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KIEV, Ukraine – The votive candles still burn in the wet mist that has settled over Kiev’s Independence Square, or Maidan Square, and as Ukrainains continue to mourn those they lost in protests two weeks ago, the floral tributes to those who died in the protests grow into immense heaps of soggy flowers.
The air is still heavy with the lingering smell of all that burned in the weeks and months leading up to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych. But the defiance and optimism that filled the air only a week ago has been largely supplanted by mounting fear of what Moscow is up to, and what will become of a nation caught between East and West, and past and future.
Signs of Russian military presence began small, but quickly turned, over the past couple of days, into a full-scale takeover of the Crimean peninsula. Suddenly there is suspiciously synchronized talk on the streets of Russia saving the locals from potential attacks by "fascists" and "marauders." Russian flags have sprung up over administrative buildings in parts of southern and eastern Ukraine, with some residents vocally embracing the Kremlin's protection.
Ethnic Ukrainians wonder if such talk is orchestrated, or if it emanates from agitators put in place long ago. There is no proof either way, only creeping suspicion between Russians and Ukrainians, who have lived together relatively harmoniously for decades.
In Kiev, Ukraine's new government has put its troops on war-readiness mode. Its new leaders say they do not want to initiate fighting, but with Russian President Vladimir Putin emboldened by his own parliament and welcomed in pro-Russian quarters of Ukraine, they may soon be faced with the stark options of surrender or fight.
"Those who are today in Crimea, they present an illegal -- and I would reiterate again -- an illegal power in Crimea. They tried to squeeze Ukrainian assets," said Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk "They try to confiscate Ukrainian property. They try to disarm the Ukrainian Army."
Like residents, journalists who have poured into Ukraine are fixated on televised, marathon live sessions of the Rada, or parliament. Not only does this new legislative body have to figure out a way to keep Ukraine from going bankrupt, it must figure out how to address the growing Russian military threat.
And in Russia, in an interesting twist over the weekend, some protested what their Kremlin is doing in Ukraine. There were arrests in St. Petersburg, developments that did not go unnoticed in Ukraine.
"I would like to express our gratitude to all the Russians who protested yesterday against war," acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Andreii Deshchytsia, said. "We, as Ukrainians, will never fight with Russian people. We would like to keep good neighborly relations with our sisters and brothers in Russia."