IN THE CENTRAL CRIMEAN CITY OF BAKHCHYSARAI, Mikhail Proskunin, who is too infirm to visit a polling station, casts his vote in a referendum held on 16 March for Crimea’s secession from Ukraine and union with Russia. Polling staff carried ballot boxes to the homes of many elderly people in Crimea, which Ukraine recognised as an autonomous territory in 1991. The referendum followed the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in late February, after three months of anti-government protests by pro-Western and nationalist activists. According to Russian media, some 95 percent of voters favoured secession, though Western sources claim many Crimeans loyal to Kiev boycotted the vote. The EU and the US have dismissed the referendum as illegal.
The Crimean peninsula was part of the Russian empire between 1783 and 1917, and in 1921, after the Russian Civil War, it became part of the Soviet Union. In 1954 it was “gifted” to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to mark the three-hundred-year anniversary of the country’s merger with the Russian empire. On 17 March, a day after the referendum, Crimea’s autonomous parliament declared the territory independent and applied to join the Russian Federation. Russian president Vladimir Putin formally recognised Crimea’s “reunification” with Russia on 18 March.