The pro-Russian authorities who declared Crimea part of Russia on Thursday said they were carrying out the will of the overwhelming majority of its residents.
The streets belong to Russia’s supporters: crowds chanting “Rossiya! Rossiya!” and waving the Russian tricolour.
But for the quieter people who are proud to call themselves Ukrainian citizens – no one knows which side is the majority – the move came as a sharp and sudden shock, bringing fears of chaos, forced emigration or war.
“I am Ukrainian. I want my own, Ukrainian soldiers to protect me. I don’t want to be part of Russia, I hate Russia,” said Tanya Kulik, 16, gesturing to a pro-Russian crowd.
Many other people, including ethnic Russians with roots in Russia, also consider themselves Ukrainians.
“I am Russian: I was born in Russia. My father was a Russian officer. But we have lived in Ukraine since 1989. I am a Ukrainian citizen. Although I have the right to Russian citizenship, I have never sought it,” said Alexandra Kvitko, editor-in-chief of Black Sea TV.
Her station was the only independent TV channel in Crimea until this week when the pro-Russian authorities switched it off. On Thursday its signal and those of the two main stations from Kiev were replaced in Crimea with Russian state channels.
She said the vote behind closed doors by an unverified number of parliamentarians to declare the region part of Russia was proof they were afraid to find out what Crimeans think.
“Now they are not even holding their blessed referendum to ask the opinion of Crimeans. They just decided,” she said.
If Moscow does annex Crimea she may have to leave: “Because Russia does not have independent media – or barely any – maybe we will move to the channel to Kiev and try to broadcast the Crimean point of view from Kiev.”
“THERE WILL BE BLOOD”
Crimea has a narrow ethnic Russian majority and was administered as part of Russia within the Soviet Union until 1954. Many residents have Russian passports, especially near Sevastopol, home of the Black Sea Fleet. The views of those who support the Russian takeover are passionately held.
But that does not mean public opinion in a province of 2 million people straightforwardly favours Moscow’s rule. The last time residents were asked, in 1991, they very narrowly voted for independence along with the rest of Ukraine.
However many want to join Russia, hundreds of thousands do not. Ukrainian citizens would presumably be required to accept Russian nationality or become foreigners.
Leonid Pilunsky, a member of the regional parliament who opposes the pro-Russian authorities, said he and other lawmakers were not summoned for Thursday’s vote and were certain not enough members would have been present for a quorum. “There was no quorum. This was not a decision by parliament, it was just a statement issued by a collaborationist,” he said.
“It is all lawlessness and continued…