SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine — The White House is imposing visa restrictions on Russians and Crimeans after Crimea's pro-Russia administration announced a March 16 referendum on whether Crimea should become part of Russia.
The White House said the restrictions will affect anyone who is "threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine."
In eastern Ukraine, meanwhile, pro-Russian protest leader Pavel Gubarev was arrested in his Donetsk apartment, the BBC reported. The BBC said its reporters witnessed his arrest by Ukrainian security services.
Gubarev had led pro-Moscow protesters in blockading Donetsk's regional administration building and flying the Russian flag. Reuters reported that he was detained on charges of "infringing the territorial integrity and independence of the state."
Many in Ukraine fear the referendum move by Crimea is a pretext toward secession and the eventual annexation by the Russian Federation.
"This is our response to the disorder and lawlessness in Kiev," Sergei Shuvainikov, a member of the local Crimean legislature, told the Associated Press. "We will decide our future ourselves."
The parliament in Crimea already enjoys a degree of autonomy under current Ukrainian law. Referendum voters will choose between joining Russia or remaining part of Ukraine, but with enhanced local powers.
In Brussels, interim Ukrainian president Arseniy Yatsenyuk condemned the Crimean move and called on Russia to withdraw its troops and "start real talks and negotiations for the peaceful solution."
"This is an illegitimate decision and this so-called referendum has no legal grounds at all. That's the reason why we urge the Russian government not to support those who claim separatism in Ukraine. Crimea was, is, and will be, an integral part of Ukraine," he told reporters in Brussels.
Anatoliy Boyko, 50, a security guard at a neighborhood supermarket in Sevastopol, said he would certainly vote to join the Russian Federation.
"Sevastopol was Russia, Sevastopol is Russia now and Sevastopol will always be Russia forever," Boyko said, speaking in fluent English honed from 25 years as a merchant sailor. "Most of the people around here have the same opinion."
Born to mixed parentage but whose Soviet identity had listed him as a Ukrainian, Boyko said it was only through an arbitrary decision by the Kremlin to cede Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 that this territory was outside Russia.
"People went to sleep one night and when they woke up it was in Ukraine — that's a very crazy situation," he said.
Sevastopol's newly installed mayor, Alexei Chaly, earlier said the port city will boycott Ukraine's national elections slated for May 25, but the announced referendum may make that a moot point.
"Sevastopol refused to take part in the elections that were imposed by the illegitimate authorities," Chaly said in remarks quoted by Interfax news agency.
Sevastopol is home to both Russia and Ukraine's Black Sea fleet which are locked in a standoff with Russian vessels blockading two Ukrainian warships in Sevastopol Bay.
Ukraine's acting naval commander Serhiy Hayduk said his forces are trying to prevent bloodshed between the two navies. "We are trying at all costs to prevent bloodshed and civilian casualties," he said in remarks quoted by Interfax.
Russian businessman Alexei Chaly took control of the Sevastopol's administration Feb. 23 following the resignation of the Kiev-appointed mayor after a rally of pro-Russia supporters forced a change of administration.