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Nahlah Ayed: Crimea crowds cheer attempts to leave Ukraine, join Russia

Crowds cheered following a vote in the Crimean parliament to join Russia and hold a referendum on the region's autonomy, although not all seem to agree. The vote is certain to raise the tension in the Ukrainian crisis, Nahlah Ayed writes.
CBC correspondent outside parliament in Simferopol describes the crowd response after Crimean legislators voted to join Russia 0:57

Crimea is now Russian territory, according to Rustam Temirgaliev, the embattled region's deputy prime minister.  

Standing in front of its parliament today in Simferopol after it voted to join Russia, you could have easily been in Sochi or Moscow.

The plaza is awash in blue, white and red Russian flags — even the occasional red Soviet one. Russian music is blaring from speakers. Two elderly ladies lock arms and dance, their faces beaming at the news.

People pose in front of a Second World War Soviet tank in front of the Crimean parliament. (Nahlah Ayed/CBC)

Encouraged by a man with a microphone, the crowd then chants “Putin, Putin, Putin.”

Residents also take turns posing in front of a Second World War-era Soviet tank installed a few metres away from the parliamentary building.

Like Russian President Vladimir Putin, among this crowd — like the two-thirds of Crimeans who identify themselves as Russian — the change in government in Kyiv is considered illegal. 

Many believe Crimea’s place is in Russia. Today they feel they achieved their aim.

“Without a doubt,” said Tatiana, whose father is Russian. “It’s a catastrophe and chaos in Ukraine. And bandits. Here it’s very good.”

That one jubilant scene in front of parliament doesn’t represent all of Crimea.

A short drive down the road, the Tatar Muslim leadership denounced the decision, and encouraged residents to boycott the referendum on autonomy from Ukraine planned on March 16.

Residents loyal to Ukraine meanwhile do not take kindly to the deputy prime minister describing their troops as “occupiers” who must surrender or leave. They all live here, and have always lived here. 

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, meanwhile, rejected the vote and said the referendum has no legal grounds.

So the Crimean government’s decision significantly raises the tension here. It also seems to be a push to establish facts on the ground ahead of any serious international talks on solving the crisis.

About the Author

Nahlah Ayed

Foreign Correspondent

Nahlah Ayed is a CBC News correspondent based in London. A veteran of foreign reportage, she's covered major world events and spent nearly a decade working in and covering conflicts across the Middle East. Earlier, Ayed was a parliamentary reporter for The Canadian Press.