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On The Scene: Crimea, Divided

  • Elizabeth Arrott

VOA Correspondent Elizabeth Arrott arrived in Crimea Friday and described the scene at the airport where about a dozen people in unbranded military uniforms are keeping watch at Simferopol airport in the southern Crimea region.

Ukraine's political crisis appeared to have a new front on Friday, when armed men briefly seized two airports in the southern region of Crimea.

The soldiers, who appear to be special forces of some sort, are maintaining a professional demeanor, but wear no insignia or anything that would identify who they represent.

They appear to be carrying modern and heavy weaponry, giving the impression of being professional soldiers. However, who they are remains a mystery.

In Sevastopol, home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet, forces blocked access to the local airport - a move described by Ukraine's new interior minister as a “military invasion” by Russian troops.

Russia denied the charges.

But the presence of forces, whose identity remained unclear, was welcomed by some in the region furious about the ouster of Urkainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

The soldiers are not an outwardly menacing presence. The airport remains open and flights are coming in.

The soldiers are standing guard and marching outside in an apparent show of force.

Crimea is traditionally sympathetic toward Russia and many welcome the military presence at the airport. Many here see the upheaval in Kyiv as an armed insurrection responsible for last week’s removal of a legitimately elected pro-Russian president, Yanukovych.


While possible Russian troop movement remained a topic of uncertainty, many of the protesters echoed Russia's view of the new Kyiv government as brought to power by thugs and bandits.

Protester Antonina Lyubchenko said, "Simferopol doesn’t want fascism here as it happened in Kyiv and it did in fact happen in Kyiv."

Meanwhile, parliament is working on economy issues and the situation in Kyiv.

On Friday, anti-Russian protesters kept a low profile, as those in the region hoped a vote would be lead to more autonomy for Crimea.

The Russians already have an active presence near the Sevastopol airport, which is in a special base area leased to Russia for its Black Sea Fleet.

A Russian troop advance on Simferopol airport, which is about an hour’s drive from Sevastopol, could be considered an invasion of sovereign Ukrainian territory, resulting in far-reaching political consequences.

Aside from rings of Ukranian police surrounding parliament, elsewhere the city appears calm. Residents are going to work and children can be seen playing outside. Residents in the area say they feel safe during the daytime, but are wary of going out after dark.

On Friday, anti-Russian protesters kept a low profile, as those in the region hoped a vote would be lead to more autonomy for Crimea.

A pro-Russian advocate, who identified himself as Alexander, said, " We can do it ourselves with a referendum without any Russian troops. We have a totally legitimate parliament and legitimate deputies, as opposed to Kyiv where there is total anarchy."

But the appearance of armed men at key installations raised fears the lawmakers might not move fast enough.

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