The ninth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea passed without the traditional folk festivities, grand concerts and fireworks. Almost the only form of entertainment for the locals was the "unexpected" visit of russian president vladimir putin to the occupied city of Sevastopol. However, even this event did not evoke a surge of joy and security.
Locals were surprised that the he did not say a word about the war or safety in the region. Moreover, putin did not make any statements or hold any meetings in the occupied Crimea. He also did not visit the capital of the Crimean peninsula, Simferopol, and did not meet with its "leader" and one of the brightest participants in the "Crimean Spring", Sergey Aksyonov. Putin only had an informal meeting with the so-called "governor" of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev.
"Cool" and "Keep up the good work" are perhaps the most notable quotes from Putin during the visit, which was reduced to a tour of the national preserve of Tauric Chersonesos.
"Keep up what exactly? Digging trenches on the beaches? Continuing mobilization? Or speaking as if under hypnosis that the situation is under control and there is no reason to panic, when we face drone attacks almost every week? And what will happen when the Ukrainian Armed Forces launch a counteroffensive and reach the border with Crimea? That's in the best-case scenario. I'm not even talking about what could happen if they go further. Can we get a visit from Medvedev (former president of the russian federation dmitry medvedev - ed.) next time? At least he'll give an inspiring speech about the Nazis and nuclear ash, if the Ukrainians come to Crimea. It may sound silly, but it will please us", -Anastasia, a resident of the occupied Yalta, told OstroV.
She also mentioned the "Ukrainian drone attack" that followed putin's visit and the silence of the russian authorities about it.
OstroV investigated how the trip of the russian dictator to the occupied Crimea went, what local residents think about it and why the occupiers' claims of successful air defense work in Dzhankoi are not true.
What was that?
For the first time since the start of the full-scale war, russian dictator putin visited the occupied Crimea. In particular, on March 18, on the ninth anniversary of the annexation of the peninsula, he visited the Tauric Chersonesos preserve in Sevastopol.
Accompanied by the so-called Sevastopol "governor" Mikhail Razvozhaev and several clergy members, putin visited the opening of the Korsun Children's Art School.
The so-called head of Sevastopol, Razvozhaev, tried to give significance to the visit, noting that putin allegedly came unexpectedly and (incredibly) drove himself.
"Our President Vladimir Putin knows how to surprise. In a good way. Today we were supposed to open a children's art school in Chersonesos. Everything was ready for a video conference and a report to the president via secure communication. But the president came in person. He drove here. Because such a historic day the president always spends in Sevastopol and with the local residents. Our country has an incredible leader", - the occupier wrote on Telegram.
That concluded the visit.
Indeed, in the midst of a full-scale war, when explosions occur regularly, unidentified drones fly into the Crimean territory, beaches are dug up with trenches and the high season is on the brink of collapse, the russian president comes just to open an art school.
"It looked more like a tourist trip to enjoy the fresh sea air. And this is in the midst of war, non-stop mobilization and issues on the front. I find it hard to imagine Zelensky visiting Odesa to open a cultural center and going back, for example. Even if he opens some school, after that he will visit a military hospital, hold an operational meeting and award military personnel. But we didn’t see anything like that here. Maybe Putin wanted to show us that everything is fine, there is no war, only peace and prosperity? If so, it wasn’t convincing. Where is at least one statement about the war or the defense of Crimea?" - resident of Simferopol Natalia K. complains in a comment to OstroV.
Even terrorist Girkin-Strelkov, speaking about putin's trip to Sevastopol, couldn’t hold back a sarcastic comment about the kremlin dictator.
"They've already issued an arrest warrant for him, but he still hasn't figured out anything... He should have visited military units and formations a year ago, but he's still... wasting time... that is, inspecting historical and archaeological complexes, which are built (!!!) by military builders. As if they have nothing else to do during the war. Alas, there is no end to this idiocy... P.S. I didn't notice who was leading and fooling the president this time... seems like the hypocritical and cowardly archbishop was trailing behind him...? P.P.S. Since our president does not participate in the special military operation, I am not at all worried about the application of the newly signed law (on discrediting the russian army, - ed.) to me", - he wrote.
Ukrainian military expert Roman Svitan believes that putin's double visited Sevastopol instead of putin himself. He also links the visit of the russian dictator with the then-upcoming visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping to moscow.
"First, the russians shoot down an American drone, and then putin seems to appear in Crimea. This is an informational message before the Chinese leader's visit", - he noted.
Local residents of the occupied peninsula, are wondering "What was that?" when speaking about putin's visit.
"This is the most polite form of a question regarding this visit. If we celebrate the ninth anniversary of reunification, then where is the celebration? Where are the pompous speeches and congratulations? If he came to reassure us and show that everything is under control, then why not visit the military unit and the 'famous' fortifications, why not give a speech and reassure us that everything will be fine? On the other hand, I can imagine how it would look two days after the attack of Ukrainian drones on Dzhankoi. In general, the visit was somewhat incomprehensible. We had much higher expectations", - Yevpatoria’s resident Mikhail told OstroV.
According to a resident of occupied Sevastopol, Ekaterina, local media and social networks have covered putin's visit quite sparingly.
"They tried to give significance to the visit, but it didn't work out. The program was so scanty that even the local propaganda had nothing to show. It all came down to "it was an unplanned and unexpected visit, look at how courageous our president is". That's it. There wasn't even footage of his crossing the Crimean bridge. If he really drove there himself, as our governor claimed, then where are the epic videos of his trip across the bridge? Given the ambiguous situation with its explosion and repair, it would have been a powerful message to the people of Crimea. The local media made more fuss about Putin's visit to Mariupol, there was something to talk about there. But it doesn't make our situation any easier, we fear for our safety and worry about the situation in our region. Isn't it obvious that people have questions? We may be concerned about the fate of the cultural center, but it's the least of our worries in comparison to the war, mobilization, potentially low tourist season, and as a result, economic issues. Not to mention that Crimeans have been actively leaving for the mainland or abroad in recent months", - she noted.
Putin left, the war remained
Just as the locals were recovering from putin's visit to Sevastopol, a new "commotion" occurred on the peninsula. In the evening of March 20, a series of powerful explosions rocked the occupied city of Dzhankoi in the north of Crimea. As a result, the city was left without electricity for several hours.
Of course, the local occupiers were quick to announce the successful work of their air defense systems.
"In the area of Dzhankoi, the air defense systems were activated. According to preliminary data, fragments damaged a house and a store. Unfortunately, one person was injured. The Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Crimea, Igor Mikhailichenko, has arrived at the scene. The consequences of the attack are currently being assessed and decisions on compensation will be made", - said the so-called head of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov.
However, locals did not believe the official version of events. According to the residents of the city, the sounds of incoming missiles and powerful explosions were clearly audible.
"Powerful explosions, flashes, red glow from the explosions. There were several hits, probably on some warehouses, because there was a strong fire", - the locals wrote on social media.
A conspiracy theory has also emerged on social media that the sounds of drones that attacked Dzhankoi were similar to the ones that the Iranian Shahed drones make.
The Centre for Strategic Communications of Ukraine commented on this information and also stated that Crimea is becoming increasingly dangerous for occupiers. They also reminded that russian occupation brought war, not peace, to Crimea and that since 2014 the peninsula has been turned from a resort into a theater of military operations.
"Ukraine already has something to strike russian occupiers in Crimea with. The occupiers no longer have a safe rear in Ukrainian territory. The Kalibr missiles in Dzhankoi are a legitimate military target because russia constantly attacks Ukrainian cities with these missiles, killing civilians. The sounds characteristic of Iranian Shahed drones in the video from Dzhankoi may be related to the fact that russian military personnel lost control of their drones", - the statement said.
It is noteworthy that the incident in Dzhankoi was promptly commented on by the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine. According to them, the explosions destroyed russian Kalibr cruise missiles.
"An explosion in the city of Dzhankoi in the north of the temporarily occupied Crimea destroyed russian Kalibr cruise missiles during their transportation by rail. Those missiles are intended for launch from surface ships of the russian Black Sea Fleet. The range of this weapon is over 2,500 kilometers against ground targets and 375 kilometers against naval targets. The mysterious explosion continues the process of demilitarizing russia and prepares the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea for de-occupation", - the Telegram channel of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine reported.
Local occupiers, of course, denied this version and once again claimed successful work of their air defense systems.
"The railway and infrastructure are not damaged. Trains run on schedule", - said the so-called "advisor to the head" of Crimea, Oleg Kryuchkov.
According to him, all drones that allegedly attacked Dzhankoi on the evening of March 20 were aimed at civilian objects, but they were successfully shot down.
The mantra of "all drones were shot down" and "the situation is under control" was slightly undermined by the fact that already on the next day, March 21, the Dzhankoi occupation authorities introduced a municipal emergency regime in the city.
Later, ASTRA (a project of independent russian journalists) stated that during the drone attack on the evening of March 20, the locomotive depot, the station guard building, the cargo and fuel warehouses at the railway station in Dzhankoi were damaged.
Journalists note that serious damage after the drone attacks was recorded at least at five places. Four of them relate to the railway station (locomotive depot, station guard building, cargo and fuel warehouses), and one is an agricultural store on Perekopska Street, 51. In the store, 33-year-old local resident Konstantin Ilyin received a penetrating chest wound.
In addition, they confirm the information that the attack on the station caused disruptions in the power grid of the locomotive depot.
Military expert Roman Svitan believes that the drone attack was a "response" for the downed American UAV over the Black Sea.
"For one destroyed American drone, there was a response - the destruction of a whole batch of missiles. Most likely, there was certain information about the route of the train with missiles, its movement was controlled... You can "catch" a batch of missiles at the place where there is no powerful air defense system, so that's what was done. A swarm of drones flew in and completed the task of destroying the missile platforms, as well as the fuel and equipment warehouses", - he notes.
OstroV contacted a local resident of Dzhankoi who claims to have witnessed the explosions. According to him, there were about ten explosions in total, and the sound of automatic gunfire was also heard.
"Perhaps this was one of the most extensive attacks on the peninsula during the entire duration of the war. There were many explosions, and the extent of the damage is still unknown. Officially, on the morning of March 21, we were told that everything was shot down, and the wreckage of the drones damaged several buildings. But local residents say the opposite. There were serious hits in the area of the railway station. There are few residential houses there, so not all of it was captured on video. Many FSB officers and military personnel came to the city. On March 21, several areas were simply closed off to people. It's a serious matter", - he said.
Resident of the occupied Sevastopol, Ekaterina, says that locals are actively discussing the drone attack and have already forgotten about the visit of the russian president.
"This is a spit in the face of the president, isn't it? It's even worse if it happened on the day of his visit. This is how we are being told that no matter how many times Putin comes here, he cannot ensure our safety. Everyone here talks only about the drones in Dzhankoi, nobody discusses Putin's long-awaited visit. People care about safety and stability. And we don’t have any of that. And even if Putin himself cannot provide it, imagine the state of the local residents. I'm not even talking about the high season. It just won't happen, and there are no answers for the Crimeans who live off the tourism", - she told OstroV.
Social media commenters have already called putin's visit to Crimea and Mariupol a farewell tour, and the drone attack in Dzhankoi – a salute in honor of this event. Local residents, with whom OstroV managed to talk, can’t disagree with that.
P.S.: Early in the morning on March 22, several powerful explosions were heard in the center of Sevastopol. Local occupation authorities reported an attack by sea drones and successful work of air defense systems. However, after this, movement of sea passenger transport was stopped in the city, and the explosions were so strong that windows shattered in some buildings.
"The explosions were so strong that the window panes shook throughout the city center, alarms went off. In some buildings, windows were shattered. I don't even know what to comment on here. This is just the icing on the cake after Putin's visit and the attack on Dzhankoi. We are waiting for yet another message that everything is under control and there is no reason to panic", - a local resident of Sevastopol said.
By Andriy Andrieyev, OstroV