SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine — Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is being sheltered in Russia and has warned Ukrainians he is still the legitimately elected president of Ukraine and to refrain from action in the Crimea, Interfax Ukraine reported.
"I am the legitimate head of the Ukrainian state elected in a free vote by Ukrainian voters," he said in an address as reported by Interfax Thursday. "Regrettably, what is going on in (parliament) these days is not legitimate."
The fugitive ex-president also asked Russia on Thursday to protect him from "extremists."
Yanukovych has not been seen publicly since Saturday. While the West has recognized the new Ukrainian government, whose forces drove Yanukovych from power, Russia still considers him the legitimate president.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said he had no information about Yanukovych's reported arrival in Moscow. Russia's RBK reported Wednesday evening that Yanukovych was staying at the Barvikha sanatorium in Moscow, which is run by the presidential administration's property department. The spokesman for this department, Viktor Khrekov, said he has no information about this.
Separately on Thursday, Ukrainian officials activated the country's police forces following the seizure of the regional parliament building in the Crimea, Ukraine's interim interior ministry said early Thursday.
"A unit of unidentified individuals armed with automatic weapons and machine guns seized the Crimean Supreme Council building in Simferopol early this morning," interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said, according to Interfax, Ukraine's official news agency. "A number of other response measures have been taken in order to prevent the development of extremist actions and stop the situation from growing into an armed clash in the city center."
The armed takeover followed a day of scuffles between rival factions of ethnic Crimean Tatars — many of whom support the interim government — and members of the Russian-speaking population who reject the caretaker government as an illegitimate coup.
As the interim government moved to contain the unrest, Yanukovych said that it would be illegal for any forces to take action domestically because it was not ordered by the president himself. He added in the statement that he would fight on until the agreement reached last week that ordered new elections in December — instead of May as parliament approved over the weekend — was fulfilled.
A Russian source told Interfax that Russian officials have agreed to provide Yanukovych security.
Meanwhile, tensions are also rising in the military port city of Sevastopol, which is leased to Russia's Black Sea fleet until at least 2042. This week Russia announced it had put its forces in western Russia on "high alert" in case its military interests in Ukraine were threatened.
In a joint statement Thursday, Ukraine's Parliamentary Chairman and interim President Oleksandr Turchinov called on Russian sailors stationed in Sevastopol not to leave the boundaries previously agreed upon by Ukraine and Russia.
"Any movement of military servicemen with weapons outside this territory will be viewed as military aggression," Interfax quoted Turchinov addressing Ukraine's parliament Thursday.
If Russian forces were to enter the city they would likely encounter broad support. The city has a majority of ethnic Russians and its history and economy are tied to the Black Sea fleet.
On Wednesday, the center of the port city of Sevastopol was a colorful pageant with thousands of Russian flag-waving demonstrators cheering and applauding.
Elena Varinova of Sevastopol could barely contain her anger at what she sees as misinformation being broadcast by western media of events in Ukraine.
"Sevastopol is a city of Russian fame — it will defend itself," Varinova said as she stood beside idling buses that had brought in a fresh wave of protesters.
The Russian navy's Black Sea Fleet's choir performed in front of thousands Wednesday evening, singing patriotic Russian songs that evoked the Red Army's triumph over fascism during WWII.
Then Vika Tsiganova, 51, a Russian singer who was popular in Soviet times, took the stage.
"This place is not for fascists," she said to wild applause. "They've tried to be here but it's not their place. Sevastopol is a city of Russian glory for the seamen."
Anger is simmering over a draft law proposed by the interim parliament that would strip the Russian language of its official status.
"We are Russians and we want to express ourselves in Russian," said small businessman Mikhail Nichik, 37, who says he hails from a military family with long roots in Sevastopol. "I understand the Ukrainian language in general, but I am not able to express my thoughts clearly and articulate properly in Ukrainian."
Others at the rally say they felt this situation has been thrust upon them.
"I'm here because I'm worried about my city in which I live and I love," said Ina Yurchuk, 30, of Sevastopol. "As we say in Ukraine, there are (nationalists) and (pro-Russia) groups, but we are actually one Ukraine."
She added: "If the (political) circumstances force the Crimea to join Russia I would have to support it."