Banknotes of Ukrainian hryvnia
Banknotes of Ukrainian hryvniaReuters

Uncertainties stemming from a possible break up from Ukraine have prompted people in Crimea to queue outside banks to withdraw their money ahead of this weekend's referendum to join Russia.

Rumours about a looming legal vacuum are spreading in the crisis-hit region, causing panic, confusion and fear among people, Associated Press reported.

Details on how the financial system will work if Crimea decides to join Russia were sketchy, but officials hinted that the region plans to use the Russian rouble alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia "for a period of time".

There was also a report that all savings accounts were being frozen and withdrawals were being limited to just 300 hryvnia (€23, $32, £19) per day. The pro-Kremlin authorities in Crimea dismissed the report saying it as a "provocation".

The officials tried to calm down people saying there will be no problem with pensions or salaries and that the banks have sufficient cash for everyone.

Banks in Crimea have set up a daily cash withdrawal limit of 1,500, and people have queued up day after day to take out money in instalments.

Due to the rush, many cash machines are out order, while banks are not receiving enough bank notes to pay customers. Ukraine's central bank governor Stepan Kubiv said the security situation had restricted movements of cash and "we cannot ensure the transportation of cash even within Crimea".

Local media also reported that people are quickly taking out large loans, hoping that they will not have to repay if Crimea becomes part of Russia.

"People are panicking because they want to keep their money at home," an employee at Ukrainian lender PrivatBank told AP.

"When they see the cash, when they can touch it, they calm down. There are so many people coming now that we cannot cope with them all," she added.

"People are afraid Ukrainian banks are going to close down branches here and since everyone is trying to take their money out at the same time, the hryvnias are running out," said a manager at UniCredit Bank in Simferopol.

Crimea's deputy premier Rustam Temirgaliyev earlier said that if the peninsula joins Russia, local lenders will come under the country's law and they will have to register as foreign banks in Russia.

Referendum

Voters in Crimea, the autonomous Ukrainian region with about two million residents, are scheduled to choose on 16 March either independence from Ukraine or joining neighbouring Russia. In the referendum, there is no option for the region to remain as part of Ukraine.

Ethnic Russians constitute about 60% of the Crimean population.

The referendum comes after a number of events in Ukraine in recent months, including violent protests against the government, the ousting of its pro-Russian President and Russian troops seizing Crimea.

The Crimean parliament backed the referendum, signalling its leaders' intentions to join Russia. Sergey Aksyonov, who came to power in Crimea after Russia's military intervention, said more than 80% of the region's people supported the break with Ukraine and union with Russia.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's interim government wanted Crimea to remain as part of the country, a stance supported by the US and its European allies.