US calls for Ukraine military support

John McCain has called for his country to provide long-term military assistance to the Ukraine.

Ukrainian parliament speaker and interim president Olexander Turchynov (L) greets United States Senator John McCain prior to talks in Kiev on 14 March 2014. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - United States (US) Senator John McCain has called for his country to provide long-term military assistance to the Ukraine in the face of Russian hostilities.

Crimea is voting on Sunday on whether to rejoin Russia or stay with Ukraine.

The referendum has been condemned as "illegal" by Kiev and the West but is backed by Moscow.

Two women hold a Russian flag (L) next to a set of Crimean flags at Lenin Square in Simferopol on 16 March 2014. Crimeans voted on March 16 in a unique referendum on breaking away from Ukraine to join Russia. Picture: AFP.

Since the fall of Ukraine's pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, Russian troops have in effect taken control of the majority ethnic-Russian region.

McCain says the Ukraine is going to need help from the US with equipment both lethal and nonlethal.

"We need to give long-term military assistance plan because God knows what Vladimir Putin will do next because he believes that Ukraine is a vital part of his vision of the Russian empire and we need to understand that and then act accordingly."

A pro-Russian soldier of the autonomous Republic of Crimea holds a woman in his arms at Simferopol's Lenin Square on 16 March 2014. Picture: AFP.

Meanwhile, no major disruptions have been reported in Crimea as voting continues.

Despite some difficulties in areas where there are no telephone connections or problems with electricity, the more than 1,000 polling stations in 27 cities and regions across Crimea opened on time on Sunday morning.

Speaking to Eyewitness News Crimeans say they are distrustful of the new government in Kiev, its efforts to disassociate from Russia and stifle the Russian language.

The common view in Crimea is that by becoming a part of Russia, their future will be secured.

Demonstrators hold placards reading "World- your support is our lives" and "Stop Putin" during a protest against Russia's intervention in Ukraine and the referendum in Crimea in front of the Russian embassy in Vilnius, on 16 March 2014. Picture: AFP.

The European Union (EU) is also considering taking steps to increase sanctions against Russia over what many believe is a planned takeover of Ukraine's Crimea region.

Provisional results will be released late on Sunday with the final tally expected one or two days later.