Crimeans adjusting to Russian life

View of port of Feodosiya. Source: wikipedia

View of port of Feodosiya. Source: wikipedia

A Muscovite who recently visited the peninsula shares his impressions of the region that is in a state of transition.

“Why don’t we go for a week to Crimea, to catch some sun,” I ask my wife. We decide to drive to Kerch and then take a ferry to Crimea instead of wasting time on the border and travelling through Ukraine's southeast, where the situation remains tense. Already on the way, we call our friends who left for the same holiday home in Feodosiya slightly ahead of us. “We spent six hours in the queue to the ferry,” they warn us.

Waiting for the ferry

There is a huge traffic jam to get to the port. There are cars here with license plates from Moscow and Moscow Region, Voronezh, Krasnodar, Kazan…

Some six kilometers from the ferry embarkation point, I switch off the engine, for as far as my eyes can see, there are rows of cars. On the side of the road, there are makeshift toilets, rubbish containers and a bit further on I can see a tent selling water. The time is 17.25.

After a while, people in the queue start talking to each other: there are no complaints or panic, they are just discussing everyday matters. Women are not wasting any time either: some have already changed and are sunbathing under the evening sun and others are playing with children, while one lady is walking her dog.

It is getting dark, tourists return to their cars, some are taking a nap. The road is poorly lit, so the only thing that does not let one go to sleep properly is the need to move several metres ahead every 30 or so minutes.

The time is 00.30. Everything is quiet. Even the two policemen who are guarding us are no longer chatting with each other.

By the middle of the night, I decide to not check my watch any more. Finally, after a desperate leap forward, we are at the port. We pass the road barrier, get a piece of paper certifying the length of our car. After a quick security check, we take a place in the 11th row for embarkation. While my wife is sleeping, along with other drivers, I go the port terminal to get the tickets. Despite the late hour, there are long queues at the four ticket offices that are open.

Having bought the tickets, I return to the car to get some sleep. The next thing I remember is a port official knocking on the window to tell us that it is time to move.

Some 20 minutes later we enter the Port Krym Bay. After more than 11 hours of waiting for the ferry, my attention is not so acute but I see that there are neither police nor military personnel meeting us in Crimea. A port official behind a window sees that we have a ticket and waves us through so that we do not detain the others.

Not everybody has got used to living in Russia

After the queue for the ferry, I was under the impression that Crimea will be packed with tourists. Not so. The farther we drive, the more vacancies signs we see. Officially, the season opens only on June 15, which may be the reason why there are fewer people in the streets of Feodosiya than usual.

On our walk to the Ivan Aivazovsky museum through souvenir stalls, we see a tourist information desk offering different excursions for tourists. The lady in charge, Viktoria, is concerned that there will a problem with tourists this year: “Of the six million [tourists] visiting Crimea every year, four million were Ukrainians, some 800,000 came from Russia, there were also tourists from Poland and Belarus, who are now unlikely to return.”

Having bought us a tour to the Karadag mountain, I join my wife, who is checking a cosmetics display at a nearby stall. I ask the lady selling the cosmetics how her business is going and what her expectations for this summer are. Lyuda is optimistic about the future:  “True, previously we had mainly Ukrainian tourists coming here. But they normally came with their food and their drinks. Now, as ever, we hope for Russians. A khokhol [a slightly derogatory or jocular word for a Ukrainian] will kill for a kopeck, while Russians are a pleasure to be doing business with.” This pensioner sees only good things in Crimea joining Russia: her pension has been raised and she has not noticed a considerable rise in prices, “even water running from the tap has become cleaner.”

Whereas the lady Lyuda shares her stall with disagrees. She says “things are a mess and it is not yet clear what the Ukrainian authorities and the ‘African’ who runs them will come up with.” Both women agree on one thing: the most important thing is that a war has been avoided. It seems Vladimir Putin, who is looking at them from behind his sunglasses from a souvenir T-shirt with a caption ‘The most polite man on earth,’ approves…

At the Aivazovsky museum, a young man standing in front of an 1887 painting called Volga asks the museum attendant how come the ship depicted in the picture has a Russian tricolour on its mast. This may be just ordinary ignorance or it may be that not everybody has yet fully comprehended what happened and why.

Vladimir, the co-owner of the holiday home where we are staying, looks at things from the business point of view: prices have nearly doubled, for example on construction materials with the exception of timber, on cigarettes, meat, bread. Out of habit, he quotes prices in hryvnyas, leaving it to me to multiply them by three to get their ruble equivalents. Vladimir and his family voted for reunification with Russia, and despite some temporary difficulties, do not regret their decision. “Some friends of ours got a Moscow license plate for their car and drove to Moscow. They were stopped by traffic police and it turned out that the license plate was not yet in the database. The police wanted to impound their car, but they managed to prove that they are from Crimea, although it turned out that the numbers of the Russian passports they had been issued with were not in the system either. It is if we are living in a non-existent country,” Vladimir smiles. “But the main thing now is to build the Kerch bridge.”

His son-in-law Aleksandr too says it is a good thing that Crimea joined Russia, otherwise the peninsula would now “go through the same things as Donetsk and Luhansk regions are going through.” 

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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