Some of my travels in Crimea this August, where everyone I spoke with supported the 2014 referendum to join Russia, or as they said: return to Russia. Beautiful peninsula, visit if you can!
My article on traveling around Crimea, and what the people I was meeting had to say on life pre & post referendum was published at Mint Press News.
With additional photos on my blog.
North of Donetsk, I visit Krutaya Balka village, on the outskirts of Yasinovataya, another heavily hit area.
The village is divided into two parts: one part exposed on the front-line, we can’t go there, the road leading to it is under sniper fire; the other half of the village is slightly further away, and has 15 people still living there, again mostly elderly.
Just off a road prone to Ukrainian sniping, I interview Ryka, the young-looking DPR Platoon Commander who has accompanied me here.
Eva Bartlett traveled to Crimea to see firsthand out how Crimeans have fared since 2014 when their country reunited with Russia, and what the referendum was really like.
October 9, 2019, Mint Press News
SIMFEROPOL, CRIMEA — In early August I traveled to Russia for the first time, partly out of interest in seeing some of the vast country with a tourist’s eyes, partly to do some journalism in the region. It also transpired that while in Moscow I was able to interview Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman of the Foreign Ministry.
High on my travel list, however, was to visit Crimea and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) — the former a part of Russia, the latter an autonomous republic in the east of Ukraine, neither accurately depicted in Western reporting. Or at least that was my sense looking at independent journalists’ reports and those in Russian media.
Both regions are native Russian-speaking areas; both opted out of Ukraine in 2014. In the case of Crimea, joining Russia (or actually rejoining, as most I spoke to in Crimea phrased it) was something people overwhelmingly supported. In the case of the Donbass region, the turmoil of Ukraine’s Maidan coup in 2014 set things in motion for the people in the region to declare independence and form the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.
In March 2014, Crimeans held a referendum during which 96 percent of voters chose to join Russia. This has been heavily disputed in Western media, with claims that Crimeans were forced to hold the referendum and claims of Russian troops on the streets “occupying” the peninsula.
Because Western media insisted the referendum was a sham held under duress, and because they bandy about the term “pro-Russian separatists” for the people of the DPR, I decided to go and speak to people in these areas to hear what they actually want and feel.
From the Russian mainland to the Crimean Peninsula
From St. Petersburg, where I spent a few touristy days, I booked a flight to Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, and on August 22 I landed at the attractive new airport. A Russian-American friend, Vlad, flies in from Moscow and together we rent a car and drive to Alushta, a tourist-packed seaside area to the south.
As we drive from the airport, Vlad can’t get over the changes in the airport, which had been dank and barely functional when he last visited:
When I came here at the end of 2014, Simferopol Airport was very dated: small and stuffy, low ceilings, small windows; the bathrooms didn’t work, there was a constant stench in the air, and many facilities weren’t working — even the baggage carousels didn’t work properly. There were no restaurants or cafes, and no places to rent taxis. Now, it’s a world-class international airport.”
We drive south along smooth roads, passing endless vineyards on either side, flanked by low mountains. As Vlad drives, he comments on the condition of the roads, which five years prior were so rough “you had to swerve to dodge the potholes.”
When in the Donetsk People’s Republic and visiting the Mine 6-7 area, I saw a school whose basement is now used as a shelter.
There, I met an elderly couple who have been living in that dank, stinking, basement for six years, their home destroyed.
Outside the battered school, Dmitry commented: “You see, each dot on the wall is from shrapnel. Of course there were direct hits also.” One of the direct hits is a hole in the roof of the building.
In the basement a musty stink overwhelmed.
Sitting in one corner of the paint-chipped, barebones, room, what possessions they were able to salvage piled near them, an older couple explained that their house was destroyed by two direct hits with heavy artillery, and that their only hope is to get Russian passports, that this will somehow end the war.
“Before the ceasefire, when Ukraine would shell, the DPR military would respond and the Ukrainian side would be stop shooting for a couple of weeks, because they were afraid. Now, we are in a ceasefire, the Ukrainian side shoots whenever they want and no one holds them accountable.”
When in Moscow in August, I met Victoria Polikarpova, head of the International News Desk at Sputnik News, and Daria Gerasina, head of the English language newswire.
Victoria was showing me around Sputnik and we got to speaking about the reflexive Russiophobic reaction some people have when it comes from news emanating from Sputnik (or RT.com).
Victoria and Daria speak of the attacks (from the US mainly) on Sputnik and cognitive dissonance media consumers face regarding Russian news.
“…It’s hard to work in this atmosphere, because you’ve been labelled as ‘disinformation’, and you cannot access officials, especially US officials.
During the last three years, it’s been awful in terms of getting any kind of interviews, especially with Congressmen, Senators, and even with experts, because they’re afraid to be labelled propaganda too. Because if you speak to a Russian agency, then you can be accused of working for the Kremlin.”