Even ‘Sham’ Secessions Have Real Voters

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On Sunday, March 16, as the world watched in anxious anticipation, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea held a referendum on its future. There were two simple options to choose from: to join the Russian Federation or to adopt the constitution of 1992, which would provide for even greater autonomy. There was no option allowing for a vote in favor of keeping Crimea's current standing within Ukraine.

Most governments around the world, with the notable exceptions of Russia, Syria, and North Korea, called the referendum illegal. It was organized hastily, held under enormous political pressure and de-facto Russian military occupation, and when the results came in -- a reported 96.7 percent of participating voters opted for Crimea to become part of the Russian Federation -- the vote was deemed both "dubious" and a "sham."

Yet on the evening following the vote, enormous celebrations broke out in Lenin Square in downtown Simferopol. On a spacious, brightly lit stage, famous Russian and Crimean dancers, singers, and musicians came out to entertain a jubilant audience of more than 10,000 people, many of whom were waving Russian flags and shouting "Russia! Russia! Russia!" Some people were laughing, while others were crying with joy. "We have finally returned home," many said.

What follows are a series of images from referendum day in Crimea.

Above, a woman votes in a polling station in Simferopol. On the wall behind the polling booth, the flag of the former Soviet Union hangs in the middle, as well as a portrait of Lenin on the left.

This project was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Reporting by Dimiter Kenarov; photography by Boryana Katsarova.


Pro-Russian Crimeans clap and sing "Russia! Russia! Russia!" at Simferopol's Lenin Square.


Pro-Russian voters chat while waiting for the results of the referendum at Simferopol's Lenin Square, minutes before the end of the official voting period.


A Ukrainian policeman waits in a polling station during voting in Simferopol.


A polling station in the small town of Perevalnoye, the same town where members of the Ukrainian military remained trapped on their base, surrounded by what are believed to be Russian servicemen.


Commission members explain voting rules to a Crimean citizen in a polling station in Simferopol.


During the referendum, many people, such as this elderly man in Simferopol, cast their ballots unfolded, in such a way that their choice can be clearly seen. The man above voted for joining Russia.


This car, with a Russian flag painted on the hood, sat behind a polling station in Simferopol. The care is an old Lada, or a Zhiguli, as the make was known within the Soviet Union. It remains a very popular car in many post-Soviet countries.


An unidentified military man, believed to be a Russian soldier stands in front of a Ukrainian military base near the village of Perevalnoye, near Simferopol.


A young voter applies make up in the mirror after voting in Simferopol.


Pro-Russian supporters await the results of the referendum in Simferopol's Lenin Square.


A man stands front of a voting booth in a polling station in Simferopol. Behind him is a poster memorializing the glory of the Soviet Army, and a portrait of Lenin.

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