Russia annexed the Crimea five years ago, contrary to international law. On March 16, 2014, an illegal referendum on the entry of the Peninsula into the Russian Federation was held there. According to the official results of the occupation authorities, almost 97% of the voters supported the annexing of the Crimea to Russia. It should be noted that the results of the "referendum" were recognized by no civilized country in the world. But five years ago, Crimea exulted: public festivities were held in Sevastopol, Simferopol, Yalta and other major cities of the autonomy overnight from March 16 to March 17, people waved Russian flags on the Crimean squares shouting "Russia, Russia!" Truly speaking, the very next day, Crimeans woke up with new problems: international isolation, sanctions, broken banking system and empty store shelves.
Today the Crimea has already fully integrated into the Russian legal terrain, although it is isolated from the entire civilized world. During this time, tens of thousands of Crimeans were forced to travel to the controlled territory of Ukraine, and many of the remaining (predominantly Crimean Tatars) are subject to repression by the Russian authorities. But for someone, life under the new government has not changed, and someone is talking about improvements.
OstroV spoke with the residents of the peninsula, who told about how their lives had changed after the occupation.
Svetlana, Sevastopol: "I will never forget the tears of the Crimean Tatars when they learned the results of the referendum".
"The annexation of the Crimea caught me when I was in the Sevastopol hospital after the operation. The seizures of buildings, green men, blocking of military units with the Ukrainian military, - I watched it on the TV with tears. But the worst thing happened when we a ballot box for the annexing of Crimea to Russia was brought to our ward. I realized that this was no longer a joke. Two other women, representatives of the Crimean Tatar population, were with me in the ward, they were crying all the time and did not know how to go on living. They reasoned about the fate of their business (they had a small cafe), moving to the Ukraine-controlled territory and that the war could start on the peninsula at any moment. They did not even consider the option to stay in the Crimea and live under the Russian authorities".
"After the announcement of the results of this pseudo-referendum, life in the Crimea changed dramatically. ATMs became empty, electronic cards stopped being accepted, products quickly disappeared from the store shelves, more armed soldiers appeared in the cities. People were confused during the first months, and later, many began to move to the territory controlled by Ukraine with their business and property. After six months or a year, it became clear that doing business in the Crimea under the new occupation power is extremely problematic. I know one case when businessmen were forced to close their successful restaurant in Sevastopol, because they were not allowed to work (they were demanded kick-backs, threatened with huge fines for non-observance of norms under the Russian law, etc.). Now these guys have moved to Kyiv and opened their cafe there".
"I was able to live in the occupied Crimea for about four years. I tried to close my eyes to Russian propaganda to the last. I quietly worked as a nurse, I did not get the highest salary ($122), which was enough for public utility and food. But I tried not to lose touch with Ukraine, went to the monument to Taras Shevchenko on Independence Day and March 9 (the poet's birthday), laid flowers there, explained to my colleagues and friends that Russian propaganda imposes on us negative opinion about Ukraine, etc. At some point of time, I understand that they look at me with side glances, try to sting me at any convenient moment, tell that I "love Banderites and Ukronazis". I could not bear it for a long time and had to move to the territory controlled by Ukraine. I do not regret it at all".
Sergey, Sevastopol: "Life has not changed much for me. I continue to do my job as a taxi driver. The main thing is not to talk with passengers about the politics".
"Looking at everything that is happening in Ukraine, few people here regret that we became part of Russia. The most important thing is security and peace, and we got it. Everything else is politics. Why are prices high? Because Ukraine has arranged a food blockade for us and is working to strengthen the sanctions. Why public utility is expensive? Ukraine has ceased to provide the peninsula with electricity and water. The local authorities are always trying to find the "hand of Ukraine", which for many years has spoiled everything in the Crimea, in the rest of "minuses".
The life of ordinary Crimeans has not changed much in either good or bad direction. There were low prices - there were low pensions and salaries as well, now prices have risen - they also raised the amounts of other payments. Another question is that people became embittered and displeased, because they wanted dramatic improvements, but received just a power shift. And quarreled with Ukraine. But know that when someone comes from the Ukrainian territory with local sweets and beer, everyone forgets about hostility and remembers how tasty it was with Ukraine. This is nostalgia".
Pavel, Yevpatoria: "Crimea could become a European resort. But with the advent of Russian power, the peninsula is being conserved in another soviet tourist region".
"I have been involved in the tourist business for more than ten years. I have a small agency, plus I supervise Crimean realtors who are settling vacationers in the Crimea. Of course, the Crimean peninsula could not be called a European resort before the advent of Russian power, but there was some kind of freedom of development, there were investments, foreign tourists arrived. At present, Crimea is turning into a Soviet resort from the 80s: many tourists come on the budget vouchers (Russian military personnel, officials and state employees), who want health resorts, sanatoriums and hospitals. The rest of the tourists require cheaper housing, just to be near the sea. New hotels, restaurants, clubs and water parks do not open, maximum - what was built in Ukraine is being restored, and this is presented as a great achievement. Considering how many soldiers are in the Crimea now, many people feel themselves uncomfortable in such a situation, so they do not come back".
The Crimean authorities report that, statistically, everything is fine, and the Crimea is popular among the Russian and even Ukrainian tourists. However, they forget to talk about the "quality" of these tourists, who leave less and less money each year. Someone arrives on a business trip, someone - in a sanatorium on vouchers, others - for a day or two to see the bridge, the main part is a budget vacation for tourists who do not have enough money for Turkey and Egypt. Well, think logically, why should a wealthy tourist go to the Crimea, where there is a poor service, broken roads, a lot of military, disgruntled and grumbling pensioners? "
Mikhail, Sevastopol: "If the Crimean peninsula was previously associated with tourism and recreation, now it has become a military base. The military and their needs are a priority for the new government".
"The number of Russian soldiers in the Crimea has increased several times over the past few years. It is difficult to say whether we are a tourist peninsula or military base. The local population does not really care, because we are frightened by constant threats from Ukraine or NATO. So everything is ideologically justified. To be true, the attractiveness of Crimea falls both for tourists and for potential investors. But there is not enough housing for such number of the military, so the city authorities began to confiscate the land plots from local residents under various pretexts".
"New authorities say that these land plots were illegally given in the times of Ukraine. Now thousands of such cases are being heard in the courts throughout the Crimea. All this, of course, is beautifully presented, they say the Ukrainian corrupt authorities transferred these lands illegally, therefore, we are returning them back to the city. Not so long ago, local residents gathered in Sevastopol to protest against the taking land from them by the Russian Defence Ministry for its needs. As far as I know, there are up to three thousand such sites in Sevastopol. Mainly, these are summer cottages, sometimes, already resold to new owners. The most recent scandal was associated with the Gloria garage cooperative, with which the city authorities unilaterally broke the land lease agreement and gave them two months to evict. Everyone in the city knows that a residential complex is going to be built on this place, which is located in the prestigious Gagarinsky district near the sea".
Yekaterina, Simferopol: "Not everything is so bad in the Crimea, as the Ukrainian media say. Yes, we are isolated, yes, we are under sanctions, but we live in a beautiful place with no war or frenzy of nationalism".
"I do not have rose-coloured glasses and I read European and even Ukrainian media about what is happening in Crimea. But I do not understand such a great amount of negative and untruth. No one denies obvious things (sanctions, isolation, non-recognition by the world), but they do not talk about the everyday life of the Crimean people, that medicine has become better and more affordable for the poor, pensions and wages have increased compared to the Ukrainian ones, crime has decreased. Of course, there are few prospects for young and active people who like to travel and work in international companies, but no one holds them in the Crimea by force. Many people leave for the Russian mainland, where all the roads are open for them".
"For ordinary hard-working people, pensioners and state employees, who need peace and stability, the life has changed for the better. If they talk about some kind of repressions, you should not break the law or conduct anti-state activities. Eventually, if you do not like to live in the Crimea - leave for Ukraine. There, nationalists will quickly tell you how to love the Motherland and Ukrainian language. It is not for nothing that many residents of Donbass and eastern regions come to the Crimea, obviously, because life is not a bed of roses".
Alexander, Simferopol: "I am satisfied with life in the Crimea after the referendum. But I miss Ukrainian products".
"I am a practical person, so I cannot say that life in the Crimea has changed for the better or for the worse. The life has changed for every person in its own way. Personally I do not care about politics, I did not and do not vote, do not watch the news. I work as English teacher in a private school, and the number of my students have not changed after the referendum and joining Russia. Moreover, their number increased. The only thing that I and my family do not like is disappearance of Ukrainian and European products from the shelves of stores. It is no secret that Russian and local products are inferior to those in Ukraine. This applies to canned foods, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, sweets, alcohol, etc. If at first, you could get them somehow, now it is impossible. I dream that we reconcile with Ukraine and local products began to be imported from there. Believe me, this is not just my desire".
As for the rest abroad, I see no point of going somewhere, when there is such a beauty nearby. What for going somewhere in Europe to the sea, if we have a South Coast. After the opening of the Crimean Bridge, we are going with the family on a small trip around Russia. So international sanctions did not hit us very much, and did not change the usual way of life".
Vladislav, Sevastopol: "The main change in the Crimean life in after the referendum is exorbitant prices that exceed those in Moscow. All quietly remember Ukraine only in a good way".
"I once said that the Crimean prices have become our new attraction. They are higher than in any large Russian city where the standard of living is much higher than the Crimean one. Despite the increase in salaries and pensions, the prices of life eat up everything. Our public utility is not much lower than in Ukraine, but at the same time, there are no subsidies in the Crimea. Travel prices have increased, but they did them free of charge for the military and pensioners. Drug prices, especially those of foreign manufacture, went sky-high. It is much cheaper to go to Ukraine, buy medicines there and return, what the Crimeans often do. This applies to technology, clothing and other major purchases".
Prices have risen even for tourists who do not come to us anyway. It is now no cheaper to rent an apartment or a hotel room in the Crimea than abroad. I am not even talking about the prices of fruits, vegetables, restaurants, excursions, and so on. I do not know how long Russians will tolerate such a vacation. Probably the "crimeaisours" has not evaporated yet, so they continue to come, I do not see any other explanation.
When we watch the TV, we hear only negative about Ukraine. Then we go outside, discuss it, agree. However, when there is a talk of how it was with Ukraine, no one can remember a bad word. Yes, pensions and salaries were low, but it was enough for life. Plus, the authorities did not prohibit making extra money on the same tourists".
Olga, Simferopol: "There is no negativity in Crimea towards Ukraine and Ukrainians as such. All the negative is directed against the authorities that came after Maidan in 2014, and nationalists, who are persecuting Russian speakers and shouting at every corner that Russia is our enemy No. 1" .
"Sometimes it seems that Crimea did not return to Russia, because the main part of the conversations and news here is devoted to Ukraine. Turn on the TV, open a newspaper or magazine, - everything is about Ukraine. We probably know more about what is happening with you. Regular reports about the events in the Donbass, violence of the nationalists, prohibitions of the Victory Day and all the Russian are the main topics for discussion. We are very hurt by what is happening in Ukraine, we are fraternal people after all".
Do you think that Crimeans have massively burned Ukrainian passports and did not even look towards Ukraine? You are sadly mistaken. Crimeans received and will continue to receive Ukrainian passports, especially biometric international passports. There are special companies that help in the issuance of Ukrainian documents. Their services are very popular in the Crimea. People hope that power will change in Ukraine, nationalists will no longer be street judges and we will be friends again. So do not believe it when you hear that Crimeans hate Ukraine".
Andriy Andrieyev, OstroV