Crimea is voting on whether to rejoin Russia or stay with Ukraine but with more autonomy. The referendum has been condemned as “illegal” by Kiev and the West but is backed by Moscow. Since the fall of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, Russian troops have in effect taken control of the majority ethnic-Russian region.
Voters are expected to support leaving Ukraine, but Crimean Tatars are boycotting the poll.
The BBC’s Ben Brown at a polling station in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, reported a strong turnout – with 100 people arriving in the first 10 minutes after polls opened.
Polling stations across Crimea opened at 08:00 local time (06:00 GMT) and will close 12 hours later.
On the ballot paper, voters are being asked whether they would like Crimea to rejoin Russia.
A second question asks whether Ukraine should return to its status under the 1992 constitution, which would give the region much greater autonomy.
Some 1.5m voters are eligible to cast their ballots, and the first results are expected to be released shortly after the referendum.
Pro-Moscow authorities on the Crimean peninsula are holding a referendum on whether the region should secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
Ukraine’s interim government, the EU and the US have condemned the move as “illegal”.
A copy of the 16 March ballot paper – released by the Crimean parliament – appears to give voters two choices: to join Russia immediately or become independent and, possibly, join Russia later.
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