On a day where the Crimean parliament voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, we traveled to Sevastopol, home port of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
It’s a fiercely pro-Russian city.
“What are you doing here?” demanded one woman as we arrived. Many Crimeans blame Western media for fomenting trouble and revolution in their country.
Two Ukrainian naval vessels are bottled up in port by Russian warships. We tried to make our way to where the Ukrainian ships are docked, but grim-faced local militiamen blocked our way.
We spoke to them. They just glared back at us.
The Russians are demanding the Ukrainians surrender their ships and join the Russian fleet, but the Ukrainians have so far refused. That’s what’s happening at most of the military installations we have visited here in Crimea. The Russian forces set up a soft but unmistakable perimeter, while the Ukrainians vow to do their duty.
Something is happening here that Vladimir Putin may not have expected — a surge of Ukrainian patriotism. Here in Sevastopol, many people may want to be governed from Moscow; many others do not. And for Ukrainian citizens in Kiev, Lvov, and even here in Crimea — the traditionally pro-Russian eastern half of the country — the shock of Putin’s ham-fisted incursion is changing hearts and minds. They are discovering a new identity.
“This is the true birth of our nation,” a young woman told me.
They may have to fight for it.