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    Posted March 12, 2014 by
    Simferopol, Ukraine
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Ukraine unrest

    ccollison and 14 other iReporters contributed to Open Story: Ukraine crisis as it unfolds
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    Tension high in Crimea ahead of referendum


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     ccollison documented pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian protests that occurred simultaneously in various cities in Crimea from March 8 to March 10. The second image, taken on March 8, shows pro-Russian demonstrators and 'self-defense' forces siding with Russian annexation in the regional capital of Simferopol, while the third image shows pro-Ukrainian demonstrators and Crimean Tatars, the native Muslim residents of the region, protesting against it.
    - Verybecoming, CNN iReport producer

    Crimean activists opposed to annexation by Russia faced off with pro-Russian demonstrators and "self-defense" forces in the regional capital of Simferopol.


    Hundreds have been demonstrating throughout the peninsula, especially in Simferopol, where tensions are running high only days ahead of a referendum over whether Crimea should become part of Russia.


    The Ukrainian government and much of the international community consider the referendum illegal. Voters have two options: join the Russian Federation or return to Crimea's 1992 constitution, meaning de facto independence from Ukraine. There is no option to maintain the status quo, and blank ballots will be invalidated.


    Crimean Tatars, an ethnic minority which was forcefully expelled under Josef Stalin, have called for a boycott of the referendum and have joined pro-Ukrainian activists in demanding that Russia stay out of the peninsula.


    Foreign troops have surrounded Ukrainian military installations throughout Crimea, in some cases taking them over and preventing soldiers from enterring. The Kremlin has refused to aknowledge that the troops are Russian, although a wealth of evidence from separate sources, including reports from Ukrainian soldiers, contradicts that claim.


    In Simferopol, pro-Ukrainian activists marched to a military installation, where troops have refused to abandon their post in the face of growing Russian pressure. Protesters gave flowers to the troops there, calling them heroes and thanking them for their service.


    Troops have set up checkpoints along roads leading into Sevastopol, which is home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet. In the city, billboards and signs read, "Stop fascism. Make the right choice on March 16."

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