|Crimea Voters Overwhelmingly Favor Joining Russia|
|By ALEXANDER MARQUARDT (@MarquardtA)||Mar 16, 2014, 5:01 AM|
Voters in Crimea overwhelmingly supported leaving Ukraine and joining Russia, officials said today, as more than 95 percent of referendum ballots counted so far supported such a move.
Half the ballots had been counted as of 4:30 p.m. ET, local election officials reported. Only 3.5 percent of ballots opposed joining Russia. Official results will be released Monday.
The vote came as Ukraine and Russia reached a truce in Crimea, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and a base commander in Crimea.
The truce would last until March 21, the day Russia's parliament is set to decide on Crimea's annexation.
"Now it's clear that we'll become a part of Russia so they have to find some sort of peaceful solution," Yevpatoriya base commander Col. Andrey Matvienko told ABC News.
Russia hasn't confirmed the truce.
As the polls closed today, the White House, through a statement from its spokesman, Jay Carney, once again said, "[W]e reject the 'referendum' that took place today" in Crimea.
It warned that the "international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention."
In its statement, the White House repeated past lines on Ukraine, calling Russia's incursion "dangerous and destabilizing" and warning of "increasing costs for Russia."
Crimeans braved a miserably gray and rainy Sunday to vote in the referendum whose result is all but a foregone conclusion.
Demyan Kozlov, 27, drove the short distance from his house in the Crimean capital of Simferopol to the polling station at School Number 12. After election officials checked his name against the rolls, he took his ballot behind a blue curtain, quickly checked the box that Crimea should join Russia, and dropped it in a clear, plastic bin.
"We are coming back home after 23 years abroad so it's a great holiday for us," Kozlov said. "I was born in the Soviet Union, I am Russian, I was born on Russian territory, that's why I want to live in Russia."
That feeling seemed to be shared by most voters at the polling station -- and across Crimea -- most significantly older than Kozlov.
"Of course I voted for Russia," one woman curtly responded when asked how she cast her vote. "Who else should we vote for? For Ukraine? For war? No thank you."
At School Number 6, three generations of one family arrived to cast their ballots in favor of joining Russia, calling it a "dream come true."
"I am so happy. Today is really a holiday," said Ludmila, 42, standing by her mother Tatiana and son Igor. "All the people living in Crimea chose and they chose correctly. For a very long time I have not seen so many people smiling."
The reason the referendum is expected to go for Russia is not just because most Crimeans are ethnic Russians, but because the minority thought to be against being annexed by Russia are boycotting the vote.
"I don't have any other motherland than Ukraine, why should I become part of Russia?" Dilya Imiradieva said at a small pro-Ukraine rally on Saturday. "Why should I live in Russia?"
The United States and Europe have accused Russia of backing an illegitimate and unconstitutional referendum in Crimea, where over the past two weeks Russian forces have seized control. But Russian and Crimean leaders argue it is simply a question of self-determination.
"I think that President Obama is a smart man who understands that it is impossible to ignore the will of the majority of the population living in [Crimea]," Crimea's new pro-Moscow Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov told ABC News. "I hope healthy reason will prevail and Americans will understand that today, Crimeans also have a right to a free choice."
ABC News' Chris Good contributed to this report.