http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/...776273578.htmlSIMFEROPOL, Ukraine—They signed up one-by-one, hundreds of Russian-speaking men pledging to repel the ascendant pro-Europe uprising in Kiev from any attempt to infiltrate their city.
They handed over their cellphone numbers for registration and divided into brigades. Commanders in fatigues inspected the assembled troops—a ragtag militia of mostly middle-aged men. Some competed to see who could assemble and disassemble a Kalashnikov the fastest.
This is the capital of Crimea, a peninsula dominated by ethnic Russians that juts out from Ukraine's south into the Black Sea. The region is the last bastion of Ukraine largely impervious to the uprising on Kiev's Independence Square. Some ethnic Russians here, such as those who showed up to register in Simferopol on Sunday, have started forming militias as a show of strength.
Now that the protest movement has emerged victorious—President Viktor Yanukovych has fled the capital, the opposition has control of Kiev's parliament and demonstrators have toppled statues of Lenin around the country to protest Russian influence—people here are on edge.
"What if they come to us like they did [in other Ukrainian cities] and try to pull down our Lenin?" said Yulia Anisimova, a 30-year-old lawyer who was organizing women at Sunday's meeting into a medical brigade. "We hope that won't happen, but we want to be prepared." Echoing the Kremlin position, she said what happened last week in Kiev was a coup.
Crimea is an example of the difficulties Ukraine faces as it looks to form a united future. The peninsula—long a summer destination for the czars—belonged to Russia until 1954, when Soviet authorities transferred the region to the then-Soviet republic of Ukraine.
It remained part of independent Ukraine after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.
Today, more than half the population of about 2 million is ethnic Russians, many of them hostile to the Ukrainian nationalists from the country's west who played a critical role in Kiev's protest movement. Even half a century later, many in neighboring Russia lament losing Crimea, which some still describe as Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's "present" to his Ukrainian homeland. In a recent poll, more than half of Russians said they consider Crimea part of Russia.
Anatoly Mogilyov, Crimea's prime minister and a member of Mr. Yanukovych's party, on Sunday moved to stem panic and defuse secession talk. He said he is prepared to recognize Ukraine's parliament, now controlled by the opposition, and distanced himself from Mr. Yanukovych.
"Both the government and the opposition are guilty for what has happened," he said. "The government is guilty of taking actions that caused dissatisfaction among a large swath of the population. The opposition is guilty of allowing the extreme radicalism of certain supporters to become part of their wave of demands, which led to the tragedy that occurred."
To ensure safety, the local government in Crimea has doubled the number of police patrolling the streets in Crimea and stepped up control over military installations, he said.
Though some in Crimea have called for Russia to rescue them from the clutches of the opposition in Kiev, the idea of Crimea rejoining Russia or seceding divides locals, even ethnic Russians.
"I want Crimea to be more independent," said 60-year-old doctor Vladimir Rodionov, who signed up to join the militia's medical brigade. But Mr. Rodionov, who described Kiev protesters as bandits, says he doesn't want Crimea to be ruled by President Vladimir Putin.
The violence that exploded in Kiev late last week sent a wave of panic through Crimea. In the midst of the chaos, Vladimir Konstantinov, the regional parliament speaker and a member of Mr. Yanukovych's party, caused a stir when he suggested Crimea would secede and attempt to unite with Russia in the event of a total collapse of central power in Kiev. Crimeans lined up at ATMS to take money out of their accounts and rushed to grocery stores to stock up on staples. Many ATMS now have reduced daily withdrawal limits. Not everyone in Crimea is against the protesters. The Crimean Tatars, who account for more than 10% of the population, have been vigorous supporters of the protest movement on Kiev's Independence Square.
As thousands in Ukraine's capital turned out to mourn the dead protesters, people in Crimea were doing the opposite. Droves of Crimeans, including local leaders, turned out in Simferopol with red flowers Saturday to mourn two riot police from the region who died in the Ukrainian capital's clashes.
Thousands of Crimeans denounced the opposition protests and waved Russian flags in a mass meeting on Sunday in Sevastopol, the Crimean city that has been home to Russia's Black Sea fleet for centuries. They also selected a de facto mayor, even though Kiev has long appointed the city's leader.