Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Beneath Russian Flags, Crimeans Vote on a Return to Their 'Homeland'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Beneath Russian Flags, Crimeans Vote on a Return to Their 'Homeland'

Article excerpt

In a vote freighted with geopolitical implications, Crimeans went to the polls Sunday in a snap referendum on whether to break away from Ukraine and join Russia, the former ruler of this Black Sea peninsula.

While Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians boycotted the hastily organized vote, pro-Russian voters compared it to a homecoming guaranteeing a brighter future.

"I was born in Crimea in 1950, when it was Russia, and now I'm voting to go back to my homeland," said Aleksander Kromel after casting a ballot at a polling station in Simferopol, the regional capital. "I'm voting for the power of the Russian state to finally bring us out of this mess that the Ukrainians have made of us. We've been on our knees for 20 years living under the Ukrainians."

Russia's red, blue and white flag adorned windows and balconies of apartment houses across the regional capital, including a large one draped in front of the regional parliament. Russian Cossacks guarded the building's entrances, part of a huge Russian security presence here that critics say is a form of intimidation.

Sunday's referendum asks whether Crimea should be annexed by Russia or revert to a 1992 Ukrainian constitution under which Crimea can set its own foreign policy. Kiev considers the referendum illegitimate; the US and the European Union have said they will not recognize the results.

Just four hours after polls opened, the pro-Russian regional prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, announced that voter turnout was already 50 percent. Official results of the referendum will be announced Monday. But the outcome of the referendum seems to be a foregone conclusion given the ethnic-Russian majority among the peninsula's 2 million population. For them, joining Moscow means escaping the yoke of a Western Ukrainian government now in power in Kiev.

"We've always wanted to rejoin Russia," said Aleksander Leonov, a polling station supervisor. "But this wave of support for the referendum rose up when the bandits took power in Kiev."

Last month's ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovych amid mass protests has brought to power an interim cabinet made up of former opposition members. …

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