Crimea

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.

Return to Russia: Crimeans Tell the Real Story of the 2014 Referendum and Their Lives Since

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Crimeans gather with Russian national and Crimea flags in Sevastopol, Crimea, March 14, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko | AP

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.”
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Crimean MP: “Crimea Under Ukraine Was Robbed”

In Simferopol, Crimea, in August, I met with Yuri Gempel, a Member of Parliament, and the Chairman of the Standard Commission on Inter-Ethnic Relations of the Parliament of Crimea.

Excerpt from our conversation:

“Crimea, under Ukraine, was robbed,” Gempel says. “Everything was taken by the government and representatives of the ruling elite of Ukraine. For the 23 years Crimea was a part of Ukraine, they robbed Crimea. Not a single kindergarten was built in Crimea during those years. Kindergartens built during Soviet times stopped functioning.

But the main issue is that during that time, the people still felt themselves to be in Russian territory, not Ukrainian, in language, culture and in spirit. Under Ukrainian rule, Crimeans were made to speak Ukrainian, although Crimeans’ native language is Russian. People were deprived of the right to be in state service if they did not speak Ukrainian.”

MintPress Sits Down with Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

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Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova weighs in on Syria, Crimea, the Moscow protests and more.
September 12, 2019, MintPress News

Moscow— In a simple meeting room at the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry building, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova gave me a generous hour of her time in a conversation peppered with bemused laughter at Western allegations about Russia and clear frustration at the West’s incessant vilification of all things Russia.

I traveled to Moscow in August, where to my delight I had the opportunity to interview Zakharova. Given that Russia is the focus of obsessive and largely negative Western media reporting, and also the country’s role in eliminating the proliferation of terrorist groups that once controlled large swaths of Syria, I wanted to ask Zakharova for her take on a variety of topics related to both Russia and Syria.

In our wide-ranging discussion, Zakharova spoke of the U.S. sanctions regime against Russia and of the Western interference in Russian domestic issues — such as the protests seen in Moscow in July and August.

On Syria, she addressed the issue of exploitation of children in propaganda against Syria and Russia — notably Omran Daqneesh, a child whose image was splashed across newspapers and screens worldwide in 2016, incriminating Russia and Syria in an airstrike that was later proven to have never happened. An official apology from one of the most adamant perpetrators of that narrative, CNN’sChristian Amanpour, also neverhappened.

One cannot discuss the war in Syria and related propaganda without addressing the massively-funded White Helmets. In discussing the group, Zakharova gave examples of its role in fomenting support for Western military intervention, including in pushing responsibility on the Syrian government for the alleged but unproven and, by most honest accounts, staged chemical attack in Douma, eastern Ghouta, in 2018. Footage of the attack included video starring the White Helmets and another exploited Syrian boy, Hassan Diab, whose testimony of the events ran in stark contrast to the allegations against the Syrian government that were being circulated in the Western media.

Zakharova also addressed the inconsistencies around the Skripal case, the historic importance of Crimea’s referendum, and the U.K. “media freedom” conference of July 2019, where cases of imprisoned journalists like Julian Assange and Kirill Vyshinsky were notably not part of the conference program.

In an unexpected development since my discussion with Zakharova, Ukrainian-Russian journalist and editor Vyshinsky was released from his over 15 months of imprisonment without trial by Ukraine. Referring to his imprisonment, Zakharova described him as a hostage.

The interview took place at a time when Western media reporting would have one believe that the streets of Moscow were full of chaos and unrest with the protests. In fact, contrary to media reporting, Moscow was calm, as were the protests I attended on August 10. Once again, it seemed, the media was hyping and distorting reality, as they have so often done elsewhere in the world.

Zakharova’s words are a reality check and offer an informative insight into the Russian perspective on Russian, Syrian, and global events.

Feature photo | Maria Zakharova sits down with Eva Bartlett at a Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry building in Moscow, Russia in August, 2019.  Eva Bartlett | MintPress News

 

Lovely Encounters In Sevastopol, Crimea

I have a lot to update on from various areas of Russia over the past few weeks, but have been working hard on a special project that takes priority over all my other work and over even simple updates (and which unfortunately two days ago I had to re-start from the beginning when my project and backup project inexplicably failed).

Yesterday was one of the few exceptions to me taking time from that project to post an update, because it’s just too lovely to not post while still buzzing from the happiness of the encounters I had in Crimea today, again.

Yesterday afternoon, I walked 25 minutes or so from my Simferopol hotel to the train station, managed to buy a ticket thanks to translation app (119 Rubles, several hundred fewer than the bus prices I was seeing online), and had a delightful train ride in a slow train filled with locals getting off/on the train periodically over the two hours of the journey.

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