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'Believed to Be Russian Soldiers'

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Less than two weeks ago, after Ukrainian protesters appeared to have ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, thousands of soldiers bearing no insignia or identifying marks began appearing in Ukraine's pro-Russian Crimean peninsula. Russian authorities deny that these men are invading Russian soldiers, instead describing them as "local self-defense forces" wearing uniforms available from army surplus centers. However, numerous reports on the ground have identified the troops as Russian, including direct interviews with several soldiers. As Crimean lawmakers set up a March 16 referendum on independence from Ukraine, these armed men have surrounded numerous Ukrainian military facilities, blocking entrances, and set up roadblocks on highways throughout the region. [38 photos]

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A uniformed man, wearing no insignia or identifying marks, but believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands on guard outside a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye outside Simferopol, on March 5, 2014. Ukraine's foreign minister said his country feels like it's almost in a state of war after Russian forces took effective control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko)
A uniformed man, wearing no insignia or identifying marks, but believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands on guard outside a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye outside Simferopol, on March 5, 2014. Ukraine's foreign minister said his country feels like it's almost in a state of war after Russian forces took effective control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko)
Russian military armored personnel carriers drive on the road from Sevastopol to Simferopol, on March 4, 2014. (Reuters/Baz Ratner) #
A Russian military helicopter flies near Simferopol, Ukraine, on March 3, 2014. (Reuters/Baz Ratner) #
Soldiers, believed to be Russian, ride on military armored personnel carriers on a road near the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, on March 10, 2014. (Reuters/Baz Ratner) #
A man in military fatigues sits atop an armored personnel carrier on the road from Sevastopol to Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, on March 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) #
Armed servicemen wait near Russian military vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava, on March 1, 2014. (Reuters/Stringer) #
Uniformed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, march outside a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye outside Simferopol, on March 5, 2014. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko) #
Ukrainian servicemen walk on the roof of their base as uniformed men believed to be Russian soldiers (not pictured) stand guard at a Ukrainian military base near Sevastopol, on March 8, 2014. (Reuters/Baz Ratner) #
Heavily-armed troops displaying no identifying insignia and who were mingling with local pro-Russian militants stand guard outside a local government building on March 3, 2014 in Simferopol, Ukraine. Police removed roadblocks in the city center and access to the Crimean Parliament building opened again in signs that daily life is returning to a form of normalcy and that pro-Russian forces have cemented their control of the Crimean capital. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) #
Attack helicopters, believed to be Russian, fly over a Russian military base in Sevastopol, March 7, 2014. President Vladimir Putin rebuffed a warning from U.S. President Barack Obama over Moscow's military intervention in Crimea, saying on Friday that Russia could not ignore calls for help from Russian speakers in Ukraine. The words on the wall read "Glory to Russian Navy". (Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili) #
Armed men, believed to be Russian soldiers, carry a heavy machine gun outside a Ukrainian military base in Yevpatoria, on March 9, 2014. (Reuters/Thomas Peter) #
Russian forces look out at the Ukrainian navy ship Slavutich in the harbor of Sevastopol, on March 5, 2014. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images) #
A Ukrainian military officer points to a bullet hole in a door of an anti-aircraft missile launcher control position at a Ukrainian military unit, which was taken under Russian control on March 5, 2014, in Sevastopol. (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov) #
An abandoned naval ship sunk by the Russian navy to block the entrance in the Crimean port of Yevpatorya, on March 8, 2014. (Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili) #
A Ukrainian sailor warms himself as he stands watch looking for Russian soldiers who may attempt to take over his vessel Ternopil, in Sevastopol, on March 4, 2014. The blankets and mattresses are placed over the side of the ship to hinder any attempted assault. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) #
An armed man, believed to be a Russian soldier, stands guard outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoe, on March 5, 2014. (Reuters/Thomas Peter) #
Troops apparently under Russian command assemble before getting into trucks near the Ukrainian military base they are blockading on March 5, 2014 in Perevalne, Ukraine. Meanwhile armed paramilitary troops, including Cossacks armed with Klashnikov rifles and armored personnel carriers, have dug in at the northern end of Crimea around Armyansk in what seems to be an effort to define the new border between Crimea and Ukraine. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) #
Uniformed men believed to be Russian servicemen walk around a Ukrainian military base near Sevastopol, on March 8, 2014. (Reuters/Baz Ratner) #
Local residents walk by Russian forces (right) blocking access to the base of the 36th detached brigade of the Ukrainian Navy's coast guard, as Ukrainian soldiers stand guard behind the entrance gate (left), not far from the village of Perevalne, near Simferopol, on March 5, 2014. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images) #
A Ukrainian soldier inside the Belbek military base gets an affectionate pat from a woman who was among approximately two dozen who spent the night outside the gate in support of the men in Lubimovka, Ukraine, on March 4, 2014. Tensions at the base, where between 300 and 400 Ukrainian soldiers are stationed, were high as a 4pm deadline the day before reportedly given by Russian troops for the Ukrainians to surrender passed and the troops feared the Russians might attack the base overnight. Many of the soldiers have family that live in apartment blocks just outside the base and about two dozen family members braved the cold ready to block the road to the base entrance should the Russians appear. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) #
Ukrainian soldiers stand behind a gate while an unidentified armed man blocks the headquarters of the Ukrainian Navy in Sevastopol, on March 3, 2014. (Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images) #
Local women watch armed men, believed to be Russian soldiers, assemble near a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoe, on March 5, 2014. (Reuters/Thomas Peter) #
A truck and soldiers block the road leading to Babek Airport near Sevastopol, apparently occupied by Russian troops in Crimea, on March 2, 2014 near Balbek, Ukraine. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) #
(1 of 7) A Russian soldier lies with his back to Ukrainian fighter jets as he watches Ukrainian serviceman at the Belbek airport in the Crimea region, on March 4, 2014. (Reuters/Baz Ratner) #
(2 of 7) Colonel Yuli Mamchor, commander of the Ukrainian military garrison at Belbek airbase, salutes before leading over 100 of his unarmed troops to retake Belbek airfield from soldiers under Russian command in Crimea, on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine. After spending a tense night anticipating a Russian attack following the expiration of a Russian deadline to surrender, in which family members of troops spent the night at the garrison gate in support of the soldiers, Mamchor announced his bold plan to his soldiers early this morning. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) #
(3 of 7) Unarmed Ukrainian troops bearing their regiment and the Ukrainian flags march to confront soldiers under Russian command occupying Belbek airbase, on March 4, 2014. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) #
(4 of 7) A soldier under Russian command aims a rocket propelled grenade launcher at a group of over 100 unarmed Ukrainian troops who marched to Belbek airbase, which the Russian troops are occcupying, on March 4, 2014. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) #
(5 of 7) Troops under Russian command fire weapons into the air and scream orders to turn back at an approaching group of over 100 unarmed Ukrainian troops at Belbek airbase, on March 4, 2014. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) #
(6 of 7) A soldier under Russian command restrains another after he fired his weapon into the air and screamed orders at an approaching group of over 100 unarmed Ukrainian troops at Belbek airbase, on March 4, 2014. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) #
(7 of 7) Colonel Yuli Mamchor (right), commander of the Ukrainian military garrison at Belbek airbase, speaks to troops under Russian command occupying the airbase, on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine. The Russian-lead troops granted Mamchor access to begin negotiations with their commander. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) #
People walk past a poster in Sevastopol on March 11, 2014 reading "On March 16 we will choose either... or...", depicting Crimea in red with a swastika and covered in barbed wire, and Crimea with the colors of the Russian flag. Pro-Moscow lawmakers in Crimea voted for independence from Ukraine on March 11 in a precursor to a referendum this weekend for the region to become part of Russia. (Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images) #
Military armored personnel carriers, believed to be Russian, drive on a road near the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, on March 10, 2014. (Reuters/Baz Ratner) #
A tractor digs a series of holes next to a checkpoint in Chongar, northern Ukraine, on March 7, 2014. Spreading out from the road by the checkpoint there is a perfect row of holes dug into the earth, each about half-a-meter wide, in what looked like the first steps of installing a border fence. Signs nearby warned of mines and were marked "Stop! Danger to Life!" with a skull-and-crossbones. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images) #
Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, stand at the entrance of a military unit in Simferopol, on March 10, 2014. These forces consolidated their hold on Ukraine's Crimea peninsula on Monday, taking over a military hospital and a missile base as officials geared up for a referendum on the region's future. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko) #
Pro-Ukrainian sympathizers hand gifts of cigarettes, chocolate and flowers to a Ukrainian soldier standing inside a blockaded Ukrainian military base on March 8, 2014 in Simferopol. Several hundred pro-Ukrainian protesters marched peacefully through the city center to a Ukrainian military base that has been blockaded by pro-Russian militants and soldiers. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) #
Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, march outside a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye, on March 10, 2014. (Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili) #
An armed man (right), believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands near members of a pro-Russian self defense unit before they take an oath to the Crimean government in Simferopol, on March 10, 2014. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko) #
Ukrainian officers stand behind the gates of a military unit in the village of Perevalnoye, on March 11, 2014. A pro-Russian force opened fire in seizing a Ukrainian military base in Crimea on Monday and NATO announced reconnaissance flights along its eastern frontiers. Diplomats and heads of state are still seeking to defuse the potentially volatile crisis that has developed since pro-Russian forces seized power in Crimea and are seeking to join the peninsula with Russia. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko) #

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