Ukraine crisis: ‘If these new Nazis come here from the Maidan, we will fight them as well’ - Crimea has no love for President Yanukovych, but the alternative is much worse to locals

Calls to break away from Kiev continue in Sevastopol’s Nakhimova Square

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Viktor Yanukovych was walking along the quayside at Balaclava Bay on Monday. Svetlana Gorbunova saw him with her own eyes; she was only surprised that the deposed President of the Ukraine, a hunted man, was by himself, unaccompanied by bodyguards.

That, at least, is how it was described by Mrs Gorbnova's daughter, Anastasia. Then there was the yacht, either called the Warrior or Centurion, depending on differing fishermen's tales, secretly slipping out to sea with mysterious supercargo. Others talked about the helicopter of the Spetznatz, the Russian special forces, flying out at night with muffled wings from Sevastopol's airport.

But, while rumours and hearsay continue to swirl over the whereabouts of Mr Yanukovych, developments were taking place on the ground underlining the bitter divisions and thirst for retribution created by the revolution.

Andriy Klyuev, one of the former leader's closest aides, was injured in an ambush, shot in the legs, it was reported. He had accompanied Mr Yanukovych on his flight out of Kiev, but had left his post after arriving in Crimea. The ambush took place as he was driving back to the capital where two dozen armed men burst into his dacha in the suburbs.

In Sevastopol, the city with the largest Russian population in the country, a Russian citizen, Aleksei Chaliy, was made mayor by the city's authorities, replacing Vladimir Yatsuba, who had been appointed by the government. Officials in Kiev condemned the move, but the local police chief, Aleksandr Goncharov, declared that he would do nothing to remove the new incumbent; he had no intention of following "criminal orders", he said, from the "false" administration which had taken over in the capital.

Road blocks had been set up into roads coming into Sevastopol and Balaclava, supposedly to stop armed opposition groups from coming into the area from Kiev and the west of the country. At one checkpoint a policeman claimed that a coach-load had already been turned back 24 hours earlier. "They had seen on the news that Yanukovych was seen in the area and said they had come to arrest him. We told them to go away, there would have been trouble if they had come in."

The Maidan protesters wish to arrest Viktor Yanukovych (Getty)

That sighting of the leader had been reported by Arsen Avakov, the new interior minister, a member of the Fatherland Party, whose leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, has just been freed from prison and has declared she intended to stand in the coming elections.

In these parts many see the elections as being unconstitutional, engineered by violence. And, while in Britain the names Balaclava and Sevastopol may resonance for the Crimean War and the Charge of the Light Brigade, many here, beset by uncertainty and fear from the upheavals, are looking at more recent periods in history for guidance.

Mrs Gorbunova supposedly saw Mr Yanukovych in Balaclava in front of a cluster of four houses owned by his sons, Oleksandr and Viktor.

At the other side of the facing yachting marina, Vladimir, a watchman, declared: "What we need in Crimea now is a Stalin. You'll laugh at me for saying this, but we need someone like him to save us from those fascists in Kiev."

His second choice was Pyotr Wrangel, the brutal White Russian commander who had based himself here while fighting the Bolsheviks - "Russians make strong leaders," he says.

People walk past a makeshift memorial for those killed in recent violence in Kiev (Reuters)

Russia's Black Sea fleet is based here and is a prime source of revenue. There is a constant complaint that the vast bulk of that flows to Kiev, with little going towards local development. The 50-year-old Vladimir was prepared to fight for Crimea to join Russia, claiming weapons have already been handed over by the local authorities to self-defence groups. "The only defence we will have would be with Russia. This is not about Yanukovych, he has looted the country, if I see him, I'll throw him in the water. But I don't owe anything to the thieves who had been running Ukraine; I have two degrees and this is the only job I have been able to get in the last seven years."

For Stefan Komorowski, defending Crimea will give a chance to avenge comrades. An officer in the riot police Berkut, or Golden Eagles, he was deployed on the frontline of action at Independence Square, the Maidan, in Kiev.

"There were policemen getting killed, but you did not see any of that on TV. When we eventually fired back, after all this provocation, we were made to be the devils. We have left behind colleagues who are badly wounded, paralysed. This was named a city of heroes because of the way we fought against the Germans. Now if these new Nazis from the Maidan come we shall fight them as well."

Calls to break away from Kiev continued in Sevastopol's Nakhimova Square. Leonid Gorskin, a teacher who has joined the self-defence force, said: "It's people like him who are trying to break up the country; they are being encouraged to do that  by the West. It is the Russians who are going to help us to defend what's ours. There's no point in talking on about Yanukovych, he will get beaten  up if we see him here. It is the future of our country we will be fighting for and it will start here, in Crimea."