Russia increases control in Crimea ahead of referendum

BY Kayla Ruble  March 9, 2014 at 1:54 PM EST
Pro-Russian and Pro-Ukrainian protestors argue at a rally supporting Kiev held in the Crimean city of Sevastopol on Sunday. Credit: Viktor Drachev/Getty

Pro-Russian and Pro-Ukrainian protestors argue at a rally held in the Crimean city of Sevastopol on March 9. Credit: Viktor Drachev/Getty Images

Despite warnings from the U.S. about diplomatic consequences, Russia heightened its control over Crimea on Sunday. Russian forces took over a Ukrainian border post in the western part of Crimea on Sunday morning, leaving 15 trapped inside.

Russia now controls 11 Ukrainian border posts throughout the Crimean peninsula, a region in eastern Ukraine with a majority ethnic Russian population, Reuters reports.

Beyond military action, tension and violence among citizens seeped onto the streets of the city of Sevastopol on Sunday.

In one incident, police were forced to intervene after pro-Russian activists and Cossacks attacked a group of Ukrainians commemorating the 200th birthday of Ukrainian poet and national hero, Taras Shevchenko.

Hundreds also gathered for an event in Sevastopol to call for Crimea to separate from Ukraine and join Russia. This meeting comes ahead of a referendum about Crimea becoming a part of Russia that will be held by the regional parliament on March 16 .

Russian President Vladimir Putin has both defended the occupation of Crimea and expressed his support for the parliamentary referendum. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Putin on Sunday that the the referendum violated the Ukrainian constitution.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk also said Sunday the country would not forfeit any of its territory to Russia.

“Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land. And we won’t budge a single centimeter from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this.” Yatsenyuk said.

Yatsenyuk said he will head to Washington this week for talks about resolving the country’s ongoing crisis.