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In Crimea, old fears combine with new propaganda

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In this photo taken Wednesday, March 5, 2014, pro-russian supporters chant slogans during a rally at a central square in Simferopol, Ukraine. Ukraine is facing a potentially crippling geographic and cultural divide, a growing gulf between supporters of Russia who dominate the east and south of the country, and western Ukrainians who yearn for closer ties to Western Europe. One side of that divide is even starker in Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula. For much of the past 200 years, Crimea was under Russian and Soviet control, and today most Crimeans see themselves as only nominally Ukrainian and Russian is, by far, the dominant language (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

In this photo taken Wednesday, March 5, 2014, pro-russian supporters chant slogans during a rally at a central square in Simferopol, Ukraine. Ukraine is facing a potentially crippling geographic and cultural divide, a growing gulf between supporters of Russia who dominate the east and south of the country, and western Ukrainians who yearn for closer ties to Western Europe. One side of that divide is even starker in Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula. For much of the past 200 years, Crimea was under Russian and Soviet control, and today most Crimeans see themselves as only nominally Ukrainian and Russian is, by far, the dominant language (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

In this photo taken Wednesday, March 5, 2014, an elderly woman reads newspaper named “Ukrainian choice” at a central square in Simferopol, Ukraine. Ukraine is facing a potentially crippling geographic and cultural divide, a growing gulf between supporters of Russia who dominate the east and south of the country, and western Ukrainians who yearn for closer ties to Western Europe. One side of that divide is even starker in Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula. For much of the past 200 years, Crimea was under Russian and Soviet control, and today most Crimeans see themselves as only nominally Ukrainian and Russian is, by far, the dominant language (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

In this photo taken Wednesday, March 5, 2014, a local resident holds Russian flag during a rally at a central square in Simferopol, Ukraine. Ukraine is facing a potentially crippling geographic and cultural divide, a growing gulf between supporters of Russia who dominate the east and south of the country, and western Ukrainians who yearn for closer ties to Western Europe. One side of that divide is even starker in Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula. For much of the past 200 years, Crimea was under Russian and Soviet control, and today most Crimeans see themselves as only nominally Ukrainian and Russian is, by far, the dominant language (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

In this photo taken Wednesday, March 5, 2014, pro-Russian supporters chant slogans during a rally at a central square in Simferopol, Ukraine. Ukraine is facing a potentially crippling geographic and cultural divide, a growing gulf between supporters of Russia who dominate the east and south of the country, and western Ukrainians who yearn for closer ties to Western Europe. One side of that divide is even starker in Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula. For much of the past 200 years, Crimea was under Russian and Soviet control, and today most Crimeans see themselves as only nominally Ukrainian and Russian is, by far, the dominant language (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

In this photo taken Wednesday, March 5, 2014, local residents discuss the situation at a central square in Simferopol, Ukraine. Ukraine is facing a potentially crippling geographic and cultural divide, a growing gulf between supporters of Russia who dominate the east and south of the country, and western Ukrainians who yearn for closer ties to Western Europe. One side of that divide is even starker in Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula. For much of the past 200 years, Crimea was under Russian and Soviet control, and today most Crimeans see themselves as only nominally Ukrainian and Russian is, by far, the dominant language (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

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SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Sometimes, the old actor remembers the war far too clearly. Though he was only a small child, he can tell you about the explosions, and the Nazi soldiers patrolling the streets. He can list the friends and relatives who didn’t survive. He punctuates his stories with angry imitations of machine-gun fire: “TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT.” The last thing he wants is for war to return to Crimea.

So what did he think when Russian soldiers suddenly appeared last week on the streets of the regional capital city, a silent, heavily armed presence that surrounded the local parliament and deployed around Ukrainian military bases?

He was relieved. “If the Russians weren’t here, the government of Ukraine would come and occupy us,” said Vladimir Sukhenko, a retired stage actor. “They would make us speak Ukrainian.”

Fear runs deep in Crimea, nourished by history and propaganda. If some Crimean Russians are quietly angry at the soldiers’ presence, more see them as protectors from a new Ukrainian government in Kiev that, they say, is ready to crush its Russian-speaking population.

“This government in Kiev is illegal,” said Sukhenko, a dashing 77-year-old with wavy grey hair that spills out the back of his cap, and an ingrained habit of kissing women’s hands. Like many in Crimea, he derides the Kiev protesters, who drove the former pro-Russian president from power with demands for more democracy and closer ties to the European Union. “We need to be an autonomous republic.”

Ukraine is facing a potentially crippling geographic and cultural divide, between supporters of Russia who dominate the east and south of the country and western Ukrainians who yearn for closer ties to Western Europe. One side of that divide is starkly visible in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula long craved and cherished by Russia for its strategic location and warm weather.

From the late 1700s until the fall of the Soviet Union, Crimea was almost always under Russian and then Soviet control. Today, most Crimeans can trace

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