The first days of 2023 in Crimea were marked by increased "work of air defense systems". Almost every day, you can hear explosions in occupied Sevastopol, which "local authorities" consistently explain as the downing of Ukrainian drones.
This is happening against the backdrop of statements from the occupiers that the situation is under control, Crimea is reliably protected and there is no danger to the peninsula residents.
However, local residents have long ceased to believe the soothing mantras of their "authorities". Firstly, they perfectly remember the fate of Kherson and Izium, where "russia had come forever". Secondly, the wound from the explosions on the Crimean Bridge, for which dmitry medvedev promised "doomsday" and which "was guarded stronger than the kremlin", is still fresh. Thirdly, explosions (the so-called work of air defense systems) do not stop in the deep rear of Crimea. Many locals do not understand how a Ukrainian drone could easily fly across the entire Crimea and end up over Sevastopol or Simferopol.
"About once a month, something is consistently shot down over Sevastopol. If these are not signs that our region has become a front-line one, then what are we waiting for? We are being reassured by the fact that Crimea is being reinforced as much as possible and cannot be seized, but how did we get to the point where we are seriously discussing the possibility of the AFU entry? Has anyone talked about it before February 24, 2022? No. We discussed problems with roads, prices, tourism business and so on. Now our main issue is to survive. Every day, the local news tell us that we are strengthening and are being reinforced. However, Kherson was being reinforced in the same way, not to mention the Crimean Bridge. People are not fools, everyone sees and understands where it all goes", - resident of Sevastopol Svitlana told OstroV.
The fears of local residents are divided into several categories: some are afraid of shelling and destruction, others are afraid of the entry of the AFU into Crimea, some are terrified of a new wave of mobilization that may affect those who have no military experience and others fear the isolation of the peninsula due to destruction of Crimean Bridge or border closure.
OstroV spoke with local residents of the occupied peninsula to understand their moods and expectations for 2023. Some of them have already moved to the russian mainland, which already speaks volumes…
Crimea is being fortified
So-called head of Crimea sergey aksyonov has once again extended the "high (yellow) level of terrorist threat" on the peninsula, this time until January 21, 2023. It provides for enhanced protection of transport facilities, housing and communal services, healthcare, fuel and energy, industry, water management and land development facilities.
At the same time, aksyonov claims that "the situation in the region is being completely controlled by the republican and municipal authorities". An interesting nuance is that he now includes the construction of fortifications in the concept of "control".
"Fortification works on the territory of Crimea are being carried out under my control. They are aimed at guaranteeing the security of the Crimeans. My position and the position of the country's leadership is as follows: the main security measures of Crimea should be achieved through measures that we carry out, first of all, on the territory of the Kherson oblast", - the occupier said.
He might as well call street fighting on the peninsula to be the "control of the situation"...
According to Ukrainian intelligence, the russians began to build an additional fortification of the coastline in order to prevent the landing of Ukrainian troops. In particular, along the coast near Molochne village (Saky district), the invaders equipped a network of minefields, trenches and rows of concrete pyramids. That could probably calm down the villagers...
According to the AFU General Staff, the russians are strengthening the line of defense on the border of the Kherson oblast and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, as well as the protection of peninsula’s water supply facilities, in particular, the North Crimean Canal. Units, mobilized from the krasnodar krai, were additionally sent for this purpose.
In addition, according to local residents, the occupiers have stepped up checks on the Crimean Bridge, that is why cars are increasingly accumulating there in queues for exit and entry. Drivers say they have to wait there for at least 5 hours.
According to local residents, long searches and "interrogations" of drivers are to blame.
"They are afraid of saboteurs or someone else there. They let people through very slowly, with such an inspection that it seems that you are entering Israel. Those who have been there understand what I am talking about. Our family members came to visit us by car not so long ago. It took them two days to get here, although the road used to take a day. At first, they were stopped at the entrance to the bridge, where the car, bags and pockets were manually searched. Then their documents were checked, the details of their visit were entered into some kind of tablet very slowly and meticulously. Afterwards, they were asked to go through the security frame. It took at least half an hour. They were asked additional questions and only after that, they were let onto the bridge itself", - Simferopol’s resident Mykola told OstroV.
But the most interesting thing, he notes, is that no less thorough inspection was on the way back.
"Apparently, they are afraid that the Crimean saboteurs will get to the mainland of russia", - he suggested.
The occupation authorities explain the queues by the ongoing bridge repairs, as well as by the mandatory inspection of all cars.
"Drivers of vehicles must prepare all the necessary documents in advance, familiarize themselves with the list of things and substances prohibited for transportation. Cars with heavy bulky luggage are screened through a scanner. Passengers with light luggage must go through a metal detector frame", - the occupiers say.
In general, according to local residents, the number of patrols and document checks on the streets of large Crimean cities has increased over the past two months.
"I have never seen so many police officers in the center of Sevastopol, and they don’t just walk around, but stop people from time to time to check the documents, sometimes even bags. I heard similar stories from my acquaintances in Simferopol and Kerch. A colleague told me that her husband was stopped in the city center and was asked whether he served in the army, whether he had a military ID with him and whether he was conscripted during partial mobilization. On the one hand, he was not given a draft summon and was not taken anywhere, but on the other, why such inquiries are needed at all", - Crimean resident Anastasia told OstroV.
According to our information, similar enhanced checks are also taking place at railway stations and bus stations in Crimea.
Air defense systems raise more and more questions
Despite the reassurance of local authorities, local residents of Crimea are asking more and more questions about their safety.
"Air defense systems work almost every day. Not somewhere in the north of Crimea, but in the southern cities. But how did Ukraine get there? Firstly, what kind of demilitarization is this that there were no drones before, but now they appear to have a lot of them? Secondly, why does the air defense system react so late? Can’t it shoot them down somewhere in the Kherson oblast, on the way to Crimea? We hoped that Crimea is protected because part of the Kherson oblast is under russian control. But it turns out that this is not enough", - resident of Sevastopol Raisa says.
According to her, many residents of Sevastopol are already accustomed to explosions and do not fear for their lives, since so far, either all attacks have been carried out on military objects (ships, airfields), or air defense worked so successfully that even the debris did not fall on residential buildings.
"This, of course, raises questions. Either the Ukrainians nobly attack only military facilities, or the russian air defense forces act very professionally, or it is all fake and nothing actually is shot down in the sky - this cannot be ruled out either. People are talking about new mobilization wave more and more, so they need to be inspired by something", - she says.
Resident of Simferopol Mykola says that due to the increasing number of explosions and constant reports from the Ukrainian side about the imminent liberation of Crimea, he moved his family to the krasnodar krai. According to him, this is a forced temporary measure until the war ends.
"My house is located near the Simferopol airport, and it took me a long time to decide whether to move my family. At first, I thought about renting an apartment in the city center, but after the explosions in the center of Sevastopol in the summer of 2022, I realized that it was better to leave the front-line region for the duration of the war. I have two children, and I am responsible for their health and mental wellbeing. I myself have stayed here for now. My colleagues were sympathetic to my decision, many would like to do the same, but not everyone has relatives in russia ready to accommodate a family. By the way, after the russian military left Kherson, one of my bosses said that it wouldn’t be peaceful here, and sold his holiday countryside cottage", - Mykola, who works as a realtor at a Crimean real estate agency, told OstroV.
He also drew attention to the fall in prices and demand for real estate in Crimea.
"This is objective data. The number of ads on the websites is record high, and housing prices are lower than a year ago. If a year ago, you could buy a two-room apartment in a good area of Sevastopol for $90-100 thousand, now the price tag has dropped to $70 thousand, and the apartment will not be sold quickly anyway. With each new message about the work of air defense systems, the price drops by another $2-3 thousand. People go to Crimea for a peaceful retirement, nature lanscapes and the sea, not for explosions", - he says.
The russian media also do not hide the fact that interest in buying apartments in Crimea and Sevastopol has recently decreased. For example, one of the volgograd Internet resources quotes the director of the Multidom Sevastopol real estate agency, who claims that the demand for housing in the city has fallen significantly.
"The number of russians, who moved to the seaside for warmth, has decreased for the time being. The most expensive luxury apartments have fallen in price the most. Especially in the primary market: now residents of mainland russia are in no hurry to invest in Crimea, especially large sums of 17-25 million. There are many such offers on the market, but demand is stalling, so developers are ready to reduce the price for up to several million rubles", - the real estate agency director said.
The media also quotes employee of the Yalta real estate center Mykola Kravchenko, who advises russians to focus on reports from the front-line when buying housing in Crimea.
"Most sellers and buyers are not military experts and they judge very simply: if hostilities approach the borders of Crimea, then the demand for real estate falls, it becomes cheaper. And vice versa: as soon as it is clear that the victory (of russia - ed.) is close, the Crimean prices will go up. Confidence in the future and the safety of the loved ones are now the most important factors influencing prices", - he says.
"Hid their sons"
A possible new wave of mobilization in russia, which the Ukrainian authorities are warning about, causes considerable concern among the local residents.
Crimean resident Svitlana (name was changed for security reasons), who contacted OstroV a few months ago to describe how her 22-year-old son was mobilized, claims that after the first wave of mobilization, many mothers "hid their sons".
"I would have hidden my son as well, but I didn’t have enough time back then. The solution is very simple: find a new place to stay where you are not registered and move there. It is also better to get an unofficial job so that you are not listed anywhere. There are a lot of tips about this on the Internet. Someone managed to buy a certificate of unfitness for service. In general, there was time to prepare", - she told OstroV.
As for the fate of her mobilized son, Svitlana tells he rarely gets in touch and has not yet taken part in hostilities.
"They are stationed and trained in the Kherson oblast. They are constantly building something and are doing non-combat work, thank God. No one knows what will happen next. But he doesn’t say much when he calls. I ask him questions, and he constantly changes the topic and does not want to answer. Maybe they are being tapped there, I don’t know", - she says.
Change of permanent place of residence (by registration) has recently become a very popular option in occupied Crimea. According to one of the Sevastopol realtors Serhiy, in November-December 2022, he recorded a significant increase in demand for long-term rental housing among men of military age.
"They move mostly together with their families, but there are many cases of single men. When I casually ask about the reasons for the move, they mumble something incomprehensible. But in Telegram groups, you can often find information and advice on how to hide from military registration and enlistment offices, and moving is the most common option. You can, of course, leave Crimea, but what for? Mobilization is taking place throughout the entire territory of the russian federation. And finding a person who doesn’t live at the place where he is officially registered is not so easy", - he says.
According to him, the situation in Crimea is tense due to the possible mobilization. This topic is not raised in the russian and local media, but the conversations between the locals speak volumes.
"Everyone remembers what happened last time. People were conscripted over a few days. But at that time, they at least claimed to mobilize the ones with military experience. And who knows what will happen now. Maybe they have already run out of the experienced conscripts. So each family decides for itself how to prepare for the possible mobilization of a husband or son. Many quit, look for a new unofficial job and try not to show up anywhere", - Serhiy noted.
Forecasts and expectations
Local residents told OstroV that they were waiting for the end of the war in 2023. Some of them want a confident victory for russia, some want "everything to just end somehow and the shooting to stop" and others are waiting for the AFU in Crimea.
"We are getting ready for the AFU entry. This is a matter of time, like it or not. Everything has already gone too far to just stop. We lived under russia, we will live under Ukraine, my business will not suffer from a change of country. The main thing is that Crimea should not turn into Mariupol, that it should survive", - resident of Yevpatoria Oleksiy said.
Raisa from Sevastopol believes that Crimea will remain russian in any case, but does not rule out hostilities on its territory.
"It will be terrible, but what can be done? War is war. They should have just put an end to the Crimean issue a long time ago. How long can people be tortured? I am a pensioner, I have my own housing here, my own life, I am not going to flee. But I cannot imagine life in Ukraine either", - she says.
Kateryna from Simferopol and her family have already moved to moscow. She lived in both cities for several months, but in the end, she realized that she could not feel at ease in Crimea.
"And I'm not the only one. There are hundreds of such stories. If there is an opportunity, then of course, people leave. I can't live in a city where a combat drone can appear at any moment. Not to mention constant horror stories from Ukrainian friends who write me that soon the AFU will enter Crimea. It is very difficult psychologically. Therefore, we contemplated this decision for a long time. We moved and we do not regret it. Moreover, our example inspired several our friends to do the same. As for the expectations for 2023, nothing good comes to mind. I have a feeling that Crimea will not be left alone", - she says.
Andriy Andrieyev, OstroV