized by Russia in the Kerch Strait, a body of water between Russia’s mainland and Crimea, the peninsula that the Kremlin annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Poroshenko said martial law was necessary to bolster Ukraine’s defences after Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships and took their crew prisoner at the weekend.

The Ukrainian parliament approved the introduction of martial law after Poroshenko reassured some skeptical lawmakers that it would not be used to curb civil liberties or delay elections scheduled for next year.

It came at the end of a day when Ukraine and Russia traded accusations about Sunday’s standoff and Kiev’s allies weighed in to condemn Moscow’s behaviour.

With relations still raw after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing for a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine, the crisis risked pushing the two countries into open conflict.

“Russia has been waging a hybrid war against our country for a fifth year. But with an attack on Ukrainian military boats it moved to a new stage of aggression,” Poroshenko said.

In a phone call with Poroshenko, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg offered the alliance’s “full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Ukraine is not a NATO member though it aspires to membership.