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In Simferopol, A Cool Response To Yanukovych's Appeal For Support

Ukrainians react as they watch a TV broadcast of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's press conference on February 28.
Ukrainians react as they watch a TV broadcast of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's press conference on February 28.
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- If ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is hoping to garner support in Ukraine's Russophone regions, he might be disappointed in what he finds in Crimea.

Yanukovych came out swinging at a press conference on February 28, appealing to his old base of support in the east and south of the country, and – somewhat improbably -- affirming he is still president.

But in Simferopol, capital of Crimea, an overwhelmingly Russian-speaking region that has viewed the overthrow of Yanukovych's regime in Kyiv with hostility, the reactions on the street were decidedly cool -- and sometimes even hostile.

Many here claim they have little time for the president, who fled Kyiv on the night of February 21-22 and turned up this week in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

"Yanukovych is a traitor," said Dmitry Nanikashvili, a 30-year-old businessman and lifelong Simferopol resident. "He betrayed us. That’s all I can say. That’s not just my opinion; I think probably the whole of Crimea thinks this. Well, Simferopol for sure. He betrayed our guys from the Berkut [special riot police]. He betrayed the police. He betrayed everyone. Then he went into hiding and went on the run. He’s a traitor -- there’s nothing for him in Crimea.”

For many here, Yanukovych's flight from the Ukrainian capital -- and then from Ukraine itself -- was an act of cowardice. Some Simferopol residents say he abandoned those who had defended him -- as well as his electorate from the country's east and south of the country.

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Nonetheless, others here continue to support the ousted president, whom they believe was illegally overthrown.

"Viktor Yanukovych is the legal president of the country," said Yury, a 37-year-old businessman who declined to give his last name. "There has been no legal act to formalize his, let's say, overthrow. There was no presidential impeachment and no order to have him resign. He's alive, healthy and well.”

Yury was one of scores of anti-Maidan protesters who gathered on February 28 outside Crimea's regional parliament building, which was seized by armed gunman the previous night.

Many waved Russian and Soviet Navy flags and chanted "Russia! Russia!" Earlier in the day, an old woman in a fur hat blasted out Soviet ballads from a laptop rigged up to huge speakers.

These protesters see Moscow as the only guarantor of their rights as Russian speakers after the new parliament in Kyiv abolished a law giving minority languages such as Russian official status in certain regions.

WATCH: Viktor Yanukovych Denies Being Ousted As President
Yanukovych: "Nobody Has Ousted Me"
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For practically all those gathered outside the occupied Parliament building, the Maidan protests were an illegal coup that displaced the president whom they voted for.

And many in Simferopol, like Sergei, a 56-year-old businessman, remain ambivalent about Yanukovych -- maintaining that, although they disapprove of how Yanukovych handled the crisis, they still view him as the legitimate president.

"He’s not a traitor," said Sergei, a 56-year-old businessman. "He went underground because of -- let’s say -- his dismay. I can’t condemn him. But as a man I can say I would have acted differently in his position. It’s as simple as that."

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