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A uniformed man believed to be a Russian soldier stands guard near a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol, March 6, 2014. (VASILY FEDOSENKO/REUTERS)
A uniformed man believed to be a Russian soldier stands guard near a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol, March 6, 2014. (VASILY FEDOSENKO/REUTERS)

How Ukrainian loyalists are bearing the brunt of Russia’s intervention Add to ...

For many people in Crimea, particularly those in the minority Tatar community, the prospect of the territory joining Russia is unthinkable. Most have relatives who were deported from the peninsula by the Soviets after the Second World War for allegedly helping the Nazis. Thousands returned when Ukraine gained independence in the early 1990s, but they make up just 15 per cent of the population.

Several hundred have already left for western Ukraine or Istanbul. “Even today our people are calling us, asking where to go. To Turkey or to western Ukraine?” says Abduraman Egiz, a member of the Crimean Tatar people’s council. “Most of them are afraid of the situation.”

The Crimean government has tried to reassure the Tatars that all will be well, even if the peninsula joins Russia. And on Wednesday, the President of Tatarstan, which is part of Russia, came to convince his fellow Tatars that everything will be fine. He got a cool reception from many local Tatars who view Russia with contempt.

Those who can’t leave, like Rustem Mamutov, aren’t taking any chances. He and his family take turns keeping watch over the house, fearing the pro-Russian self-defence forces could start turning on the Tatars because of their opposition to Russia.

The family used to run a jewellery shop but gave it up just before the turmoil in Crimea began last week. Now Mr. Mamutov is looking for work, hoping things will calm down before the tourist season starts.

“We have nowhere to go,” he said.

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