FoxNews on March 21, 2014, reported that as Ukraine appears to have all but conceded Crimea to Moscow, Ukranians in Kherson, the province just north of the peninsula, are believed to be pushing a secession vote of their own in what a local leader angrily denounced as “treason.” Excerpts below:
The province has a huge Russian speaking population, and a vote – particularly with politicking from Russia – could go against Kiev as did last Sunday’s referendum in Crimea. In addition to a major push from ethnic Russian politicians, the proposal in Kherson could be boosted by the presence of Russian soldiers, pro-Moscow protesters and the kind of propaganda Ukraine accused Moscow of engaging in before the Crimea vote.
“We will not allow the country to be broken up further,” Mykola Mikolayenko, mayor of the province’s similarly named capital city, told a packed city council meeting on March 21, where a referendum had been expected to be introduced. “If [pro-Russia] city council members want Kherson to join Russia, they better think again. It won’t be tolerated. This is treason.”
A day earlier, Mikolayenko had told reporters of a mysterious phone caller who said members of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s party were planning to pass a motion during to hold a Crimea-style referendum.
Agents from Kherson’s Ukraine’s Security Service confirmed to FoxNews.com that they had spoken to Mikolayenko about the phone conversation, from a woman who claimed to represent the Putin administration
Yuri Odarchenko, the province of Kherson’s new governor, issued a stern warning on March 21 about provocations planned by pro-Moscow groups and sought to assure Kherson citizens as Ukraine prepares to evacuate around 25,000 servicemen from Crimean bases that have been taken over by Russian troops and pro-Moscow militias.
Mikolayenko, a member of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party, vowed to prevent a replay of the Crimean scenario. Council members from the pro-Russian Party of Regions boycotted the hour-long meeting, where several city residents criticized the Russian invasion of Crimea and spoke out against separatism.
But even as the meeting continued, an estimated 70 suspected Russian cossacks arrived in Strelkovoe on the Arabat spit in Kherson’s eastern Henichesky region. The group urged locals there to hold a referendum similar to the one in Crimea last on March 16, which passed overwhelmingly despite being called illegitimate by Kiev and western nations.
The vast majority of residents of Kherson province are Russian speakers, with Ukrainian Surzhik (a mix of Russian and Ukrainian) spoken in rural areas. Almost three quarters of the population of 1.2 million identify themselves as Ukrainians and 20 percent consider themselves Russian, according to official statistics.
Kherson is key in the unfolding conflict is because it links Crimea to the mainland by rail and road and provides the contested peninsula with most of its food, fresh water and electricity. Emergency workers this week set up a large tent camp along the Kharkiv-Simferopol highway to assist people fleeing Crimea. The number of refugees leaving Crimea is expected to increase exponentially over the next several days. Air traffic in and out of Crimea has been suspended, as well as regular train service.