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Unidentified armed individuals with armored vehicles block the base of the Ukrainian border guard service in Sevastopol on Saturday. / Vasiliy Batanov, AFP/Getty Images

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine - Andrey Sitnikov stood at the airport road here where armed men in uniforms without insignias had set up barricades that the newly installed government in Kiev said amounted to a Russian invasion.

When asked whether he knew who they were, he shrugged and replied, "Who knows?"

To Sitnikov, anyone who can guarantee calm would be good.

"There is an acute need right now to support our families, make them secure and protect our society," Sitnikov said in this port city.

The people of Ukraine's Crimea region are watching events in their peninsula on the Black Sea unfold with apprehension and hope.

Unidentified armed groups seized both regional airports and the parliament. Russian jets are streaking to its east, and Russian vehicles from a Black Sea naval base can be seen speeding through towns. People here have watched broadcasts - from the capital of Kiev 400 miles away - of protests, fire, killings and the ouster of a president many here voted for.

Crimean lawmakers are shouting for secession, and Kiev lawmakers are warning against it while Europe and the United States insist Ukraine must remain united. On Saturday, people here learned that the parliament in Moscow approved a request by President Vladimir Putin to invade for "safety" reasons.

And Crimea's pro-Russia leader, Sergei Askenov, declared himself in charge of all security services and made a direct appeal to Moscow for help to repel any attempt by the government in Kiev to challenge his authority.

"As a citizen of Sevastopol, me and my family look forward to this prospect," said Konstantyn Kizieyev, 32, who was waiting outside a McDonald's restaurant with his young son. "We are for Sevastopol and for Russia."

Elsewhere in east Ukraine, there were battles between pro-Russia sympathizers and those who support the protest movement that ousted former president Viktor Yanukovych a week ago in the capital of Kiev.

Protests broke out in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk Saturday, after thousands of people gathered to press for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine, carrying Russian flags and banners expressing support of pro-Russian protesters in Crimea. Donetsk is Yanukovych's hometown, said UNIAN news agency in Kiev.

In the pro-Yanukovuch stronghold and East's regional capital of Kharkiv, clashes broke out Saturday between pro-Russian protesters and pro-Maidan demonstrators. A Ukrainian flag on a government building was torn down and replaced with a Russian one, local media reported. Protests against the new authorities also took place in Odessa and Dnipro.

The Russian flag was raised over the regional government building in Donetsk as several thousand pro-Russia activists thronged and waved Russian flags. Donetsk authorities issued an appeal for a referendum to be called on the future status of the region.

In contrast, Sevastopol was calm Saturday. Organized, pro-Russia rallies were being held in various spots. Local officials proclaimed allegiance to Russia.

The Russian troops that have already emerged from the Black Sea naval base that Moscow leases from Ukraine number as many as 6,000 men, some here said.

Most residents of the Black Sea peninsula have linguistic and cultural ties to Russia with a clear majority self-identifying as ethnic Russian. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Sevastopol, home to the Russian navy's Black Sea fleet, because of a lease agreement not set to expire until at least 2042.

The Russian tricolor flag flies over most buildings and the Ukrainian language is rarely heard on the streets. Pro-Russia rallies have drawn enthusiastic crowds that revel in the colorful display of nationalistic pageantry.

On Friday, an impromptu rally was led by one of Russia's most flamboyant nationalist politicians who spoke to hundreds or people in front of City Hall, which in recent days has flown the Russian - not the Ukrainian - national flag.

"All the roads, all the ports, all the communications are under the control of the provincial Crimean government," Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky declared here Friday to thunderous applause and chants of "Russia! Russia!"

"I don't want you to worry whether anything bad will happen tomorrow - let's welcome the Russian flag that is flying over government buildings."

He took a swipe at Ukraine's new government, which alarmed many people here by proposing a law that would strip the Russian language of its official status in Crimea.

"If they want somewhere only to speak Ukrainian, then here we will speak only Russian," Zhirinovsky said. "If in Kiev people have revolted against their government, then why can't people in Sevastopol?"

Already politicians in Moscow are proposing ways to annex Crimea. In Russia's Duma, lawmakers proposed legislation that would ease the process of adding territory to the Russian Federation. Crimea has been part of Ukraine since 1954, when it was ceded to Ukraine's Soviet republic when the whole region was part of the USSR.

A further wrinkle is the presence of Crimean Tartars - a Turkic Muslim people. This minority has broadly supported the nationalist protesters in Kiev. Scuffles broke out between rival groups of Tartars and ethnic Russians, and there are fears that Crimea's annexation would ignite ethnic conflict within the region itself.

Even so, some Tartars said they weren't worried.

"I don't think it will affect everyday life," said Fevzi Mamutov, 23, an ethnic Tartar, in Sevastopol, Crimea. "I don't think any type of clashes will happen because Ukraine won't be able to oppose Russia's military."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Crimeans wait and watch for what comes next

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