SIMFEROPOL, March 17 (RAPSI) – 93% of Crimean voters backed the region’s accession to Russia and independence from Ukraine on Sunday, according to the exit poll data processed by the Crimean republican political science institute.

Crimea, a peninsula of some 2 million people, has resisted the authority of the leadership that came to power in Kiev last month.  Russia has marked the events that have unfolded in Ukraine recently a coup, and the armed seizure of power.

Ukrainian and Western leaders have denounced the referendum as illegitimate and unconstitutional, while Moscow insists the Crimeans – a majority of whom identify as ethnic Russians – should be allowed to determine their own destiny.

On February 22, Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada (parliament) impeached Viktor Yanukovich and amended the constitution. Presidential authority was assigned to parliament speaker Alexander Turchinov and a presidential election was scheduled for May 25.

President Vladimir Putin said during a press conference earlier in March that Yanukovich, who fled to Russia, remains Ukraine’s legitimate president.