Ukraine PM: 'We won't give up 1cm of land, let Russia and its president know this'
Published 09/03/2014 | 14:06
Ukraine will not give up "a single centimetre" of its territory, the country's prime minister said.
Speaking in front of a crowd gathered in Kiev to commemorate the 200th anniversary of poet and nationalist Taras Shevchenko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk said: "This is our land. Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land.
"And we won't budge a single centimetre from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this."
Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov added: "We're one country, one family and we're here together with our kobzar (bard) Taras."
A choir sang and people laid bouquets at the monument to the son of peasant serfs who is considered the father of modern Ukrainian literature and is a national hero.
Mr Yatsenyuk later announced he will fly to the United States this week for high-level talks on the "resolution of the situation in Ukraine", the Interfax news agency reported.
Crimea, a strategic peninsula in southern Ukraine, has become the flashpoint in the battle for Ukraine, where three months of protests sparked by President Victor Yanukovych's decision to ditch a significant treaty with the 28-nation European Union after strong pressure from Russia led to his downfall.
A majority of people in Crimea identify with Russia, and Moscow's Black Sea Fleet is based in Sevastopol, as is Ukraine's.
This weekend, Russia reinforced its armed presence on the peninsula. Russian president Vladimir Putin's foreign minister ruled out any dialogue with Ukraine's new authorities, whom he dismissed as the puppets of extremists.
The regional parliament in Crimea has set a March 16 referendum on leaving Ukraine to join Russia. Senior lawmakers in Moscow have said they would support the move, ignoring sanctions threats and warnings from US president Barack Obama that the vote would violate international law.
In Simferopol, the Crimean capital, a crowd of more than 4,000 people turned out on Sunday to endorse unification with Russia. On Lenin Square, a naval band played World War II ditties as old women sang along, and dozens of Russian flags fluttered in the cold wind.
"Russians are our brothers," Crimean Parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov said. He asked the crowd how it would vote in the referendum.
"Russia! Russia!" came the loud answer.
"We are going back home to the Motherland," said Mr Konstantinov.
Across town, at a park where a large bust of Mr Shevchenko stands, around 500 people, some wearing yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flags on their shoulders like capes, came out to oppose unification with Russia. They chanted "No to the referendum!" and "Ukraine!" People handed out flyers, one of which laid out the economic troubles that joining Russia would supposedly cause.
"We will not allow a foreign boot that wants to stand on the heads of our children," one of the speakers, Alla Petrova, said. "The people are not scared. We are not scared to come out here and speak."