Authorities in Sevastopol have begun preparations for the expected referendum on the status of Crimea.
A working group has been set up and a 17-member election commission appointed. Critics say the short time-frame for the poll will negatively affect the outcome.
However, the acting head of Sevastopol’s ruling council, Dmitry Belik, insists international observers are welcome to witness and verify the process.
“If anybody wants to come and see how Crimean and
Sevastopol residents vote, let them come and see. Nobody will be able to dispute the legitimacy of the election (referendum),” said Belik.
Supporters of separation from Ukraine are eagerly looking forward to having a say in their future.
“I will of course vote for Crimea and Sevastopol to join the
Russian Federation and I want to explain why,” said Sevastopol resident Vladimir Udaloskin. “Over the course of 22 years of independence, unfortunately, this
country has done nothing for us to feel that Ukraine is our
fatherland and not just a place of residence.”
For others, the result is far from certain. Among those opposing any moves closer to Moscow are members of the Crimean Tatar “self defence” force.
Its leaders claim they started patrols in the wake of increasingly aggressive harassment from pro-Russia supporters.
Delyaver Rheshetov, who heads the patrol in the Ak-Mechet neighbourhood of Simferopol said: “They decided to hold a referendum on the 16th (of March). But even before that they have, already today, nearly said that Crimea is Russia. Why is the referendum taking place? To ask ‘Do you agree to join Russia?’ Of course, this is unpleasant.”