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As Russian Troops Invade, Ukrainians Fear War Is Next

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KIEV, Ukraine (CBSNewYork) — As a deadline reportedly issued by Russia for Ukrainian forces to surrender passed Monday night, residents in the volatile nation are hoping to avoid a civil war.

As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported, the county is deeply divided between east and west. The east in Crimea is pro-Russian. The west is pro-European Union.

A Ukrainian military spokesman said Russia had issued an ultimatum to the crews of two Ukrainian warships in Crimea, demanding that they surrender Monday night or be stormed and seized. Vladimir Anikin, a Russian defense ministry spokesman in Moscow, dismissed that report as nonsense, but he refused to elaborate.

Similar deadlines have passed without Russian action.

In Manhattan, Ukraine native Pavlo Kaidan, whose family still lives there, said he and his loved ones worry that war will break out.

“Nobody knows,” he told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider. “We hope that there won’t be any war because nobody needs that.”

Kaidan said he also lives in hear he will soon lose touch with his family.

“Every time I’m speaking with my family — like two or three times a day — any every time we say maybe tomorrow they start the war, maybe tomorrow they shut down the Internet, maybe they shut down the phone connections, and maybe we don’t talk for a while,” he said.

Konstantine Yevtyev, speaking via Skype from the capital of Kiev, told Brennan he hopes the ultimatum does not result in more bloodshed.

“Nobody wants war anymore,” Yevtyev said. “I mean, they just wanted to change country for better, and they want a new government and so on. Nobody wants war.”

Russia already has effectively seized control of Ukraine’s strategic Crimean peninsula.

“You should understand that people in Kiev they do not consider people in Crimea as enemies,” Yevtyev said. “They just consider them as ignorant.”

Yevtyev was also Skyping with his friend Nitai Vinitzky, a former U.S. Peace Corps member in Crimea from 2010-12. They said they both view Russian President Vladimir Putin as a bully bent on having his way.

“I think what Putin’s trying to do is he’s trying to split the nation,” Vinitzky said. “He’s trying to turn them against each other, and unfortunately, it’s working.”

There are reports that 16,000 Russian troopers are currently in Crimean peninsula. Russia claims it took control of the Crimean peninsula to protect Russians who live there after Ukraine’s pro-Russian president led the country by a protest movement aimed at turning Ukraine toward the European Union and away from Russia.

“In this regard, I would call on Russia and Mr. Putin, asking him to use armed forces of the Russian Federation to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine,” Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power spoke out against Russian military action Monday, stressing that Ukrainians have done nothing to prove any kind of attack.

“Military action cannot be justified on the basis of threats that haven’t been made are aren’t being carried out,” she said.

As Russian troops moved into Ukraine Monday, Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bliech, a leader of New York City’s Ukrainian-American community and the chief rabbi of Ukraine, was sounding the alarm.

“We forsee that there’ll be a humanitarian crisis in the Crimea,” he told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond, in Manhattan.

Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bliech speaks to reporters on March 3, 2014, in Manhattan. (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bliech speaks to reporters on March 3, 2014, in Manhattan. (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

Bliech’s charity, KievRelief.org, aims to send money to communities for protection, but he said he is also worried about getting food to the elderly who cannot leave.

Bliech said, meanwhile, anti-semitism is on the rise in Ukraine. The words “death to Jews” were painted on a synagogue in Crimea over the weekend.

“Currently, I do not think they (Jews) are in danger,” said the rabbi, who plans to urge U.S. intervention in a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in Kiev on Tuesday. “I think the danger is that something could happen very quickly.”

President Barack Obama on Monday accused Russia of being “on the wrong side of history” and said he’s examining diplomatic and economic steps to isolate Moscow.

Obama said Russia has violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and international law, and he warned Putin to change course.

“Over time this will be a costly proposition for Russia, and now’s the time for them to consider whether they can serve their interests in a way that resorts to diplomacy as opposed to force,” Obama said from the Oval Office. He spoke at the start of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kerry was on his way to Ukraine Monday night and then will travel to France and Italy. He had planned to see his Russian counterpart in Paris, but a spokeswoman said that meeting was no longer certain.

The spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said any Russian threat to Ukraine’s navy would be a “dangerous escalation” of an extremely tense situation, although she said she could not confirm if Russia had in fact made such threats. She said Washington would hold Moscow accountable for such an escalation but did not elaborate on potential consequences.

The U.S. and its allies are weighing sanctions on Moscow, in what amounts to a sudden reprise of Cold War sensibilities. One consideration is whether to bolster defenses in Europe in response to Russia’s military advances on Ukraine.

“What cannot be done is for Russia with impunity to put its soldiers on the ground and to violate basic principles that are recognized around the world,” Obama said. “And I think the strong condemnation that it’s received from countries around the world indicates the degree to which Russia’s on the wrong side of history on this.

“What we are also indicating to the Russians is that if in fact they continue on the current trajectory that they’re on, that we are examining a whole series of steps — economic, diplomatic — that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia’s economy and its status in the world,” Obama said.

Putin has given no indication that he would heed the West’s warnings.

In Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk warned that “we are on the brink of disaster.”

“This is absolutely the most serious test of our alliances since the Cold War ended,” Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said in a nationally broadcast interview Monday.

“I think it is extremely dangerous. Ukrainians fight and Russians fight,” said Kaptur, who has traveled to Ukraine on several occasions and is considered an expert on that part of the world.

Senior Obama administration officials said they believe Russia now has complete operational control over Crimea and has more than 6,000 forces in the region. The U.S. was also watching for ethnic skirmishes in other areas of eastern Ukraine, though the officials said they had not yet seen Russian military moves elsewhere. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the situation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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