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Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine

KDWN

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — In a referendum watched closely around the world, residents of Ukraine’s strategic Crimean Peninsula voted Sunday on whether to demand greater autonomy or seek to join Russia. The vote has been condemned as illegal by the United States and European countries.

The referendum comes two weeks after Russian-led forces seized control of Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian region on the Black Sea that hosts a key Russian naval base. Locals say they fear the new Ukrainian government that took over when President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia last month will oppress them.

Ukraine’s new prime minister insisted again Sunday that neither Ukraine nor the West will recognize the referendum, which it says is being conducted at gunpoint.

“Now, on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea under the stage direction of the Russian Federation, a circus performance is underway: the so-called referendum,” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a government meeting. “Also taking part in the performance are 21,000 Russian troops, who with their guns are trying to prove the legality of the referendum.”

Russia raised the stakes Saturday when its forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, took control of a Ukrainian village and a key natural gas distribution plant outside of Crimea – the first Russian military move into Ukraine beyond the peninsula of 2 million people. The Russian forces later returned the village but kept control of the gas plant, according to Ukraine’s border guard agency.

If Sunday’s referendum passes, Russia faces the prospect of quick sanctions from Western nations.

But so far Russian President Vladimir Putin has vigorously resisted calls to pull back in Crimea. At the United Nations on Saturday, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution declaring the referendum illegal. China, its ally, abstained and 13 of the 15 other nations on the council voted in favor – a signal of Moscow’s isolation on the issue.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Putin by phone Sunday, proposing that an international observer mission in Ukraine be expanded quickly as tensions rise in the country’s east. Her spokesman said she also condemned the Russian seizure of the gas plant.

In Sevastopol, Crimea’s key port and the site of the Russian naval base, more than 70 people surged into a polling station Sunday within the first 15 minutes of voting.

“Today is a holiday!” said 66-year-old Vera Sverkunova, breaking into a patriotic war song: “I want to go home to Russia. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my mama.”

“Today is an important day for all Crimea, Ukraine and Russia,” said voter Manita Meshchina.

Speakers blared the city anthem up and down the streets, giving Sevastopol a block-party feeling. But the military threat was not far away – a Russian naval warship still blocked the port’s outlet to the Black Sea, trapping Ukrainian boats. Russia pays Ukraine $98 million a year in rent for the naval base at Sevastopol.

At a polling station inside a historic school in Sevastopol, Vladimir Lozovoy, a 75-year-old retired Soviet naval officer, began tearing up as he talked about his vote.

“I want to cry. I have finally returned to my motherland. It is an incredible feeling. This is the thing I have been waiting for for 23 years,” he said.

But Crimea’s large Muslim Tatar minority – whose families had all been forcibly removed from their homeland and sent to Central Asia during Soviet times – remained defiant.

The Crimea referendum “is a clown show, a circus,” Tatar activist Refat Chubarov said on Crimea’s Tatar television station Sunday. “This is a tragedy, an illegitimate government with armed forces from another country.”

The fate of Ukrainian soldiers trapped in their Crimean bases by pro-Russian forces was still uncertain. Crimea’s pro-Russian authorities have said if those soldiers don’t surrender after Sunday’s vote, they will be considered “illegal.”

“This is our land and we’re not going anywhere from this land,” Ukraine’s acting defense minister, Igor Tenyuk, said Sunday in an interview published by the Interfax news agency.

But Tenyuk later said an agreement had been reached with Russia that its forces would not block Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea through Friday. It was not clear exactly what that meant.

In the regional capital of Simferopol, blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags were nowhere to seen but red, white and blue Russian and Crimean flags fluttered in abundance in the streets.

Ethnic Ukrainians interviewed outside the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral of Vladimir and Olga said they refused to take part in the referendum, calling it an illegal charade stage-managed by Moscow. Some said they were scared of the potential for widespread discrimination and harassment in the coming weeks, similar to what happened in parts nearby Georgia, another former Soviet republic, after a brief war with Russia in 2008.

“We’re just not going to play these separatist games,” said Yevgen Sukhodolsky, a 41-year-old prosecutor from Saki, a town outside Simferopol. “Putin is the fascist. The Russian government is fascist.”

Vasyl Ovcharuk, a retired gas pipe layer who worked at Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, predicted dark days ahead for Crimea.

“This will end up in military action, in which peaceful people will suffer. And that means everybody. Shells and bullets are blind,” he said.

Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol, Mike Eckel in Simferopol, and Jim Heintz and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this story.

Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine

KDWN

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — In a referendum watched closely around the world, residents of Ukraine’s strategic Crimean Peninsula voted Sunday on whether to demand greater autonomy or seek to join Russia. The vote has been condemned as illegal by the United States and European countries.

The referendum comes two weeks after Russian-led forces seized control of Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian region on the Black Sea that hosts a key Russian naval base. Locals say they fear the new Ukrainian government that took over when President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia last month will oppress them.

Ukraine’s new prime minister insisted again Sunday that neither Ukraine nor the West will recognize the referendum, which it says is being conducted at gunpoint.

“Now, on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea under the stage direction of the Russian Federation, a circus performance is underway: the so-called referendum,” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a government meeting. “Also taking part in the performance are 21,000 Russian troops, who with their guns are trying to prove the legality of the referendum.”

Russia raised the stakes Saturday when its forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, took control of a Ukrainian village and a key natural gas distribution plant outside of Crimea – the first Russian military move into Ukraine beyond the peninsula of 2 million people. The Russian forces later returned the village but kept control of the gas plant, according to Ukraine’s border guard agency.

If Sunday’s referendum passes, Russia faces the prospect of quick sanctions from Western nations.

But so far Russian President Vladimir Putin has vigorously resisted calls to pull back in Crimea. At the United Nations on Saturday, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution declaring the referendum illegal. China, its ally, abstained and 13 of the 15 other nations on the council voted in favor – a signal of Moscow’s isolation on the issue.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Putin by phone Sunday, proposing that an international observer mission in Ukraine be expanded quickly as tensions rise in the country’s east. Her spokesman said she also condemned the Russian seizure of the gas plant.

In Sevastopol, Crimea’s key port and the site of the Russian naval base, more than 70 people surged into a polling station Sunday within the first 15 minutes of voting.

“Today is a holiday!” said 66-year-old Vera Sverkunova, breaking into a patriotic war song: “I want to go home to Russia. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my mama.”

“Today is an important day for all Crimea, Ukraine and Russia,” said voter Manita Meshchina.

Speakers blared the city anthem up and down the streets, giving Sevastopol a block-party feeling. But the military threat was not far away – a Russian naval warship still blocked the port’s outlet to the Black Sea, trapping Ukrainian boats. Russia pays Ukraine $98 million a year in rent for the naval base at Sevastopol.

At a polling station inside a historic school in Sevastopol, Vladimir Lozovoy, a 75-year-old retired Soviet naval officer, began tearing up as he talked about his vote.

“I want to cry. I have finally returned to my motherland. It is an incredible feeling. This is the thing I have been waiting for for 23 years,” he said.

But Crimea’s large Muslim Tatar minority – whose families had all been forcibly removed from their homeland and sent to Central Asia during Soviet times – remained defiant.

The Crimea referendum “is a clown show, a circus,” Tatar activist Refat Chubarov said on Crimea’s Tatar television station Sunday. “This is a tragedy, an illegitimate government with armed forces from another country.”

The fate of Ukrainian soldiers trapped in their Crimean bases by pro-Russian forces was still uncertain. Crimea’s pro-Russian authorities have said if those soldiers don’t surrender after Sunday’s vote, they will be considered “illegal.”

“This is our land and we’re not going anywhere from this land,” Ukraine’s acting defense minister, Igor Tenyuk, said Sunday in an interview published by the Interfax news agency.

But Tenyuk later said an agreement had been reached with Russia that its forces would not block Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea through Friday. It was not clear exactly what that meant.

In the regional capital of Simferopol, blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags were nowhere to seen but red, white and blue Russian and Crimean flags fluttered in abundance in the streets.

Ethnic Ukrainians interviewed outside the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral of Vladimir and Olga said they refused to take part in the referendum, calling it an illegal charade stage-managed by Moscow. Some said they were scared of the potential for widespread discrimination and harassment in the coming weeks, similar to what happened in parts nearby Georgia, another former Soviet republic, after a brief war with Russia in 2008.

“We’re just not going to play these separatist games,” said Yevgen Sukhodolsky, a 41-year-old prosecutor from Saki, a town outside Simferopol. “Putin is the fascist. The Russian government is fascist.”

Vasyl Ovcharuk, a retired gas pipe layer who worked at Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, predicted dark days ahead for Crimea.

“This will end up in military action, in which peaceful people will suffer. And that means everybody. Shells and bullets are blind,” he said.

Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol, Mike Eckel in Simferopol, and Jim Heintz and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this story.

Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine

KDWN

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — In a referendum watched closely around the world, residents in Ukraine’s strategic Crimean Peninsula voted Sunday on whether to demand greater autonomy or split off and seek to join Russia. The vote has been condemned as illegal by the United States and European countries.

The referendum comes two weeks after Russian-led forces seized control of Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian region on the Black Sea that hosts a key Russian naval base. Its residents say they fear the new Ukrainian government that took over when President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia last month will oppress them.

Ukraine’s new prime minister insisted again Sunday that neither Ukraine nor the West will recognize the referendum, which they say is being conducted at gunpoint.

“Now, on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea under the stage direction of the Russian Federation, a circus performance is underway: the so-called referendum,” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a government meeting. “Also taking part in the performance are 21,000 Russian troops, who with their guns are trying to prove the legality of the referendum.”

Russia raised the stakes Saturday when its forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, took control of a Ukrainian village outside Crimea – the first military move beyond the peninsula of 2 million people. The Russian forces also took control of a nearby natural gas distribution station, claiming the need to prevent possible terrorist acts.

Serhiy Astakhov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Border Guard, told The Associated Press on Sunday that Ukrainian forces retook control of the village late Saturday after negotiations with the Russian forces, but the Russian still controlled the gas plant.

If the referendum passes, Russia faces the prospect of quick sanctions from Western nations. So far, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin has vigorously resisted calls to pull back in Crimea. At the United Nations, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution declaring the referendum illegal, and China, its ally, abstained in a sign of Moscow’s isolation on the issue.

In Sevastopol, Crimea’s key port and the site of the Russian naval base, more than 70 people surged into a polling station within the first 15 minutes of voting Sunday.

“Today is a holiday!” said 66-year-old Vera Sverkunova. Asked how she voted, she broke into a patriotic war song: “I want to go home to Russia. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my mama.”

“Today is an important day for all Crimea, Ukraine and Russia,” said voter Manita Meshchina.

Speakers blared the city anthem up and down the streets, giving Sevastopol a feeling of a block party. But the military threat was clear – a Russian naval warship still blocked the port’s outlet to the Black Sea, trapping Ukrainian boats. Under a disputed new lease, Russia pays Ukraine $98 million a year in rent for the naval base.

At a polling station inside a historic school building in Sevastopol, Vladimir Lozovoy, a 75-year-old retired Soviet naval officer, began tearing up as he talked about his vote.

“I want to cry. I have finally returned to my motherland. It is an incredible feeling. This is the thing I have been waiting for for 23 years,” he said.

Since Yanukovych fled to Russia, Crimea has come under the control of local militias as well as heavily armed troops under the apparent command from Moscow. Crimea’s pro-Russia authorities say if Ukrainian soldiers resolutely occupying their garrisons on the peninsula don’t surrender after Sunday’s vote, they will be considered “illegal.”

But Ukraine’s acting defense minister, Igor Tenyuk, remained defiant and Crimea’s large Tatar Muslim minority still fiercely opposes any annexation to Russia.

“This is our land and we’re not going anywhere from this land,” Tenyuk said Sunday in an interview published by the Interfax news agency.

The Crimea referendum “is a clown show, a circus,” Tatar activist Refat Chubarov said on Crimea’s Tatar television station Sunday. “This is a tragedy, an illegitimate government with armed forces from another country.”

Blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags were nowhere to seen around the streets of the regional capital of Simferopol but Red, white and blue Russian and Crimean flags fluttered in abundance.

Ethnic Ukrainians interviewed outside the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral of Vladimir and Olga said they refused to take part in the referendum, calling it an illegal charade stage-managed by Moscow. Some said they were scared of the potential for ethnic cleansing in the coming weeks, like what happened in parts nearby Georgia, another former Soviet republic.

“We’re just not going to play these separatist games,” said Yevgen Sukhodolsky, a 41-year-old prosecutor from Saki, a town outside Simferopol. “Putin is the fascist. The Russian government is fascist.”

Vasyl Ovcharuk, a retired gas pipe layer who also worked on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, predicted dark days ahead for Crimea.

“This will end up in military action, in which peaceful people will suffer. And that means everybody. Shells and bullets are blind,” he said.

Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol, Mike Eckel in Simferopol, and Jim Heintz and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this story.

Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine

KDWN

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — In a referendum watched closely around the world, residents in Ukraine’s strategic Crimean Peninsula voted Sunday on whether to demand greater autonomy or split off and seek to join Russia. The vote has been condemned as illegal by the United States and European countries.

The referendum comes two weeks after Russian-led forces seized control of Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian region on the Black Sea that hosts a key Russian naval base. Its residents say they fear the new Ukrainian government that took over when President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia last month will oppress them.

Ukraine’s new prime minister insisted again Sunday that neither Ukraine nor the West will recognize the referendum, which they say is being conducted at gunpoint.

“Now, on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea under the stage direction of the Russian Federation, a circus performance is underway: the so-called referendum,” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a government meeting. “Also taking part in the performance are 21,000 Russian troops, who with their guns are trying to prove the legality of the referendum.”

Russia raised the stakes Saturday when its forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, took control of a Ukrainian village outside Crimea – the first military move beyond the peninsula of 2 million people. The Russian forces also took control of a nearby natural gas distribution station, claiming the need to prevent possible terrorist acts.

Serhiy Astakhov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Border Guard, told The Associated Press on Sunday that Ukrainian forces retook control of the village late Saturday after negotiations with the Russian forces, but the Russian still controlled the gas plant.

If the referendum passes, Russia faces the prospect of quick sanctions from Western nations. So far, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin has vigorously resisted calls to pull back in Crimea. At the United Nations, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution declaring the referendum illegal, and China, its ally, abstained in a sign of Moscow’s isolation on the issue.

In Sevastopol, Crimea’s key port and the site of the Russian naval base, more than 70 people surged into a polling station within the first 15 minutes of voting Sunday.

“Today is a holiday!” said 66-year-old Vera Sverkunova. Asked how she voted, she broke into a patriotic war song: “I want to go home to Russia. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my mama.”

“Today is an important day for all Crimea, Ukraine and Russia,” said voter Manita Meshchina.

Speakers blared the city anthem up and down the streets, giving Sevastopol a feeling of a block party. But the military threat was clear – a Russian naval warship still blocked the port’s outlet to the Black Sea, trapping Ukrainian boats. Under a disputed new lease, Russia pays Ukraine $98 million a year in rent for the naval base.

At a polling station inside a historic school building in Sevastopol, Vladimir Lozovoy, a 75-year-old retired Soviet naval officer, began tearing up as he talked about his vote.

“I want to cry. I have finally returned to my motherland. It is an incredible feeling. This is the thing I have been waiting for for 23 years,” he said.

Since Yanukovych fled to Russia, Crimea has come under the control of local militias as well as heavily armed troops under the apparent command from Moscow. Crimea’s pro-Russia authorities say if Ukrainian soldiers resolutely occupying their garrisons on the peninsula don’t surrender after Sunday’s vote, they will be considered “illegal.”

But Ukraine’s acting defense minister, Igor Tenyuk, remained defiant and Crimea’s large Tatar Muslim minority still fiercely opposes any annexation to Russia.

“This is our land and we’re not going anywhere from this land,” Tenyuk said Sunday in an interview published by the Interfax news agency.

The Crimea referendum “is a clown show, a circus,” Tatar activist Refat Chubarov said on Crimea’s Tatar television station Sunday. “This is a tragedy, an illegitimate government with armed forces from another country.”

Blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags were nowhere to seen around the streets of the regional capital of Simferopol but Red, white and blue Russian and Crimean flags fluttered in abundance.

Ethnic Ukrainians interviewed outside the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral of Vladimir and Olga said they refused to take part in the referendum, calling it an illegal charade stage-managed by Moscow. Some said they were scared of the potential for ethnic cleansing in the coming weeks, like what happened in parts nearby Georgia, another former Soviet republic.

“We’re just not going to play these separatist games,” said Yevgen Sukhodolsky, a 41-year-old prosecutor from Saki, a town outside Simferopol. “Putin is the fascist. The Russian government is fascist.”

Vasyl Ovcharuk, a retired gas pipe layer who also worked on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, predicted dark days ahead for Crimea.

“This will end up in military action, in which peaceful people will suffer. And that means everybody. Shells and bullets are blind,” he said.

Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol, Mike Eckel in Simferopol, and Jim Heintz and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this story.

Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine

KDWN

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — The Crimean region voted on Sunday about whether to demand greater autonomy from Ukraine or split off and seek to join Russia, in a referendum that has been condemned as illegal by the United States and European countries.

The vote took place several weeks after Russian-led forces took control of Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian region. Its residents say they fear the Ukrainian government that took over when pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last month will oppress them.

Russia raised the stakes Saturday when its forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, took control of a village near the border with Crimea, in the first military move outside the peninsula. The forces also took control of a nearby natural gas distribution station, claiming the need to prevent possible acts of terrorism there.

Serhiy Astakhov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Border Guard, told The Associated Press on Sunday that Ukrainian forces retook control of the village Saturday evening after negotiations with the Russian forces but that they still control the distribution center.

If the referendum passes, Russia faces the prospect of sanctions from Western nations, but Moscow has vigorously resisted calls to pull back in Crimea.

In Sevastopol, Crimea’s key port and the site of the Russian naval base, more than 70 people surged into a polling station within the first 15 minutes of voting Sunday.

“Today is a holiday,” said one of them, 66-year-old Vera Sverkunova. Asked how she voted, she broke into a patriotic war song: “I want to go home to Russia. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my mama.”

Speakers blared the city anthem up and down the streets, giving Sevastopol a feeling of a block party. A Russian naval warship stood blocking the outlet leading from the port to the open Black Sea.

Since Yanukovych fled to Russia, Crimea has come under control of local militia forces, as well as heavily armed troops under apparent command from Moscow.

Crimea’s pro-Russia authorities say that if Ukrainian soldiers resolutely occupying their garrisons don’t surrender after Sunday’s vote, they will be considered “illegal.”

But Ukraine’s acting defense minister, Igor Tenyuk, said in an interview published Sunday by the Interfax news agency that “this is our land and we’re not going anywhere from this land.”

In Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based under a lease agreement with Ukraine, enthusiasm for the referendum was high, with voters lining up outside polling stations before they opened.

“Today is an important day for all Crimea, Ukraine and Russia,” said voter Manita Meshchina. “I think that people are expecting the majority of people will vote `yes.’ What it means is that people believe and think they need to be with Russia.”

At a polling station 850097 set up inside a historic school building in downtown Sevastopol, Vladimir Lozovoy, a 75-year-old retired Soviet naval officer, began tearing up as he talked about his vote today. Other voters cried out “Well Done! Hurrah”

“I want to cry. I have finally returned to my motherland. It is an incredible feeling. This is the thing I have been waiting for for 23 years and finally it has happened,” he said.

Crimea’s large Tatar Muslim minority opposes annexation to Russia.

The referendum “is a clown show, a circus,” a leader of the Crimean community, Refat Chubarov, said on Crimea’s Tatar television station Sunday. “This is a tragedy, an illegitimate government, with armed forces from another country.”

Blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags were nowhere to seen around the streets of the regional capital of Simferopol. Red, white and blue Russian and Crimean flags fluttered around the sidewalks, city buildings and on many cars.

Ethnic Ukrainians interviewed outside the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral of Vladimir and Olga said they refused to take part in the referendum, calling it an illegal charade that they said was stage managed by Moscow. Some said they were scared of the potential for ethnic cleansing in the coming weeks, like what happened in parts of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

“We’re just not going to play these separatist games,” said Yevgen Sukhodolsky, a 41-year-old prosecutor from Saki, a town outside of Simferopol. “Putin is the fascist. The Russian government is fascist.”

Vasyl Ovcharuk, a retired gas pipe layer who also worked on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, predicted dark days ahead for Crimea.

“This will end up in military action, in which peaceful people will suffer. And that means everybody. Shells and bullets are blind,” he said.

At the United Nations, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution declaring the referendum illegal, and China, its ally, abstained in a sign of Moscow’s isolation on the issue.

Supporters of the U.S.-sponsored resolution knew ahead of time that Russia would use its veto on Saturday.

But they put the resolution to a vote to show the strength of opposition in the 15-member U.N. Security Council to Moscow’s takeover of Crimea. The final vote was 13 members in favor, China’s abstention, and Russia as a permanent council member casting a veto.

Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol, Mike Eckel in Simferopol, and Jim Heintz and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this story.

Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine

KDWN

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — The Crimean region voted on Sunday about whether to demand greater autonomy from Ukraine or split off and seek to join Russia, in a referendum that has been condemned as illegal by the United States and European countries.

The vote took place several weeks after Russian-led forces took control of Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian region. Its residents say they fear the Ukrainian government that took over when pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last month will oppress them.

Russia raised the stakes Saturday when its forces, backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles, took control of a village near the border with Crimea, in the first military move outside the peninsula. The forces also took control of a nearby natural gas distribution station, claiming the need to prevent possible acts of terrorism there.

Serhiy Astakhov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Border Guard, told The Associated Press on Sunday that Ukrainian forces retook control of the village Saturday evening after negotiations with the Russian forces but that they still control the distribution center.

If the referendum passes, Russia faces the prospect of sanctions from Western nations, but Moscow has vigorously resisted calls to pull back in Crimea.

In Sevastopol, Crimea’s key port and the site of the Russian naval base, more than 70 people surged into a polling station within the first 15 minutes of voting Sunday.

“Today is a holiday,” said one of them, 66-year-old Vera Sverkunova. Asked how she voted, she broke into a patriotic war song: “I want to go home to Russia. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my mama.”

Speakers blared the city anthem up and down the streets, giving Sevastopol a feeling of a block party. A Russian naval warship stood blocking the outlet leading from the port to the open Black Sea.

Since Yanukovych fled to Russia, Crimea has come under control of local militia forces, as well as heavily armed troops under apparent command from Moscow.

Crimea’s pro-Russia authorities say that if Ukrainian soldiers resolutely occupying their garrisons don’t surrender after Sunday’s vote, they will be considered “illegal.”

But Ukraine’s acting defense minister, Igor Tenyuk, said in an interview published Sunday by the Interfax news agency that “this is our land and we’re not going anywhere from this land.”

In Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based under a lease agreement with Ukraine, enthusiasm for the referendum was high, with voters lining up outside polling stations before they opened.

“Today is an important day for all Crimea, Ukraine and Russia,” said voter Manita Meshchina. “I think that people are expecting the majority of people will vote `yes.’ What it means is that people believe and think they need to be with Russia.”

At a polling station 850097 set up inside a historic school building in downtown Sevastopol, Vladimir Lozovoy, a 75-year-old retired Soviet naval officer, began tearing up as he talked about his vote today. Other voters cried out “Well Done! Hurrah”

“I want to cry. I have finally returned to my motherland. It is an incredible feeling. This is the thing I have been waiting for for 23 years and finally it has happened,” he said.

Crimea’s large Tatar Muslim minority opposes annexation to Russia.

The referendum “is a clown show, a circus,” a leader of the Crimean community, Refat Chubarov, said on Crimea’s Tatar television station Sunday. “This is a tragedy, an illegitimate government, with armed forces from another country.”

Blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags were nowhere to seen around the streets of the regional capital of Simferopol. Red, white and blue Russian and Crimean flags fluttered around the sidewalks, city buildings and on many cars.

Ethnic Ukrainians interviewed outside the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral of Vladimir and Olga said they refused to take part in the referendum, calling it an illegal charade that they said was stage managed by Moscow. Some said they were scared of the potential for ethnic cleansing in the coming weeks, like what happened in parts of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

“We’re just not going to play these separatist games,” said Yevgen Sukhodolsky, a 41-year-old prosecutor from Saki, a town outside of Simferopol. “Putin is the fascist. The Russian government is fascist.”

Vasyl Ovcharuk, a retired gas pipe layer who also worked on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, predicted dark days ahead for Crimea.

“This will end up in military action, in which peaceful people will suffer. And that means everybody. Shells and bullets are blind,” he said.

At the United Nations, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution declaring the referendum illegal, and China, its ally, abstained in a sign of Moscow’s isolation on the issue.

Supporters of the U.S.-sponsored resolution knew ahead of time that Russia would use its veto on Saturday.

But they put the resolution to a vote to show the strength of opposition in the 15-member U.N. Security Council to Moscow’s takeover of Crimea. The final vote was 13 members in favor, China’s abstention, and Russia as a permanent council member casting a veto.

Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol, Mike Eckel in Simferopol, and Jim Heintz and Maria Danilova in Kiev contributed to this story.

Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine

KDWN

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — The Crimean region voted on Sunday about whether to demand greater autonomy from Ukraine or split off and seek to join Russia, in a referendum that has been condemned as illegal by the United States and European countries.

The vote took place several weeks after Russian-led forces took control of Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian region. Its residents say they fear the Ukrainian government that took over when pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last month will oppress them.

On Saturday, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles had advanced about 6 miles (10 kilometers) over the Crimean border into another Ukrainian region, where they took control of a village that holds a natural gas distribution facility.

If the referendum passes, Russia faces the prospect of sanctions from Western nations, but Moscow has vigorously resisted calls to pull back in Crimea.

Since Yanukovych fled to Russia, Crimea has come under control of local militia forces, as well as heavily armed troops under apparent command from Moscow.

Crimea’s pro-Russia authorities say that if Ukrainian soldiers resolutely occupying their garrisons don’t surrender after Sunday’s vote, they will be considered “illegal.”

But Ukraine’s acting defense minister, Igor Tenyuk, said in an interview published Sunday by the Interfax news agency that “this is our land and we’re not going anywhere from this land.”

In Sevastopol, the Crimean capital where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based under a lease agreement with Ukraine, enthusiasm for the referendum was high, with voters lining up outside polling stations before they opened.

“Today is an important day for all Crimea, Ukraine and Russia,” said voter Manita Meshchina. “I think that people are expecting the majority of people will vote `yes.’ What it means is that people believe and think they need to be with Russia.”

In Sevastopol, more than 70 people surged into a polling station within the first 15 minutes of voting.

“Today is a holiday,” said one of them, 66-year-old Vera Sverkunova. Asked how she voted, she broke into a patriotic war song: “I want to go home to Russia. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my mama.”

Speakers blared the city anthem up and down the streets, giving Sevastopol a feeling of a block party. A Russian naval warship stood blocking the outlet leading from the port to the open Black Sea.

At a polling station 850097 set up inside a historic school building in downtown Sevastopol, Vladimir Lozovoy, a 75-year-old retired Soviet naval officer, began tearing up as he talked about his vote today. Other voters cried out “Well Done! Hurrah”

“I want to cry. I have finally returned to my motherland. It is an incredible feeling. This is the thing I have been waiting for for 23 years and finally it has happened,” he said.

Crimea’s large Tatar Muslim minority opposes annexation to Russia.

The referendum “is a clown show, a circus,” a leader of the Crimean community, Refat Chubarov, said on Crimea’s Tatar television station Sunday. “This is a tragedy, an illegitimate government, with armed forces from another country.”

Blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags were nowhere to seen around the streets of Simferopol; red, white and blue Russian and Crimean flags fluttered around the sidewalks, city buildings and on many cars.

Ethnic Ukrainians interviewed outside the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral of Vladimir and Olga said they refused to take part in the referendum, calling it an illegal charade that they said was stage managed by Moscow. Some said they were scared of the potential for ethnic cleansing in the coming weeks, like what happened in parts of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

“We’re just not going to play these separatist games,” said Yevgen Sukhodolsky, a 41-year-old prosecutor from Saki, a town outside of Simferopol. “Putin is the fascist. The Russian government is fascist.”

Vasyl Ovcharuk, a retired gas pipe layer who also worked on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, predicted dark days ahead for Crimea.

“This will end up in military action, in which peaceful people will suffer. And that means everybody. Shells and bullets are blind,” he said.

At the United Nations, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution declaring the referendum illegal, and China, its ally, abstained in a sign of Moscow’s isolation on the issue.

Supporters of the U.S.-sponsored resolution knew ahead of time that Russia would use its veto on Saturday.

But they put the resolution to a vote to show the strength of opposition in the 15-member U.N. Security Council to Moscow’s takeover of Crimea. The final vote was 13 members in favor, China’s abstention, and Russia as a permanent council member casting a veto.

Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol, Mike Eckel in Simferopol, and Jim Heintz in Kiev contributed to this story.

Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine

KDWN

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Residents of Ukraine’s Crimea region voted on Sunday in a contentious referendum on whether to split off and seek annexation by Russia.

The vote is regarded as illegitimate both by the acting Ukrainian government and by the West, but is widely expected to pass. Crimea is predominantly ethnic Russian, and its residents say they fear the government that took over when pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last month will oppress them.

Since Yanukovych fled to Russia, Crimea has come under control of local militia forces, as well as heavily armed troops under apparent command from Moscow.

On Saturday, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles had advanced about 6 miles (10 kilometers) over the Crimean border into another Ukrainian region, where they took control of a village that holds a natural gas distribution facility.

If the referendum passes, Russia faces the prospect of sanctions from Western nations, but Moscow has vigorously resisted calls to pull back in Crimea.

In Sevastopol, the Crimean capital where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based under a lease agreement with Ukraine, enthusiasm for the referendum was high with voters lining up outside polling stations before they opened.

“Today is an important day for all Crimea, Ukraine and Russia,” said voter Manita Meshchina. “I think that people are expecting the majority of people will vote `yes.’ What it means is that people believe and think they need to be with Russia.”

In Sevastopol, more than 70 people surged into a polling station within the first 15 minutes of voting.

“Today is a holiday,” said one of them, 66-year-old Vera Sverkunova. Asked how she voted, she broke into a patriotic war song: “I want to go home to Russia, it’s been so long since I’ve seen my mama.”

Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol and Jim Heintz in Kiev contributed to this story.

Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine

KDWN

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Residents of Ukraine’s Crimea region voted on Sunday in a contentious referendum on whether to split off and seek annexation by Russia.

The vote is regarded as illegitimate both by the acting Ukrainian government and by the West, but is widely expected to pass. Crimea is predominantly ethnic Russian, and its residents say they fear the government that took over when pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last month will oppress them.

Since Yanukovych fled to Russia, Crimea has come under control of local militia forces, as well as heavily armed troops under apparent command from Moscow.

On Saturday, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles had advanced about 6 miles (10 kilometers) over the Crimean border into another Ukrainian region, where they took control of a village that holds a natural gas distribution facility.

If the referendum passes, Russia faces the prospect of sanctions from Western nations, but Moscow has vigorously resisted calls to pull back in Crimea.

In Sevastopol, the Crimean capital where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based under a lease agreement with Ukraine, enthusiasm for the referendum was high with voters lining up outside polling stations before they opened.

“Today is an important day for all Crimea, Ukraine and Russia,” said voter Manita Meshchina. “I think that people are expecting the majority of people will vote `yes.’ What it means is that people believe and think they need to be with Russia.”

In Sevastopol, more than 70 people surged into a polling station within the first 15 minutes of voting.

“Today is a holiday,” said one of them, 66-year-old Vera Sverkunova. Asked how she voted, she broke into a patriotic war song: “I want to go home to Russia, it’s been so long since I’ve seen my mama.”

Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol and Jim Heintz in Kiev contributed to this story.

Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine

KDWN

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Residents of Ukraine’s Crimea region voted on Sunday in a contentious referendum on whether to split off and seek annexation by Russia.

The vote is regarded as illegitimate both by the acting Ukrainian government and by the West, but is widely expected to pass. Crimea is predominantly ethnic Russian, and its residents say they fear the government that took over when pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last month will oppress them.

Since Yanukovych fled to Russia, Crimea has come under control of local militia forces, as well as heavily armed troops under apparent command from Moscow.

On Saturday, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces backed by helicopter gunships and armored vehicles had advanced about 6 miles (10 kilometers) over the Crimean border into another Ukrainian region, where they took control of a village that holds a natural gas distribution facility.

If the referendum passes, Russia faces the prospect of sanctions from Western nations, but Moscow has vigorously resisted calls to pull back in Crimea.

In Sevastopol, the Crimean capital where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based under a lease agreement with Ukraine, enthusiasm for the referendum was high with voters lining up outside polling stations before they opened.

“Today is an important day for all Crimea, Ukraine and Russia,” said voter Manita Meshchina. “I think that people are expecting the majority of people will vote `yes.’ What it means is that people believe and think they need to be with Russia.”

In Sevastopol, more than 70 people surged into a polling station within the first 15 minutes of voting.

“Today is a holiday,” said one of them, 66-year-old Vera Sverkunova. Asked how she voted, she broke into a patriotic war song: “I want to go home to Russia, it’s been so long since I’ve seen my mama.”

Dalton Bennett in Sevastopol and Jim Heintz in Kiev contributed to this story.

Crimea votes on whether to secede from Ukraine

KDWN

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Residents of Ukraine’s Crimea region are voting in a contentious referendum on whether to split off and seek annexation by Russia.

The Sunday vote is regarded as illegitimate both by the acting Ukrainian government and by the West, but is widely expected to pass. Crimea is predominantly ethnic Russian, and its residents say they fear that the government that took over when pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted last month will oppress them.

Since Yanukovych fled to Russia, Crimea has come under control of local militia forces, as well as heavily armed troops under apparent command from Moscow.

If the referendum passes, Russia faces the prospect of sanctions from Western nations.