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Mar 3, 2014 12:40 AM by Nathan O'Neal

Russia moves in on Ukraine, Tucsonans pay close attention

TUCSON - The east-west standoff over the future of Ukraine has Tucsonans paying close attention to the crisis.

Russian combat troops seized control of the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine.

Ukraine's Prime Minister called it a "declaration of war."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Kiev on Tuesday to meet with Ukrainian leaders and discuss the military move. President Barack Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the weekend. Obama told Putin that an invasion was simply "unacceptable."

While U.S. leaders condemn Russia's aggression - experts familiar with the political make-up of the area said the ordeal could go on for a while.

"I don't think there's any country in the world that is as important to Russia ... culturally, historically, psychologically as Ukraine... not to mention security concerns," said UA Professor Pat Willerton, who studies Russian politics.

Russian troops have occupied a region that's pulling away from Ukraine fast - with the support of most of its people.

Still, the country stands divided by allegiance to either new Ukrainian leadership or Russian takeover.

That's something Kate Lankford has been paying close attention to, especially after the former Ukrainian president was overthrown and violence erupted against protesters.

"Those people gave their lives because they believe in a better future for Ukraine with less corruption with a more open society," Lankford said.

She spent two years in the Peace Corps in the western region of Ukraine. Lankford said the people there are hungry for change.

"A lot of younger people are pro-European Union. You know people are really tired of corruption. I can't overemphasis how shocking the level of corruption in Ukraine is," Lankford said.

Still, as tensions escalate and Russia moves in on Ukraine, it's unclear exactly how this standoff will play out.

"I think we all want to be forward looking... How are we/they going to get out of this? There's going to have to be an arrangement where the major regions feel they're heard... If this does not happen, then I suppose the country will split," Willerton said.

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