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Canadians keep close watch as Crimea referendum nears

WATCH: Toronto’s Ukrainian community keeping close watch on Crimea referendum. Global’s Cindy Pom reports.

TORONTO – Canadians are following the escalating crisis in Ukraine closely on the eve of the Crimea referendum to decide whether the region should be annexed by Moscow.

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Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird issued a statement Saturday saying the Canadian government remains “extremely concerned” about the situation in Ukraine, including acts of violence that have left at least two people dead.

“Such violence is completely deplorable and does not form the basis of a pretext for further violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Baird. “Canada renews its condemnation of Russia’s illegal military intervention on the Crimean peninsula and its continued provocations along the Ukrainian border.”

WATCH: Tensions rise in Crimea as referendum vote approaches between Russia and Ukraine. Paul Johnson reports.

READ MORE: Russian forces seize town outside Crimea border

Earlier Saturday, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution proposed by the U.S. declaring the referendum illegal. The final vote on Saturday was 13 members in favour, China’s abstention, and Russia as a permanent council member using its veto.

“Crimea is part of Ukraine today, it will be part of Ukraine tomorrow, it will be part of Ukraine next week,” said Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. following the vote.

Members of Toronto’s Ukrainian community, some with relatives and friends in Crimea, are worried about the future of the region if it becomes a part of Russia.

For long time family friends Adile and Alie Khalilova who are both Tatar, a Muslim minority in Crimea, they fear their community will be targeted by Russian supporters.

“With pro-Russians here… I feel like Crimean Tatars, we look slightly different, our language is different, I think Crimean Tatars would suffer the most,” said Adile via Skype from Ukraine. “I do not want my president to be Putin. So I’m 100 per cent against that.”

READ MORE: What you should know about Crimea’s referendum

Currently the majority of Crimea’s population are ethnic Russians. Sunday’s referendum ballot will ask voters whether to reunify Crimea with Russia or keep the country as a part of Ukraine.

On Sunday the Ukranian Canadian Congress will hold a rally at Dundas Square in Toronto against the Crimean referendum. The protesters will then march towards the Russian Consulate.

Khalilova, an immigrant from Crimea, says she’ll be joining the protest in support of her friend and to voice her opposition to Russia.

“We try to protect our country just with our heart, and with our brain,” said Khalilova.

*With files from Cindy Pom

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