Crimea votes to join Russia
Updated: 2014-03-17 04:52
Ukraine's Crimea kicks off referendum
UN fails Ukraine resolution
According to results of an exit poll announced first on Russian media, 93 percent of voters backed a union with Moscow, 60 years after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, an ethnic Ukrainian, gifted Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on an apparent whim.
The outcome of Sunday's vote was never in doubt, although the main organiser said the figure was premature and that preliminary results would be announced later.
Thousands of people filled Lenin Square in the centre of Simferopol, Crimea's capital, and waved Crimean and Russian flags in a festive celebration of what most locals wanted.
"We cannot be any worse off than we are now," said Lyudmila Sergeyevna, a 64-year-old who was born in Simferopol and has lived on the peninsula all her life.
"I am Ukrainian through and through, but I voted for Russia. I have a son, daughter and two grandsons living with me in a small apartment. I just hope things are going to be better now."
The majority of Crimea's 1.5 million electorate, like Sergeyevna, support becoming part of Russia, citing expectations of economic growth and the prospect of joining a country capable of asserting itself on the world stage.
But others saw the referendum as nothing more than a geo-political land grab by the Kremlin which is seeking to exploit Ukraine's relative economic and military weakness as it moves towards the European mainstream and away from Russia.