One year ago, on March 16, Russia orchestrated an illegal referendum in Crimea that violated the Ukrainian constitution and was condemned by the international community. This is the first of a five-part series on the costs Russia’s actions have imposed on Crimea.

How did an illegal referendum come about?

In late February 2014, Russia began an aggressive campaign of military intervention in Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine. Russian forces wearing ski masks and combat uniforms without markings seized the Crimean regional parliament, several government buildings and the airport. They installed checkpoints on Crimea’s boundary with its neighboring Ukrainian provinces and fired at unarmed Ukrainian military personnel.

Ukrainian Crimeans were given 10 days’ notice to vote in a public referendum, which gave them two choices for their future — to join Russia or become independent. Voters had no option to oppose either of the ballot questions or to maintain the status quo, which would mean remaining part of Ukraine.

The Kremlin claims that an overwhelming 97 percent voted to join Russia, even though a poll taken one month before the referendum showed that only 41 percent of Crimea’s population favored that outcome.

The White House called the referendum “contrary to Ukraine’s constitution” and said that “the international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military” that is in violation of international law.

International response

In response to Russia’s illegal actions in Crimea, the U.S. and a broad coalition of countries imposed political and economic sanctions against Russian and Crimean officials responsible for orchestrating the Crimean crisis and undermining Ukrainian sovereignty.

Costs to Crimea

Under Russia’s occupation, the people of Crimea have suffered human, economic, political and social costs.

The U.S. continues to condemn Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, which is part of Ukraine. The U.S. calls for an end to the occupation.

Learn more about the costs of Russia’s actions in Ukraine by following #UnitedforUkraine.