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13 Mar, 2014 14:33

International journalists refute claims of Russian forces in Crimea

Western media and the self-proclaimed government in Kiev are ranting about the “Russian invasion” in Crimea. However, international journalists on the scene are struggling to find any evidence of these claims and paint quite a different picture.

“When I traveled to Crimea, I expected to find what I saw back home: images of a mighty Russian military storming Ukraine, of protests and politicians claiming that an invasion was taking place right in front of our eyes,” journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter told RT in Simferopol. “I confess I did see one Russian tank [a war memorial], but it has been here since the 1940s.”

The city is the region’s capital, and has seen many photos of men wearing military uniforms emerge online, with claims that they are Russian soldiers.

“I saw people who admit they aren’t soldiers, even though they wear uniforms and they are armed,” the journalist told RT.

Also on the ground is journalist Ryan O’Neill, who is in Sevastopol, and who told RT there is indeed a military presence in the city – but completely legal.

“It [the military presence] has been here for ages, and that’s because this is the home of the Russian Black Sea fleet, which has been legally based here for years,” O’Neill said.

RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin

A local resident told O’Neill that the city hasn’t been going through much of a change.

“I’m studying here in Sevastopol for four years, and, you know, this has always been like a military city. I think that nothing changed,” she said.

However, there is a change in “the formation of self-defense groups” on the Crimean territory, as O’Neill stressed. The groups “set up the checkpoints and pledged allegiance to the regional authorities,” but “these are not Russian troops,” the journalist said.

“The authorities may not be quite coping in a situation like this,” one of the self-defense members told RT. “That is the reason the self-defense squads exist. We are just people who feel it’s our duty to protect our native city. I’m from Sevastopol myself, and I’ve spent my whole life here.”

“We maintain public order, look out for any provocations, and make sure that nobody attacks journalists and the rest of the people,” he added.

There are also the former members of the Ukrainian military who switched sides after the coup toppled the government.

The troops say they are protecting the region from the far-right and the Kiev self-proclaimed government, O’Neill reported.