Ethnic Tatars have held protests in Ukraine’s Crimea region ahead of this weekend’s referendum to join Russia.
Tatars, Sunni Muslims of Turkic origin, make up 12 percent of Crimea’s population and are generally apprehensive about the prospect of Crimea leaving Ukraine. Many plan to boycott Sunday’s vote.
An elderly man at the protest told euronews: “Our people will not take part in the poll. We consider it’s our obligation to boycott the so-called referendum.”
One female protester said: “We support the integrity of our country. We have always been Ukrainians and so we will stay.”
Another added: “We want to live in Ukraine. This referendum is illegal. It’s a fraud and they are holding the vote against our will under the pressure of machine guns.”
But Sergei Tsekov, deputy speaker of Crimea’s parliament, explained why he’s voting to join Crimea to Russia: “We choose Russia from a necessary defence point of view. The Russian Federation protects us,” he said.
Tsekov, who is also leader of the region’s Russian community, added: “In Crimea everything is calm, there are no worries, people are mostly happy and that is above all because we feel safe under the protection of the Russian Federation.”
Despite intense international, diplomatic pressure, Russia has not stepped back in what many say is the gravest security crisis in Europe since the Cold War.