IF there is a frontline in Russia’s so-far bloodless military operation in Ukraine, it is here at a run-down base near a village on a highway through the mountains of Crimea, where Ukrainian troops are holed up, refusing to surrender to hundreds of Russians who have them surrounded.
The battle is not between the troops, who despite the standoff have not fired a shot in anger, but in the arguments among the civilians who have come here to support one side, the other, or both.
A cluster of men from a nearby village carried Russian flags and periodically chanted “Russia! Russia!” They shouted at and chased away four women who arrived with food for the Ukrainian troops trapped inside the base.
Walking away, Ludmila Ivkina mumbled: “They can shout, ‘Russia’ all they want, but we can’t talk about Ukraine when standing on our own land.”
Another of the women, 22-year-old student Anya Dudnichko, had knotted a ribbon of Ukrainian yellow and blue in her hair. “What kind of war is this?” she said. “It’s an infiltration. No one has even declared war.”
For now, both sides say they are working hard to avoid a first shot being fired.
The Ukrainian military contingent in Crimea was far too small to provide armed resistance to Russian forces. The commander of its navy surrendered, and is now wanted for treason by Kiev.
But at a handful of locations Ukrainian troops have refused Russian orders to give up weapons and pledge allegiance to pro-Moscow regional authorities.
Here at Perevalnoye, the Ukrainians are shut up in two military compounds as hundreds of soldiers in dozens of trucks and armoured vehicles with black Russian military number plates have set up nearby.
Many of the Ukrainian troops have family in the nearby village of five-storey Soviet-style apartment blocks. Wives and mothers gathered outside the gate, weaving around Russian soldiers, who stood at ease with rifles pointed to the ground.
“We are protecting our military base, we are under orders,” one of the Ukranian soldiers shouted through the bars of an iron gate.
Svetlana Goncharova, 50, who works as a librarian at the Ukrainian base, said: “We are standing here with our boys. The situation is beyond all bounds. Maybe if they see that civilians are standing here with the men, no one will raise weapons.”