KYIV, UKRAINE —
With local officials in Crimea saying that 97 percent of voters in the Black Sea Peninsula backed breaking with Ukraine in Sunday's referendum, the reaction in Kyiv is a mixture of anger and resignation.
The super-majority secured in Sunday's referendum in Crimea has left many Ukrainians agreeing with U.S. Senator John McCain, who while visiting Kyiv over the weekend questioned the vote's validity, saying it was "just like the old days in the Soviet Union."
The vote to separate from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation two weeks after Russian forces seized Crimea has left Ukrainian politicians divided over the next steps. Should they accept the break as completed and move on, focusing their strengths on rebuilding Ukraine, or should they continue to resist, and if so how?
Lawmaker Lesya Orobets, one of the leaders of the Maidan revolution that toppled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych that triggered the Russian seizing of the peninsula, said Crimea must not be traded for peace but that resistance can't be tackled militarily. "There is no government in the world ready for the war with Russia. We can't win this war in military terms. It is not possible. What we can win is the war in diplomatic and informational sense. So we put all efforts into that," Orobets stated.
With challenges mounting, from staving off economic collapse to preventing other ethnic Russian regions from breaking with Ukraine, longtime Ukraine resident Michael Willard, who owns a leading public relations agency in Kyiv, said Ukrainians have no alternative but to accept what has happened.
"Ukraine doesn't have a military like Russia does. It would be suicidal for them to go up against Russia," Willard explained. "It would be even shorter probably than the Georgian war and that would be tragic. So given the odds, no other options, I think they would probably have to."
But there are still plenty of possible sources of friction and conflict to come over what happens to Ukrainian state property in the peninsula, including the country's 19 warships currently blockaded in their Black Sea port by the Russian navy.
Yuriy Meshkov, who was President of Crimea between 1994 and 1995 and has been a longtime advocate of reunion with Russia, said the warships and all Ukraine's state property now belongs to Russia and no compensation should be forthcoming.
While the Ukrainians absorb the loss of Crimea, worries are mounting here that other majority ethnic Russian regions in eastern and southern Ukraine will consider joining Russia.
Over the weekend about 5,000 pro-Russian protesters roamed central Donetsk in eastern Ukraine smashing doors and windows and forcing entry to government buildings. And in the Black Sea port of Odessa thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators also took to the streets.
Ukraine's new leaders claim Moscow has sent Russian provocateurs who are stirring much of the trouble. The Kremlin denies this and has warned it is ready to send forces massed on the border to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine, the initial reason given for seizing Crimea.
Brian Bonner, editor of the English-language newspaper the Kyiv Post said that what strikes him is how restrained Ukrainian soldiers are. "They have been remarkably so far not giving in to provocations by shooting," he noted. "Nobody wants to fire the first shot here and let's hope there is no shot fired."
But with tensions high, some fear the war of words could escalate into shooting.