The Crimean region voted today about whether to demand greater autonomy from Ukraine or split off and seek to join Russia, in a referendum that has been condemned as illegal by the United States and European countries. Russia raised the stakes yesterday when its forces took control of a village near the border with Crimea, as well as a nearby natural gas distribution station, claiming the need to prevent terrorism there. A Ukraine Border Guard spokesman said today that Ukrainian forces retook control of the village last night, but that Russian forces still control the distribution center.
In Sevastopol, more than 70 people surged into a polling station within the first 15 minutes of voting. "Today is a holiday," said one. Asked how she voted, she broke into a patriotic war song: "I want to go home to Russia. It's been so long since I've seen my mama." Speakers blared the city anthem up and down the streets, giving Sevastopol a feeling of a block party. But Ukraine's acting defense minister, Igor Tenyuk, said in an interview published today that "this is our land and we're not going anywhere from this land." The referendum "is a clown show, a circus," said a Crimean community leader today. "This is a tragedy, an illegitimate government, with armed forces from another country." Meanwhile, ethnic Ukrainians were refusing to take part. "We're just not going to play these separatist games," said one who refused to vote. "Putin is the fascist. The Russian government is fascist." (Read more Ukraine stories.)