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Ukraine

Referendum day in Crimea's Simferopol

The organizers of the Crimean referendum are pleased with the high voter turnout. It is seen as a beginning of the peninsula's unification with Russia. Many voters in the capital Simferopol voted in favor of secession.

The beginning of the "historical day," as March 16 has been referred to in Crimea by those promoting the referendum to join the Russian Federation, didn't seem promising. The previous night had been stormy and the morning saw rain over Simferopol, the capital of Crimea.

Ambiguity over voters and questions

But despite the rain, the members of the hastily convened local electoral commission had a lot to do. The new leadership had given the commission exactly 10 days to organize the vote. Meanwhile, the government in Kyiv refused to hand over the relevant voter registers to Simferopol. "We used the data from the last vote," said election chairman Mikhail Malyshev. That is how they came up with the 1.5 million ballots that were printed for the referendum. "That's around one percent more than the number of voters," Malyshev adds. The official explanation for that discrepancy is that if voters don't vote the way they had intended to, they could have a replacement ballot card.

Krim Referendum Ukraine Abstimmung Wahlurne Glas

Around 1.5 million ballots papers were printed for the referendum

There were two questions on the ballot papers. Each question was printed in Russian, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar, the languages of the biggest ethnic groups on the peninsula. The first question was clear enough: "Are you in favor of Crimea being united with Russia as a subject of the Russian Federation?" The second question was about Crimea remaining part of Ukraine with a small change to its status: "Are you in favor of reinstating the 1992 version of the Crimean Republic's constitution and of Crimea's status as a part of Ukraine?"

The wording was referring to a constitution that granted Crimea a broadly autonomous status. It was written around the time of the fall of the Soviet Union but was abolished shortly after it was passed.

Against 'fascists' and for stability

Voters weren't given any clarification for the second question. For more than a week now, Crimeans haven't been able to receive Ukrainian analogue television stations. Russian stations are on air, however, and have been harshly criticizing the "nationalists" and "bandits" in Kyiv.

Referendum auf der Krim junger Wähler

Crimean Igor voted in favor of secession

"Ukraine has betrayed us to fascists, and that is why I voted to join Russia," explains one young man, who says his name is Igor. An elderly couple - Arif, an Azeri, and Nina, a Russian - said they had voted for "more stability." They are in favor of Crimea joining Russia. "We all saw what was going on in Kyiv," Nina explained calmly.

Enthusiasm and caution

Alla, a 40-something-year-old head of a vocational school, is convinced that "historic justice should win" - this is why she has voted for Russia. Crimea has always been Russian, she says. Now she believes everything will be better, because Russia, as opposed to Ukraine, has a good leader, according to her.

Meanwhile, 36-year-old Andrey is more skeptical. "If Russia treats us like it does South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of which have become poor, then we will put up resistance."

Gennady, a young computer engineer is one of the few here to say that he voted for Crimea staying in Ukraine. "The development in our country has shown that we now have more influence on those in power," he explained. "In Russia there's hardly any freedom."

Right-wing populist election observer

Johann Gudenus, member of parliament in Vienna and member of the right-wing populist Freedom Party in Austria, has a different view. He is one of a couple of dozen European MEPs who have been invited as observers by the organizers of the referendum.

"Most European politicians pander to the US, and the US often interpret international law how it suits them best," he told DW. Gudenus only arrived in Crimea the day before the referendum. "I can only talk about what I've seen, and I can't see any evidence of pressure, propaganda or military influence."

Looking at the streets of Simferopol, though, you can see plenty of billboards in favor of secession of Ukraine. There are no billboards at all against secession. Plus, the military is clearly visible in the streets.

The organizers of the referendum were keen to avoid any kind of incident during the voting process. The Russian band 'Lyube' held a concert in Lenin Square in the city-center. The band is known for its patriotic songs. Putin is said to be a fan. Meanwhile, in a café near Lenin Square, a TV screen shows Robbie Williams singing Frank Sinatra's "My Way." This Sunday, Crimea is going to start finding its way.

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