Crimeans voice their opinions ahead of Sunday’s referendum
By Nicholas A. Waller, Friday, March 14, 2014
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine - Crimea’s status will be put to a referendum on March 16 as residents will be asked whether the strategic Black Sea peninsula should remain an autonomous republic of Ukraine or declare its independence and join the Russian Federation.
Condemned by the international community and the interim government in Kiev, Moscow and Crimea’s pro-Russian parliament have steadfastly defended the vote as valid and a legal exercise in self-determination.
Four residents representing Crimea’s ethnic diversity explain their plans for Sunday’s vote and opinions of the region’s past, present and future.
Sasha (Ukrainian) northern Crimea, 60, organic farm owner
I'm proudly Ukrainian. My parents were Ukrainian. My family is originally from Donetsk.
I spent 15 years living in Moscow running a financially successful business and have both Ukrainian and Russian citizenship.
I decided to come back to Ukraine and set up a farming business. I have every one of Crimea’s nationalities working for me. All the Tatars and Ukrainians are vehemently opposed to the annexation. To be honest, the Russians who work for me are unhappy with it as well.
What worries me is what will happen to all my assets registered with Ukrainian banks if Russia annexed the region.
I think this might lead to Putin’s downfall. Russia simply can't afford to financially absorb Crimea. Putin just spent US$50 billion on the Sochi Olympics and Russia’s economy is stagnating. The ruble is falling… It just doesn't make financial sense from Moscow’s standpoint. There’s no money in Russia’s budget.
The Russians in Crimea have a lot of wild illusions that Moscow will come and pay for everything… rebuild the economy and infrastructure, increase pensions, subsidize everything. They all believe Russian tourists will suddenly stop wanting to visit Europe on their vacations and return to the old Soviet resorts from 30 years ago.
They are living in the past.
I will vote in the referendum on Sunday and I hope the West helps Ukraine improve our standard of living. This is a golden opportunity for us.
Igor (Russian) Yevpatoria, 45, Chechen War veteran
As a young officer in the marines, I pledged allegiance to the Soviet Union, never to Moscow or Kiev. I am Russian, from Crimea and a patriot. I've worked as a contract soldier in the Russian Army for 20 years and fought in the Second Chechen War.
Crimea will be a very expensive venture for Russia, but this is a unique chance for us to reclaim what has always been ours. We're not afraid of the international community. The West will never impose sanctions… they have too many economic ties and are energy dependent on Russia.
Unfortunately, the same won't happen in eastern Ukraine. They're too Ukrainian now and it would be too dangerous for Russia. If Crimea were to become like Abkhazia or South Ossetia, that would be fine too.
The referendum on Sunday is an important moment in our history and I am proud to participate.
Ilyas (Russian-Tatar) Simferopol, 26, engineer
For young professionals, I would say it’s about a 50-50 split for and against. Some young Tatars have an inherent dislike of Russia because of the past, but most of us are thinking in economic terms these days.
A lot of my friends work in the hospitality industry and hope for a big boost in business from Russia. They would prefer tourists from Moscow instead of Kiev because Russians have so much more money than people in Ukraine.
Ukraine is entering into very hard economic times. The country is bankrupt. As young people, we’re worried about our future. Joining Russia means unemployment will fall, the pensions will rise and things will really stabilize in Crimea.
Economically, it’s obviously more viable for us to be a part of Russia.
I worked in Kiev for two years, but resigned due to the security situation there and because we hadn't been paid for over four months.
Ukraine is going in the wrong direction. The Maidan protests were a disaster for the country.
I haven't decided if I'll vote on Sunday.
Enver (Tatar) Ukromnoe, 52, café owner
I came back to Crimea from Uzbekistan in 1987. When I first got here we weren't allowed to leave our villages. We were only allowed to travel from home to work and back.
We all know what’s going to happen… it’s already been decided for us in Moscow. Russia has already annexed Crimea. Look at all of the soldiers here. Yes, they have no insignias and won't tell anyone where they are from. But they all have sophisticated equipment, training and Russian number plates.
Russian TV comes up with all kinds of crazy explanations and names for them. Who are they kidding? Everyone knows who they are.
We Tatars haven’t had an easy go of it. We're a small nation and have been discriminated against by both Russians and Ukrainians. We stick together and never respond to any provocations. That’s how we've survived all these years. It’s why we won't resort to violence. We've seen enough blood and oppression in our history and just want to go on living.
What Russia is doing is an insanely dangerous precedent to set. The Russian population here all believe Moscow will come and pay for everything, give them whatever they want. They have a lot of misplaced expectations. Russia just doesn't have the money to annex a poor place like Crimea.
I worry Russia’s imperial ambitions extend far beyond Crimea -- look at Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It would be a huge mistake for the world to turn a blind eye.
I will most certainly take part in the referendum so my vote cannot be stolen from me.
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