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Unidentified armed men patrol outside of Simferopol airport, on February 28, 2014.

Armed men patrol outside Simferopol International Airport on February 28, 2014.

PHOTOGRAPH BY VIKTOR DRACHEV, AFP/GETTY IMAGES  

Jeremy Berlin

National Geographic

Published February 28, 2014

Armed, masked men in unmarked military uniforms patrol outside Simferopol International Airport in Crimea. Another confrontation is under way at Sevastopol International Airport.

Ukraine's fledgling leadership has called the airport occupations by forces affiliated with Russia an invasion. Meanwhile, former president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych has reappeared in Russia after a week on the run.

Ukraine's interior minister called the airport seizures "a direct provocation," but there has been no violence so far. Russia's Black Sea Fleet, based on the Crimean Peninsula, has denied involvement. (Related: "After Ukraine Crisis, Why Crimea Matters")

In Kiev, Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine's acting president, convened a meeting of the country's National Security and Defense Council. The parliament has urged Russia to "stop moves that show signs of undermining national sovereignty" in Ukraine and, Reuters reported, asked the United States and Britain to step in. The parliament also called on the United Nations Security Council to debate the issue. (Photos: "Ukraine's Ring of Fire")

The armed men in the Crimean capital of Simferopol surrounded an administrative building but did not enter the airport, where flights were arriving and departing on schedule.

The developments come a day after pro-Russian forces took control of government buildings in Simferopol, where crowds chanted "Russia, Russia" and legislators called for a vote to redefine relations with Ukraine.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, outbursts of pro-Russia fervor have erupted sporadically in Crimea, an autonomous region. The events Thursday, coupled with those in Ukraine, challenge the country's territorial integrity and the geopolitical balance between Russia and the West. (Related: "Behind the Headlines: History and Geography Help Explain Ukraine Crisis")

Gunmen Leave the Scene of Occupation

 The gunmen wearing similar military uniforms without markings leave the scene by military trucks after captured the airport in the capital of Ukraine's Crimea region, Simferopol on February 28, 2014.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BULENT DORUK, ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

Gunmen in camouflage seize control of the airport in Simferopol, Crimea's capital.

Russian Troops Block Road to Sevastopol Airport

Russian troops block the road way towards the military airport at the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 28, 2014.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW LUBIMOV, AP

Russian troops block the road to the military airport in Sevastopol, the port where Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based. Russia has denied involvement in the seizure of two Crimean airports by masked gunmen.

Ukrainians Rally Outside Parliament in Kiev

Maidan self-defence activists stand guard as people rally outside the Ukrainian parliament building in Kiev on February 27, 2014.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Activist guards monitor a rally outside the Ukrainian parliament building in Kiev's central Independence Square. On Thursday the parliament approved the nomination as prime minister of Arnseniy Yatsenyuk, a prominent leader in the anti-government protests that led to deadly clashes and ended in the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych as president earlier this month. (See photos: "Ukraine's People Power in Photos")

Front and Center: A Protester's Camp in Kiev

A view taken on February 28, 2014 shows a protesters' camp at the Independence square in central Kiev.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

A protesters' camp covers much of Independence Square in central Kiev. Today, Ukraine accused Russia of staging an "armed invasion" of Crimea, where gunmen in unmarked military uniforms seized control of two airports.

New Prime Minister Faces Parliament

Ukrainian lawmakers applaud new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, center, during a session at the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014.
PHOTOGRAPH BY SERGEI CHUZAVKIV, AP

Ukrainian lawmakers applaud new Prime Minister Arneniy Yatsenyuk during a session of parliament in Kiev. The 39-year-old Yatsenyuk—a former economy minister, foreign minister, and parliamentary speaker—will try to stabilize the politically divided, financially shaky country.

A Rank and File of Russian Sailors

Russian sailors stand in a line at a navy base in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Crimea, February 27, 2014.
PHOTOGRAPH BY REUTERS

Russian sailors stand in a line at a naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based. Ukraine's new government urged Russia not to abuse its naval rights in Crimea after armed men there seized control of regional government headquarters and parliament and raised the Russian flag.

Yanukovych Reappears in Russia

Ukraine's fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych gives a news conference in Rostov-on-Don.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAVEL GOLOCKIN, AP

Viktor Yanukovych speaks at a news conference in Rostov-on-Don, a Russian city some 600 miles (966 kilometers) south of Moscow. It was the first appearance in five days for Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine.

Pro-Russian Rally Beefed Up by Cossacks

Cossacks attend a pro-Russian rally in Simferopol, Crimea
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID MDZINARISHVILI, REUTERS

Cossacks attend a pro-Russia rally in Simferopol, the Crimean capital. Armed men in unmarked military uniforms have seized control of two airports in the autonomous region, escalating tensions between Moscow and the West. Russian forces have denied involvement.

Remembering Victims of Political Strife

A woman hold flowers in front of makeshift memeorials at the Independence square in central Kiev.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

A woman holds flowers near a makeshift memorial in Kiev's central Independence Square. The site has been at the center of political upheaval and deadly strife over the past three weeks.

A Prayer For The Dead

Two priests pray at a memorial for the people killed in clashes with the police at Kiev's Independence Square.
PHOTOGRAPH BY EMILIO MORENATTI, AP

Two priests in Kiev's Independence Square pray at a memorial for people killed in this month's clashes.

2 comments
Alan Saeed
Alan Saeed

The majority of the Crimean population are pro-Russia. Letting Crimea secede from Ukraine and join Russia will help the pro-West factions achieve a clear majority in the next elections and get Ukraine out of this crazy cycle.

It will be good to see cool heads prevail on both sides and let Crimea secede in a peaceful manner, just like the Czechs and the Slovaks of former Czechoslovakia. Political stability is more important and people's happiness is more sacred than artificial borders.

Evgeniy Maiorov
Evgeniy Maiorov

Stop split up Ukraine!!! I live in Russia. I have a lot of friends who have many relatives in Ukraine. Always time Ukraine was brotherly country in relation to Russia. Russia, Belarussia, Ukraine are brotherly countries. But today nationalistic forces, fascist forces attempt to capture the authority in Ukraine. How you can see main component of nationalistic forces are young people!!! Young people do not have a clear view, and unknown forces use them to split up Ukraine. Please don't forget how many people died during World War II who attemped to stop nationalistic  and fascist forces. 

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