A local resident moves barricades as unidentified gunmen in the background block the road to the military airport in Sevastopol in Crimea, Ukraine.Darko Vojinovic/AP
“I want my rights guaranteed. Not in words, but in actions,” she said. “Who are they to have changed the government anyway and tell us how to live? It’s like someone coming in your kitchen and telling you you’re brewing your morning coffee wrong. Would you stand for that?”
Crimea has long been a contested territory. In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decreed the peninsula become a part of Ukraine, despite the presence of many ethnic Russians in the region. After the Soviet Union fell apart, Crimea remained with Ukraine. In May 1992, the Crimean parliament declared independence from Ukraine, though ultimately remained with the country and was granted autonomous status.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia negotiated to lease Sevastopol to use as the headquarters of its Black Sea Fleet. In 2010, Yanukovych agreed to extend Russia’s lease for another 25 years with an additional option to continue until 2047.
The stationed Russian servicemen bring business to the city, and Russian tourists flock to Crimea’s natural attractions, bonding ethnic Russians closer to their neighbor.
Near newly built yellow and white apartment blocks in Sevastopol specifically for Russian soldiers, Natalia, a saleswoman at a small store specializing in lingerie and underwear, declined to give her last name, but said the Russians were integral to business.
“Where else would they buy underwear?” she asked.
Natalia admitted she doesn't take much interest in politics, but was concerned about the developments in Kiev. She had not been to any protest in the main square, but said she wanted Crimea to join Russia. “We already are Russia,” she said. “We’re speaking Russian!”
Back at the rally in the city square, Peter Vichislav stood with a huge Russian flag he had attached to the top of a massive fishing pole. The 55-year-old fire truck driver was glad Russia was sending troops to the peninsula and said he would continue to protest and push for Crimea to join Russia.
“Russia is the only country that can guarantee our stability. Ukraine is the one who has been occupying us,” Vichislav said. “Thank God this is starting. It’s been a long time coming.”