MOSCOW, March 5 (RIA Novosti) – Thousands of Russians joined rallies in at least six cities on Tuesday to show support to the people of Crimea in Ukraine, police reported.
A rally in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don gathered 11,500, while about 8,000 came to demonstrate their solidarity with Crimea in Voronezh, central Russia, police reports said.
Rallies in Volgograd, Kostroma and Balakovo in the Volga area also gathered up to 5,000 participants each, while about 4,000 rallied in Siberia’s Irkutsk.
Similar events are scheduled for Wednesday in other Russian cities, including Gorno-Altaisk and Omsk in southern Siberia, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in Far East, Kursk near the border with Ukraine and Kazan in the Volga area.
Meanwhile, authorities in Kaluga, Central Russia, have launched a fundraising campaign to help Ukrainians in need and vowed to provide shelter and jobs to those displaced by the unrest in the country.
The Federal Migration Service reported on Sunday that 140,000 people had left Ukraine for Russia in the last two weeks of February, following the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych and violent clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators in Kiev that killed 88 people and injured hundreds.
Ukraine’s border service has denied that any refugees have left for Russia, however, and no video or photographic evidence has emerged that show any flows of people out of the country.
Crimea, a majority ethnic Russian peninsula in southeastern Ukraine, has announced a referendum for March 30 on whether to secede from Ukraine. The move followed the appointment of a pro-Russian prime minister in Crimea, who requested Russian assistance “to preserve peace and calm” in the region following the violence in Kiev.
Troops under apparent Russian command, many of them traveling in military trucks and armored personnel carriers, have deployed widely around Crimea, as attested by numerous eyewitness accounts from reporters on the ground.
Despite this, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday denied that the well-equipped soldiers were Russian troops and insisted that the deployments had been made by “local militias.”