A member of Russian forces walks past a Russian flag (C), a Serbian flag (Center L), and a Russian navy flag (L) at a check point on the road from Simferopol to Sevastopol on March 13, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE)
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For ethnic Russians, Sunday's vote has been long coming, a chance to right what they see as a historic wrong. For the ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars who are the minority in Crimea, it is fear that dominates. They fear separation from Ukraine; they fear the loss of an identity that has always been vulnerable in Russian-dominated Crimea; and they fear outright attack from thugs who run around unchecked by the Kremlin-planted regional government.The ethnic Ukrainian concerns about violence seem justified by reports of sporadic beatings, nighttime abductions and the beefed-up presence of Russian ultranationalists.Crimea's police department has warned people to be careful about showing passports to strangers – after reports circulated about unnamed people knocking on apartments and homes, asking to check passports needed to vote in the referendum, then either taking the passports or ripping them up if they showed the holder to be an ethnic Ukrainian.Some ethnic Ukrainian residents of Crimea's capital city said their relationships with ethnic Russians friends and co-workers had become strained.Sunday's referendum has been organized in the wake of last month's ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests on the Kiev Square known as Maidan. For many ethnic Russians, the new government in Kiev represents radical Ukrainian nationalism.
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