Ordinary Russians desperately cling to their Crimean dreams

Russian tourists travel to Crimea despite explosions and queues at Kerch Bridge

Three residents of Crimea spoke to NV about life on the occupied peninsula and the Russians who continue to come here on vacations — despite regular bombings and difficult logistics.

Read also: Explosions rock occupied Crimea, smoke seen in Sevastopol Bay

Crimea has recently been experiencing numerous attacks on the military and infrastructure facilities of its Russian occupiers. Among the most prominent operations were drone strikes in Sevastopol, bombings of the Crimean Bridge, missile strikes on the Chonhar Bridge connecting the Crimea with occupied Kherson Oblast, and explosions in Dzhankoi.

In the midst of these events, NV spoke with three residents of the occupied peninsula about Crimeans’ mood, what life is like, the local population’s attempts to avoid conscription, and the ongoing construction through which the Russians are trying to prove that they have everything under control.

For the safety of its sources, NV is not giving their real names or publishing their photos.

Elmira, 37 years old, Simferopol

Crimea lives in a bubble. Thanks to the skillful work of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, there are no casualties among the civilian population [during attacks on military facilities]. Therefore, there is no fear or panic among the locals.

Read also: White House ‘skeptical’ about effectiveness of Ukrainian strikes on Crimea — report

Most of all, the population of Crimea is afraid of mobilization. Young men of military age have gone into hiding, traveling to their relatives so that they are not near their registered addresses and cannot be found.

In the autumn many men left, but now they are returning.

The attitude towards Ukraine, I think, has not changed. Everyone has remained in their positions. “Vatniks” [people with pro-Russian views] regurgitate all the usual nonsense about the West, which “wants to destroy Russia.” And those who were pro-Ukraine (most of my Crimean Tatar relatives plus a small handful of colleagues and acquaintances) are now shocked by what is happening every day.

It has always been expensive living in Crimea, and this is not changing. Gas prices are rising. Decent-quality electronics have long either not been available or only available at insane prices. There is a workaround to get things, as always. They are used to these schemes in Crimea.

Brand-name clothing can be ordered through intermediaries, but most now buy everything on Wildberries [a Russian online store of clothing, shoes, electronics, children's goods, and home goods]. They are usually made in China.

Real estate is not falling in price. People are building and planning for the future. When the [full-scale] war began, many hesitated to do so, but now everything is back to normal.

Now Crimeans themselves are mainly relaxing on the beaches. There are Russians who come as "barbarians" in their cars and erect tents. I don't see any classic beachgoers. Overall, in conversations, Russians are very dissatisfied with Crimean service.

There is a lot of military equipment in Crimea, especially on back roads. One time, we passed 30-40 covered KamAZ trucks. But we don’t see many soldiers on the streets. Or at least people try not to notice them.

Read also: Russia’s logistics problems in Crimea due to overloaded supply routes – Humeniuk

Settlers from the newly-occupied territories of Ukraine are not very favored here. They strain the locals, because they have flooded all state institutions. In addition, they are given certificates for housing if they give up theirs [in the places from which they left] in favor of the Russian Federation.

Oleg, 25 years old, Simferopol

The mood of people in Crimea is now uncertain. Residents have been divided into two large categories. Some have been waiting for changes for almost a decade, hoping that Ukraine will be able to regain the peninsula, and they now have hope that this will come to pass. These people exchange news and eagerly watch the liberation of territories.

The others are those who “came here in large numbers,” but they perceive current events differently: there are ardent Russian patriots who believe in the victory of Putin and Moscow, but there are also those who do not understand why it was necessary to launch a full-scale invasion. They believe that they seized Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk, and this was enough. Now they are afraid of where all this will lead. They don't like the rise in prices, and they don't like that the whole world has turned its back on Russians.

Both Crimeans and Russians who came here are afraid of explosions. When the tourist season began, many holidaymakers from Russia came here, but after the strikes people left en masse. Then a new wave drove in, and after the next explosions they left. Crimeans are simply enduring, and many understand that this is how it must be and that this is necessary [to liberate the territory]. But there are those who say: “The main thing is that the war does not reach us,” because they worry about themselves and their families.

After the explosion on the Crimean Bridge, tourists from Russia began to travel here through Mariupol, and the occupied part of Kherson Oblast – that is, practically a step away from hostilities. And all for the sake of relaxing? Either they have tremendous confidence in their country, or it's indifference.

Now a lot of people have come to the Tavrida.ART festival [Russian festival of youth art in the city of Sudak]. This event was prepared in advance and advertised.

If we talk about holidays in resort towns, then there are tourists in Alushta, Feodosia, and Sudak. They say that Yalta is also full.

Read also: Russia demolishes 465 damaged high-rises in occupied Mariupol

Queues at the Crimean Bridge are difficult to predict, and it is often simply closed. So many decide to go to the Russian Federation through the occupied regions, just to avoid the traffic jams in Kerch. Well, or out of fear of new explosions. That is, they deliberately choose the path through Melitopol, Mariupol, and so on, just so as not to go over the bridge.

Recently, my acquaintances have said that they left at four in the morning and waited in front of the bridge almost until evening. But sometimes people can move more quickly. You can't guess here.

Read also: The Kremlin is changing the rules of mobilization. Whom does Putin plan to call up for war

When mobilization began in Russia [in autumn 2022], many people left Crimea. People with Ukrainian passports went to Europe. If there are only Russian documents [some of the Crimeans have expired Ukrainian documents, and there are also children who reached the age of majority during the occupation], then they choose countries where they can enter — Turkey or Kazakhstan, for example.

Prices for everything have gone up. Everyone complains about the cost of fuel. Groceries are also expensive. Even those who come here to relax say: "Everything you have is so expensive."

The real estate situation is similar to the one in Donetsk. At some point, prices there rose, and then fell sharply. For example, an apartment that was first sold for $25,000-30,000 was then ‘given away’ for $5,000, because there was no longer any demand, as Russians had stopped buying them. The same thing happened in Crimea. At first, prices soared, but now the trend is opposite. A plot which cost $150,000 is being sold for $80,000, and still, no one would take it. Demand has fallen, just because of the current situation. People simply do not know what will happen tomorrow. A lot of things have also been put up for sale.

Construction in Crimea continues, and residential complexes and high-rise buildings are being built. Particularly in Simferopol, as well as near the Tavrida highway. All of this has funding. The Russians are laying new roads here and repairing the old ones. All this looks like what they want to show the local population, ‘look, we have everything under control, everything is fine.’

Military equipment is constantly being moved across Crimea. You can go to Tavrida and in five minutes you will see at least one military truck. Most of the equipment is transported on the Simferopol-Dzhankoy section, as well as along the Simferopol-Alushta road (there is a military unit in Perevalne).

The Russian military consider themselves heroes, and they go everywhere in uniform. They may ask: “I am a member of the SMO [special military operation], what discount can I get?” Those Crimeans who do not support Russia sometimes even fight them. They catch the wrong word, and everything turns into a spat. There have been stories of locals not allowing those in military uniforms into their establishments.

Read also: Exclusive video shows new unmanned naval vessels used in attack on Crimean Bridge

Sometimes you see people who were injured, and they were paid a couple of million [rubles], but they have never seen such money in their lives, so they walk around happy. They behave provocatively, asking others why they are not fighting.

Igor, 54 years old, village of Morske

There is no panic in Crimea. Nobody cares what happens. Here Chubarov [Refat Chubarov, chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people] is very aggravating, saying that there is panic in Crimea, but nothing like this is actually happening. No one is running away from here.

I remember last year's images from when there were explosions in Novofedorivka: a man was standing on the beach, sunbathing and looking in the direction of these black clouds of smoke. And all the other vacationers were just looking at it. That is, nothing was happening after the explosions, and nothing changed for people. There is not even a rush for fuel. Only after the first explosion on the Crimean bridge did everyone buy gasoline, and I did, too. But it was half a day, and then fuel was delivered, and everyone calmed down.

People have been traveling from Russia and continue to do so — not just for vacation, but also to buy up land. My wife and I monitor the situation with real estate, and no one is selling anything. Apartment prices are not falling.

I don't understand why the Russians are not afraid to come here. Maybe they're not informed at all about what's going on, or they're just that dumb, or they just don't care.

I thought that this year there would be no holiday season in Crimea at all. And my personal opinion is that it is a big mistake that Ukraine allowed the opportunity for it to happen.

Read also: Urozhayne liberated, Crimean Bridge strike video, why F-16s are being delayed

As the Armed Forces of Ukraine have approached Crimea, there were fewer cars with the letters Z and V on the peninsula. Some local deputies and officials [talking about local collaborators who have been cooperating with the occupation authorities since 2014] began to remove [pro-Russian posts] from their social media. They are now invisible and not heard from. They have even begun to avoid various official events that they were supposed to attend, like the May 9 parade and other celebrations. This is very revealing.

Prices began to slowly rise after the ruble fell. And now they are climbing for fuel. Food prices remain at the level of last year, especially for vegetables and fruits, like tomatoes, potatoes, and watermelons. They [the Russians] are now robbing Kherson Oblast and importing things from there.

In Crimea, the construction of new housing is actively ongoing. A huge complex is currently being built in Sudak, where apartments cost from 14 million rubles [$150,000], and everything is already sold out. There is another project — the Raketa residential complex on the site of a former military unit, and they already have ten floors there. Russian companies are building all this.

Read also: Expect more actions to liberate Crimea soon, says Budanov

The only thing that pleases me as a local resident is that gardens and vineyards have been restored. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it all fell into decay, and they were literally destroyed. And now I travel all over Crimea and see grapes, peaches, apples, and many orchards are growing in Kirovsky, Starokrymsky, and Sudaksky districts. Russia is investing heavily in all this.

There are very few cars with Ukrainian plates here [on the southeast coast]. Maybe 1-2% of the total. But sometimes I see the FSB driving cars taken from Ukrainians.

Read also: How Ukraine prepared maritime drones for its successful second attack on the Crimean Bridge

Since 2014, my wife and I have never crossed the border with Russia, and we have not traveled along the Crimean Bridge. We didn't want to, on principle. If the bombing starts, we will decide something. But I do not think that this region will be bombed, as — there are almost no military units here. The only thing that scares me is that when the front line is closer to the Crimea, the Russians can be very cruel to Crimeans. That is scary.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine