It’s hard to hear Crimean voices these days. Since Russia annexed the peninsula at least 20,000 people have left, the majority not wanting to become Russian.
But some are willing to talk about their living conditions.
Katya is one of them.
Euronews met the art teacher at her home. She maintains that her quality of life has declined since Crimea became Russian.
She denounces the generation gap between pro-Ukrainians and pro-Russians. Her friend Kostya, an English language teacher living in Kiev, stresses the economic paradox of the annexation.
Says Katya, “My father was born here before the Second World War, and when Crimea was given to the Ukrainian Republic as part of the Soviet Union, he was disappointed. He lived his life hoping for a reunification with Russia.
“The first thing that happened when I arrived after the referendum – I was not here then – he hugged me and said: “Finally it happened!” In other words, he was Russian and finally he became an actual Russian.
“And I replied to him: “Father, listen, the same thing that was done to you back then has happened to me right now.”“
Adds Kostya Yevtyeyev: “At the very beginning everybody was extremely happy because they were promised high salaries and pensions. And most of the people were ‘bought’ by that, especially pensioners who always wanted to have the same level of prosperity as in Russia. As far as I know they got a real raise in their salaries. That lasted a couple of months and now a very peculiar thing is happening, the prices have inflated and, at the same time, people are bringing home smaller amounts. I can hardly imagine how they cope.”
In the southern coast along the promenade in Alushta you will find tourists, but they are almost all from Russia. In the past year Crimean tourism has lost at least 3 million visitors.
We meet Olga in a street stall. Here she sells the paintings her husband creates.
At her home we meet Anatoly Ustimenko. Though originally from Ukraine, he wants Crimea to be part of Russia.
“You know, I am a painter, and what I have observed over the years is that a lot of people came here, they finally could afford to travel to Crimea … a lot of simple, not rich, people,” he says.
euronews: “Did you vote in for the referendum?”
“No,” he continues, “I couldn’t vote because I was not registered in Crimea, my registration is in Ukraine, but my wife and I attended all of the rallies and demonstrations.”
We visit Olga and Anatoly’s neighbour, Tanya Kogut.
She tells us: “Under Ukraine I would have had my pension at only 59 or 60. And I am 55 and I have my pension! Under Ukraine we lived on the salary of my oldest son, it was approximately 45 euros and it was not enough for us, so my younger son also helped.
“He worked as a cameraman in Kiev. We really needed his help. He had to send us money because there was not even enough for food and medicine.
“When we became Russian, my oldest son got another salary, we were stunned by happiness. It seemed a lot, but afterwards the prices went up, that’s true. But the salary went up as well – it is something between 130 and 200 euros.”
At another neighbour’s we meet Gennady Gorbanyov, a sailor and captain.
“I was born in Leningrad, now it’s Saint Petersburg. We moved here in the early seventies, my mum and dad wanted to put down roots. We’ve even traced a family tree to pass onto our children and grandchildren.
… “here is a St. George cross and here is my grandfather, he was a sub-officer in the cavalry during the first World War.
…“I devoted my life to the sea and since 1970, for 45 years, I have been closely tied to the sea, and I am still working as a captain.
“We will endure all the hardships; the most important thing is that we are back home in Russia. The transport corridor has not been completed and as long as the bridge is not built, these hardships will go on. Before I couldn’t fill the tank of my car, 65 liters, with a Ukrainian pension, and now I can fill it up four times.
“I was working in merchant foreign companies, for example German companies, well, salary was 10 thousands dollars per month…you know?”
Along the 200 kilometres of road from Simferopol to Kerch are roadworks for expanding the main highway, a vital infrastructure for the connection between Crimea and Russia.
Located at the most eastern part of Crimea, the port is a hub for passage and transport to and from Russia. With ferries often fully booked and expensive, Russia has undertaken the ambitious construction of a bridge. Expectations – and costs – are high.
Many a project here has come under criticism. There have been many broken promises in Crimea.
Crimean Tatars, locals with Turkish and Mongolese lineage, are often at opposition with the Russian authorities. According to independent human rights organisations as many as 19 young Tatar men have gone missing since the Russian annexation. We met Ali Özembash, a representative of the Tatars’ council.
He says, “One of the characteristics of the way Russian people think is that one needs to be patient and that, with patience, everything will happen on its own. But there is not a single project that has been completed, even schools for example, have not been completed. They are building military infrastructures, and they have started to build roads now, but saying that Russia cares about the population of Crimea wouldn’t be right. That would be a lie, let’s put it this way.”
A multitude of Western companies exited Crimea due to the legal limbo generated by the annexation. Many employees lost their jobs.
We meet Yevghenya, who works with visiting media. “I used to work for international technical assistance projects, for more than 10 years. And now they have closed after the referendum because according to Russian legislation as far as I understood it is prohibited for these type of projects to work on the territory of Russia, so my project was closed.”
euronews:. “…and what are you doing now?”
“I am your fixer now,” she laughs.
It is rare that Yevghenya works as an assistant for visiting TV crews, and less often now as an interpreter. She is but an example of the many Crimeans out of work.
With restrictions from the Russian government and the financial obstacles created by international sanctions, Crimea and its people are becoming increasingly isolated.