World Bulletin/News Desk
Bearded men in camouflage uniforms and black fur hats and armed with knives, were checking traffic on Thursday along the busy road linking Crimea's regional capital of Simferopol and the naval port of Sevastopol.
A black flag with a skull, the standard of Serbian nationalists, and a Serbian national flag fluttered in the wind alongside the Russian tricolour, bringing back images from the turbulent events of the 1990s in the Balkans.
Bratislav Zivkovic, one of the commanders of Serbia's Chetnik movement, an ultranationalist group with roots in another era, said it was only natural for them to come to Crimea to help their Russian brethren.
Crimea, part of independent post-Soviet Ukraine since 1991, has been in the grip of the Russian military for a week. Its local assembly has declared that the region wants to become part of Russia, subject to a referendum scheduled for Sunday.
Zivkovic's group of five activists have been tasked with manning patrols alongside Cossacks, most of whom have journeyed to the peninsula from Russia in anticipation of the referendum.
"Our motive was to offer moral support to the Russian people of the Crimea and their right for a referendum and nothing more than that," said Zivkovic. "Through the centuries, Russians were helping us, they were giving us support, even now in Kosovo, so we came here to support them."
Russia is Serbia's traditional ally as the two nations share the same Slav origins, Orthodox Christian faith and similar languages. Serbia is also heavily dependent on Russia's energy and the cash-strapped government in Belgrade has turned to Kremlin to underpin its budget.
The Serbian Chetniks draw their name and traditions from insurgents who fought Ottoman Turks in 19th and early 20th centuries. They gained notoriety in the 1990s, when their units committed atrocities against non-Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, a former Serbian province dominated by ethnic Albanians which won independence in 2008.
Roadblocks were erected along key roads in Crimea last week when men in green uniforms, bearing no national insignia, appeared outside Ukrainian bases, taking control of naval and military installations in the peninsula.
SERBS, COSSACKS ON PATROL
The checkpoint manned by Zivkovic's men was also controlled by masked men in camouflage fatigues armed with shotguns, who described themselves as Cossacks. A group of policemen in Ukrainian uniforms, all carrying machine guns, stood aside, ceding control to the Serbian volunteers and Cossacks.
Zivkovic said his men were willing to fight to ensure the peninsula's ethnic Russian majority won the right to secede and join Russia. But they were there, he said, to prevent violence.
"Every possible incident that might occur will be extinguished swiftly," he said. "We are hoping that even if it comes to fighting and armed conflict, it will be very short, because the population is Russian and the peninsula is Russian."
As the queue of cars and trucks approaching the checkpoint lengthened, one middle-aged truck driver, who identified himself only as Oleg, said he was gratified by Serbian solidarity.
"This is great. They are helping the guys," he said. "This is how it should be. We have to help each other."
Others were angry.
"Who are they helping? I don't understand that. I don't need any help, no one is bothering me here," said Denis, a driver from Simferopol.
"The (Serbs) are occupiers, genuine occupiers. I have no other names for them," said Asan, another driver.
The Nejashi Mosque was built in the 4th century by the companions of the Prophet Mohammad.
German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel takes swipe at Britain over asylum seekers
With Athens being the only European capital without a mosque, Greek Muslims are fighting to have their own Greek public mosque funded by the Greek state.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter talks on Congress that U.S. only training 60 Syrian opposition soldiers and it is far below expectations
Western Union restarts money transfer service in Greece, over it shut its services on June 29 for a week
Uruguay settles $400 mln Venezuela oil debt at 35 pct discount
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday a weapons embargo on Iran was the main obstacle still to be overcome at talks
Two major African NGOs lodge case with regional tribunal to demand Burundi postpone controversial election
In a document published on Tuesday, the ECB spelt out instances in which Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) provision would conflict with its objectives
Migrant sailboat sinks in Aegean sea between Turkey and Greece, at least 17 people missing. Greek authorities say the operation is ongoing.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says Iran and other countries to continue negotiations on nuclear deal.
Despite the World Medical Association deeming the force feeding of prisoners illegal, the Israeli Knesset have voted in favor of a bill that will force Israeli prisons to force feed hunger striking prisoners.
Eurogroup head to meet new Greek finance minister ahead of plenary meeting
The only bookstore that is in Kardhzali Bulgaria has proven to be a hit with the local population, providing the Muslims and the general public a much needed service.
US Treasury secretary spoke with Alexis Tsipras on resolving crisis resume
British documents reveal Athens proposed sending troops in response to Turkish Cypriot independence