Ukraine’s ousted President Yanukovych has said he still considers himself to be the country's leader. Earlier, armed men raised Russian flags above seized government buildings in the pro-Moscow Crimea region.
Deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych said on Thursday that he still considers himself to be Ukraine's legitimate leader.
"I still consider myself to be the legal head of the Ukrainian state," he said in a statement to Russian news agencies, his first comments since February 22 when he fled the capital Kyiv.
He also asked Russia to ensure his personal security.
"I am compelled to ask the Russian Federation to ensure my personal security from the actions of extremists," he said, adding that the latest decisions by the Ukrainian parliament "do not have legitimate character."
The statement gave no further clue about his whereabouts.
Yanukovych is wanted for "mass murder" in the wake of last week's shootings during protests in Kyiv. Ukrainian lawmakers have voted to refer the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Russian flags over Crimea
Earlier in the day, dozens of men in full combat dress seized the regional government headquarters and parliament in the southern Ukrainian peninsula Crimea, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported Thursday.
The group did not have any markings of affiliation as they marched in to the building. Guards were reportedly removed from their post without a fight, the agency said.
The Crimea region was the site of confrontation Wednesday between supporters of the new government and Ukrainians who still favor closer ties with Moscow.
The situation escalated into fist fights between the pro-Ukrainian protesters - largely made up of ethnic Tartars - and members of the Crimea region's large pro-Russian population.
The move came amid concerns of growing separatism on the overwhelmingly Russian-speaking peninsula on the Black Sea after the ousting of Kremlin ally President Viktor Yanukovych last week.
The political unrest in the country was sparked in November by Yanukovych's refusal to sign an EU trade deal in favor of strengthening ties with Russia. On Thursday, Ukraine's parliament approved the nomination of Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister until elections in May. Yatsenyuk was a prominent figure during the protests that toppled Yanukovych.
Warnings from Ukraine
Ukraine's interim leaders have said security forces have been mobilized in Crimea.
Acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, wrote on Facebook, "Interior troops and the entire police force have been put on alert," adding that the area had been cordoned off "to prevent bloodshed."
Ukraine's interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, warned the Russian navy in Crimea to keep its troops in their bases.
"Any troop movements will be considered as military aggression," he told parliament. Russia's Black Sea fleet is based in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.
The warning follows an order by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday for an urgent drill to test the combat readiness of the armed forces in the west of the country, which borders Ukraine.
Russia has ordered military drills in the past since Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, but the latest order appears to have direct geopolitical implications.
hc/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, Reuters)