Crimea unveils gun-toting statue to celebrate Russian annexation
The authorities in Crimea on Saturday unveiled a bronze statue of a heavily armed Russian soldier to celebrate the peninsula's 2014 annexation from Ukraine.
The slightly larger-than-life sculpture in Crimea's main city of Simferopol shows a soldier carrying a Kalashnikov and wearing rounds of ammunition on his chest. A small girl hands him flowers and a cat rubs against his legs.
The Russian troops in unmarked uniforms who took control of the peninsula in March 2014 ahead of a referendum were nicknamed the "polite people" by supporters because of their tight-lipped demeanour.
Kiev and Western countries have refused to recognise the legitimacy of the hastily held referendum backing Russian rule and punished Moscow with sanctions.
"We are opening a monument to our glorious Russian warriors -- to the modern Russian soldier," Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy to Crimea Oleg Belaventsev said at the ceremony, quoted by RIA Novosti news agency.
He said the statue shows the "strength, calm, confidence and politeness of our Russian soldiers."
The statue was designed by a well-known Russian sculptor, Salavat Shcherbakov. He also created a controversial giant statue of Prince Vladimir who brought Christianity to Russia, set to go up close to the Kremlin.
The sculptor told AFP that "the Russian soldier embodies the Russian army, while the little girl represents the Crimean people" and "the cat shows that peaceful life has not been interrupted."
"There was one aim: to defend people, so there was no bloodshed," he said of the Russian troops' role.
A Russian soldier who took part in the annexation posed for the sculpture, Shcherbakov said: "So we had genuine information about the events, what the atmosphere was, what clothes they wore."
The sculpture cost around five million rubles ($76,500) to create and install, he said.
The cost was covered by private donations, RIA Novosti reported.
The statue stands on the Republic Square close to the parliament building.
Civil and military officials, Cossacks and Russian Orthodox clerics attended the unveiling as part of weekend celebrations for Russia Day on Sunday.
"There were a lot of people in high spirits with children. There was good weather, it was a real event," said Shcherbakov.
Crimea's leader Sergei Aksyonov suggested that the statue should be a focal point for wedding parties, which traditionally pose for photos in front of popular landmarks.
© 2016 AFP