March 15 - With Ukraine's Crimea region hours away from a referendum on whether or not to join Russia, officials are confident the turnout will be high. Gavino Garay reports.
These women diligently prepare the ballots hours before Ukraine's Crimea referendum on whether or not to join Russia. The results are widely expected to transfer control of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine to Moscow -- that's despite the threat of sanctions and condemnation from Western governments. Voter turnout is expected to be high. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) LOCAL REFERENDUM COMMISSIONER, ZHANNA YAKOVLEVNA, SAYING: "We don't even think that people may not come. They will express their will. And I believe that Tatars of Crimea will also vote in favor or against (joining Russia). If they want to stay in Ukraine, we will count their votes. If not, we'll count them too. We will count everything they will vote for." The Head of Crimea's Referendum Commission. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) HEAD OF CRIMEA'S REFERENDUM COMMISSION, MIKHAIL MALYSHEV, SAYING: "Everything is ready to give Crimeans tomorrow an opportunity to speak about their vision of the situation by coming to the polling station and voting." Polling stations are slated to open at 8 a.m. local time on Sunday and will close 12 hours later. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) SEVASTOPOL RESIDENT, OKSANA PAVLENKO, SAYING: "Yes, I think this referendum is extremely important, the whole of Crimea and Sevastopol in particular need it in order for us to become part of the Russian Federation. It is a really free demonstration of the people's will. Sevastopol residents of course want to join the Russian Federation as I understand, as a subject of it." Ahead of the vote, Russia's presence cannot be ignored, with Russian landing craft and troops on the ground in this port city. The U.S. and Europe could impose sanctions on dozens of Russians linked to Crimea's takeover as soon as Monday, even before final referendum results are published.