The much anticipated, if largely moot, Crimean referendum vote whether to break away from Ukraine and join Russia, began early on Sunday, even as Kiev is accusing Moscow of rapidly building up its armed forces on the peninsula in "crude violation" of an international treaty.
According to Reuters, Ukrainian acting defence minister Ihor Tenyukh said Russian troop numbers in Crimea were now almost double the level agreed with Moscow, and Kiev's forces were taking "appropriate measures" along the border with Russia. Tenyukh dismissed any suggestion that a militarily and economically weakened Ukraine might give up in the face of the Russian power. "Decisions will be taken depending on how events unfold. But let me say once again that this is our land and we will not be leaving it," he told Interfax news agency.
In the meantime, the vote has begun: "I have voted for Russia," said Svetlana Vasilyeva, a veterinary nurse who is 27. "This is what we have been waiting for. We are one family and we want to live with our brothers."
Last month's fall of Moscow-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich following deadly protests in Kiev has aroused fears among some of the country's native Russian-speakers.
"We want to leave Ukraine because Ukrainians told us that we are people of a lower kind. How can you stay in such a country?" said Vasilyeva.
Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) and close 12 hours later. Provisional results will be released late on Sunday with the final tally expected a day or two later.
Crimea's 1.5 million voters have two options: union with Russia or giving their region, which is controlled by pro-Kremlin politicians, the broad right to determine its own path and choose relations with whom it wants - including Moscow.
Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) and close 12 hours later. Provisional results will be released late on Sunday with the final tally expected a day or two later. According to Bloomberg, as of noon, the vote turnout at 44%, citing Crimean referendum chief Mikhail Malyshev in Simferopol. Malyshev also reported that the Sevastopol turnout at 49% at noon and has risen to 64% by 3pm, adding that no voting violations reported. The Crimean deputy PM said that he expects an 80%+ turn out in the vote with over 80% voting in favor of joining Russia.
Those curious what the Ukrainians are thinking:
So even as the vote which is merely a placeholder as Russia continues its military build up in the Crimea, Russian troops keep piling along the Eastern border, and with headlines like this hitting the tape:
- DEFENCE MINISTRIES OF UKRAINE, RUSSIA, AGREE TRUCE IN CRIMEA UNTIL MARCH 21-ACTING UKRAINIAN DEFENCE MINISTER
It probably means Russia still hasn't amassed enough troops to continue its business in East Ukraine, a build up which continues through yesterday as seen below.
Meanwhile, this is how the vote looked like through the lens of photographers:
"I was born in Soviet Union, I am Russian. I was born on Russian territory, that's why I want to live in Russia." pic.twitter.com/zyBW9r0q8e— Alexander Marquardt (@MarquardtA) March 16, 2014