The first unit of the pro-Russian Military Forces of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea was sworn in at a public ceremony in Simferopol on Saturday.
About 30 men armed with AK-47s, and another 20 or so unarmed, turned out. They ranged in age from teenagers to a man who looked to be about 60. They were sworn in at a park in front of an eternal flame to those killed in the Second World War.
Sergei Aksyonov, the Crimean prime minister, came to the ceremony and was greeted by the soldiers with shouts of "Commander!"
He said their main role, at least until the referendum, would be to "keep the peace". He said he did not foresee any fighting with the Ukrainian soldiers still at bases in Crimea
"We are not enemies with those soldiers who pledged loyalty to the Ukrainian state. They are not our enemies," he said. He added that they would be given the chance to go safely back to Ukraine if they want.
Eastern Ukraine's Babuchkas, older women who have worked hard to raise families, are said to be the real power in these parts of the world.
Ukranian military commander told ITV News the Russian men "have come to protect us. So why are their guns pointing towards our base?"
Fear is shaping events in Crimea, the multi-ethnic peninsula that finds itself at the heart of a tussle between great powers.