A Russian soldier could not hide his tears as he leant against a tree, just metres from a Ukrainian military base in Crimea that his unit had surrounded.
“You have to understand him, he’s ashamed of what’s happening here,” said Gulya, the mother of a Ukrainian soldier stationed inside the base in Bakhchisarai.
“It’s terrible that we fight amongst each other,” added the middle-aged woman, proudly describing herself as a “citizen of Ukraine.”
Turning to the crying soldier’s comrades, she pleaded: “We’re not against you, don’t be afraid.”
The Black Sea peninsula has come under near complete control from Russian forces and local pro-Moscow militia as Ukraine threatens to sink into its biggest crisis since the Cold War.
But at Bakhchisaray, some 30 kilometres southwest of the Crimean capital Simferopol, the mood was relaxed, nonchalant, almost cordial.
Two dozen soldiers in camouflage outfits and with Kalashnikovs slung on their shoulders strolled casually about in the street. One played with a dog.
Asked by an AFP journalist if he was Russian, the tearful young blue-eyed soldier nodded timidly.
For the Ukrainian officers at the base, there was also no doubt the men in camouflage gear were Russians although they had no insignia to show their origin.
“You just have to look at their uniforms,” said the base’s deputy commander Volodymyr Dokuchayev.
Commander Sergey Stechenko confirmed that one soldier “introduced himself as a captain from the Russian Federation,” after unidentified men took up position around the base.
But there was little of the tension or animosity expected amid the ongoing mud-slinging between Kiev and Moscow, at least on the surface.
Ukraine accused Russia Monday of pouring more troops into Crimea, a region of Ukraine populated mostly by Russian speakers and a strategic host to tsarist and Kremlin navies since the 18th century.
Moscow has meanwhile repeatedly stated that it needs to defend its citizens and compatriots in the peninsula, and on Saturday President Vladimir Putin won legislative approval to send Russian forces.