After the Russian intervention in Crimea and the subsequent inactivity of the Ukrainian police and security forces there, pro-Russian residents of Crimea decided to create what they are calling "self-defence units".
The units say their goal is to maintain security and thwart possible attempts by the Ukrainian or Tatar minorities to impede Russia's agenda in the breakaway region. Alexander Meduservsky is a member of a unit based in the municipality of Dobroe. "We are supporting the will of the vast majority of the inhabitants of Crimea," he said.
The units include civilians, students, workers, veterans from the Afghan and Chechen wars, bikers, Cossacks, and others. They wear civilian and camouflage clothes, and carry banners including the hammer-and-sickle flag and the Russian flag flown during the Romanov monarchy.
Mostly unarmed, but supported by Russian forces, the units control roads, borders, communications infrastructure, government buildings and the gates of Ukrainian army bases. Some international organisations, including Human Rights Watch, have reported that elements of these units have been accused of torture, kidnapping and murder - targeting residents who remain loyal to Kiev.