Divisions in Crimea over referendum to join Russia

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Divisions in Crimea over referendum to join Russia

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As Sunday’s referendum approaches, many in Crimea, which has a narrow ethnic Russian majority, are eager to move under Moscow’s wing.

“It is the foundation of our lives. We were part of the Soviet Union. Now Russia is the heir to the Soviet Union and its policies are closer to the ideology that we knew,” said one man in the regional capital Simferopol.

“They are fascists,” another said of Kyiv’s Independence Square movement, claiming far-right snipers killed those whose deaths were blamed on Viktor Yanukovych and riot police.

But a substantial, if quieter, section of the population still prefers being part of Ukraine.

“People who do not accept this military intrusion by Russia gather here,” said referendum opponent Irina Kopylova, herself an ethnic Russian, referring to the area around a monument dedicated to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko.

She claimed Sunday’s vote is “being carried out without any legal grounds”.

“If the referendum was organised in the right way, with foreign observers and high-quality ballots, without fraud – yes, I would have taken part,” added Dmitry, a university student who plans to boycott the poll.

Some opponents of Sunday’s vote say they have been threatened by pro-Russian activists.

Statues of Lenin have been toppled elsewhere in Ukraine but the Russian revolutionary leader still stands tall in Simferopol, venerated by many in Crimea who eagerly anticipate rule from the Kremlin.