March 7, 2019 / 4:03 PM / 6 months ago

Crimea marks Women's Day with combat gear and flowers

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Masked activists in military fatigues fanned out across the Crimean city of Simferopol on Thursday handing out flowers to women ahead of International Women’s Day and the fifth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula’s annexation by Russia.

The activists, backed by a local lawmaker, said they were dressed up as the “polite people”, a term coined in Russia in 2014 for the Russian troops in unmarked uniforms who seized control of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula after a pro-Moscow government was toppled by a popular revolt in Ukraine.

Moscow initially denied its troops were behind the seizure of Crimea but later acknowledged it. Western countries and Ukraine, which denounced the annexation as illegal, referred to the undercover Russian troops as “little green men”.

The annexation of Crimea was widely supported in Russia and boosted President Vladimir Putin’s popularity, but condemned in the West, leading to U.S. and EU sanctions against Moscow.

Russia is preparing to mark five years since the Crimea annexation and the activists dressed in combat gear and balaclavas said they were giving out red tulips to women as a reminder of the role played by the Russian troops.

“In 2014 the women were happy about the ‘polite people’ because they felt that they had been protected,” one of the activists said.

Some women were seen taking pictures with the activists in military fatigues and thanking them for the flowers. In 2016 local authorities in Crimea unveiled a monument to “Polite people” in the regional capital Simferopol.

Writing by Tom Balmforth and Maria Vasilyeva; Editing by Peter Graff

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