Russia's first monument honoring the "polite people" behind last year's armed annexation of Crimea has been erected in the Far Eastern city of Belogorsk.
Veterans, residents, and a phalanx of local officials gathered amid a May 6 snowfall for the unveiling of the life-size statue, which depicts a heavily armed, insignia-free soldier holding a cat.
The monument, cast from 400 kilograms of Chelyabinsk iron, is reportedly based on an image by TASS photographer Aleksandr Ryumin of a soldier in Crimea handing an orange-and-white cat to a young boy.
A boy attending the Belogorsk unveiling was asked to pose with his arms outstretched toward the soldier, whose stance is otherwise suggestive of a man dumping a cat into a wastebasket.
Unlike the soldier in the original, Belogorsk's "polite person" is unmasked, a detail that didn't pass unremarked on social media:
Stanislav Melyukov, the mayor of Belogorsk and the mastermind behind the project, says he hopes the monument will become a major tourist attraction. The city has already laid special decorative tiles around the statue and installed a video surveillance system to discourage vandalism.
The memorial is a tribute to the armed men in unmarked olive-drab uniforms who entered Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in February 2014, seizing control of airports, administration buildings, and other key structures in a purported effort to "protect" the territory's majority-Russian population from Ukrainian unrest.
The soldiers, originally referred to as "little green men," were later given the "polite people" moniker in an attempt to improve their image.
Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted the men were Russian troops only after Crimea had been annexed following a widely criticized public referendum.
Asked if Belogorsk had been too hasty in immortalizing a particularly controversial chapter in Russia's recent history, Mayor Melyukov said the statue was a matter of patriotism, not current events.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reportedly has thrown his support behind erecting a second "polite person" monument in Moscow.
-- Daisy Sindelar