SIMFEROPOL – Native Crimean Muslim Tatars have revisited memories of persecution and suffering at the hands of the Russian authorities after the pro-Moscow politician announced a 96-prcent vote in favor of Crimea quitting Ukraine.
"This is my land. This is the land of my ancestors. Who asked me if I want it or not?" Shevkaye Assanova, a Tatar in her 40s, told Reuters on Monday, March 17.
"For the rest of my life I will be cursing those who brought these people here. I don't recognize this at all," Assanova added.
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On Monday morning, electoral officials in Crimea confirmed the official results of the peninsula's referendum.
According to the head of the referendum commission, Mikhail Malyshev, 96.8 percent of ballots cast had voted yes for the region to join the Russian Federation.
Voter turnout was estimated at 83 percent, a high figure considering that many opponents on the motion had pledged to boycott the ballot.
After the official results, Crimea's parliament requested annexation by Moscow and to declare independence.
It has also declared the region an independent state.
"Results of the referendum in Crimea clearly showed that residents of Crimea see their future only as part of Russia," Sergei Neverov, deputy speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
The results have sparked outcry among international powers, with Britain calling the vote a "mockery" of democracy.
Who Are Crimean Muslim Tatars
The Tatars, who have inhabited Crimea for centuries, were deported in May 1944 by Stalin, who accused them of collaborating with the Nazis.
The entire Tatar population, more than 200,000 people, was transported in brutal conditions thousands of miles away to Uzbekistan and other locations. Many died along the way or soon after arriving.
The Soviets confiscated their homes, destroying their mosques and turning them into warehouses. One was converted into a Museum of Atheism.
It was not until perestroika in the late 1980s that most of the Tatars were allowed back, a migration that continued after Ukraine became independent with the Soviet collapse in 1991.
More than 250,000 Tatars now live in Crimea, about 13 percent of its population of 2 million people.
The Tatars’ return has repeatedly touched off legal clashes over restitution of land and property, much of which is now owned by ethnic Russians.
A spokesman from Prime Minister David Cameron's Downing Street Office later said Britain did not "recognize the Crimea referendum or its outcome."
"We call on Russia to enter dialogue with Ukraine and resolve this crisis within international law," he added.
As for the US, President Barack Obama spoke to Vladimir Putin, telling the Russian president that he and his European allies were ready to impose "additional costs" on Moscow for violating Ukraine's territory.
Japan has also echoed Western nations in rejecting the referendum and called on Russia not to annex Crimea.
A few hours after the official announcement of the results, the EU and US announced travel bans and asset freezes against a number of officials from Russia and Ukraine.
US President Barack Obama said in a press conference that Washington stood "ready to impose further sanctions" depending on whether Russia escalated or de-escalated the situation in Ukraine.
If Moscow continued to intervene in Ukraine, he warned, it would "achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world".
The EU published a list of sanctions against 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.
The list includes the acting prime minister of Crimea, the speaker of Crimea's parliament, three senior Russian commanders and several senior Russian parliamentary officials.
"We regret that Russia has so far not engaged in negotiations with Ukraine," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a press conference after the sanctions were announced.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters the list was not "set in stone".
He said this depends on "how Russia reacts to the referendum in Crimea which has been a mockery of any real democracy, and how they are reacting to the possibility of discussions and direct negotiations with Ukraine over the coming days".
Yet, the pro-Russian officials seemed way from looking back.
According to a parliamentary vote held on Monday, Ukrainian laws now no longer apply in the region, and all Ukrainian state property belongs to an independent Crimea.
The peninsula will adopt the Russian currency, the rouble, and clocks will move two hours forward to Moscow time by the end of March.
The document approved by MPs also appealed to "all countries of the world" to recognise Crimean independence.
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