Crimean residents talk about life in the occupied peninsula after the explosions

19 August, 10:38 AM
A series of explosions in Crimea brought an end to the peninsula's already low tourist season (Photo:Reuters)

A series of explosions in Crimea brought an end to the peninsula's already low tourist season (Photo:Reuters)

August in the annexed Crimea began nervously and loudly. First, a series of powerful explosionsthundered at the Russian air base of Saky on Aug. 9. On Aug 16th, this was followed by a fire at a transformer and the detonation ofammunition in warehouses near the town of Dzhankoy, as well as explosions over the air base near Simferopol.

According to military experts, these “fireworks” were the result of the excellent work of the special forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as a result of which they managed to destroy a dozen enemy aircraft and important strategic objects of the invaders. Despite the fact that Russian officials continue to call the incident a typical accident, the series of blasts sowed real panic among civilians. Videos of tourists running in horror went viral on the Internet, and hourly traffic jams formed on the Kerch Strait Bridge to Russia.

Video of day

NV spoke with residents of the occupied peninsula about the peculiarities of this holiday season, and the life of Crimeans themselves after the situation escalated. Their replies are printed here in full and edited for clarity.

Valeria, works in tourism and the hotel-restaurant business in Yevpatoriya

Last year, Crimea had one of the best tourist seasons since the occupation, mainly due to an influx of wealthy tourists and the middle class. Back then, reservations in small hotels were completely sold out ahead of time.

But wealthy tourists are used to coming by planes, so this year there are very few of them. In June the hotels were actually empty, in July they were only 30% full. After all, safety plays an important role for wealthy tourists. So the hotel reservations were canceled with the comments like “We are scared, we will go to Sochi.” Only by the beginning of August did they feel that the season had begun: occupancy reached 80-90%, and the number of people on the streets and in restaurants increased – though this was partly due to wounded Russian soldiers. They, as a rule, insistently asked about provided benefits, and then they energetically limp to get the most expensive coffee.

But that was before the explosion in Novofedorivka. Since the village is located close to Yevpatoriya, first we had a stream of frightened tourists rushing to us from there, and by the end of the week there was a decline in tourists. Now they begin to gradually disperse, and new ones aren’t coming. For example, my friend was supposed to come from Moscow to visit, but in light of what happened, the trip was canceled.

Tourists also tell us about long traffic jams on the Crimean bridge. And now these jams are stretching from both sides, because the Russian military is being very meticulous in checking documents and searching cars.

By Aug. 12, colleagues from Novofedorivka and Saky had already begun complaining that their planned groups had fled - they were afraid of arriving missiles, because on that day the Russian Federation celebrated Air Force Day. Here in Crimea, people are also beginning to focus on significant dates. But, despite the tense situation, the locals themselves still aren’t leaving en masse - there are many farms in the countryside, and people are afraid for their homes.

After the explosions in Dzhankoy, the parents of my friend from Azovskoe jumped into their car  without documents and left the village in what they were staying. They weren’t able to come back. The military cordoned off the perimeter, announced an evacuation, and those who wanted to return for their relatives weren’t allowed. So people began to make their way home through the fields. This is a story where at first the panic knocks you out, and you start to run away, but you come to your senses and understand that you won’t last long without a house.

Now there is no panic, but the standby mode is activated in one's mind. We understand that we need to be careful and stay away from potential points of attack. There are no air raid alarms in the villages, but there are loudspeakers that remind you that this is a yellow zone level of danger. But there are already rumors that give rise to mistrust. For example, people are chatting that although the published photos from Simferopol show only broken windows and scattered pieces of paper, in fact the building has been smashed to pieces from the other side.

In such discussions, it is important to keep your own counsel, as snitching is now highly developed in Crimea, especially in the villages. For example, four families live on our street who openly talk about these topics and adhere to a pro-Ukrainian position. And then one neighbor absolutely openly called the FSB (Russian security service). Fortunately, the first time they come, it’s usually to give a warning. So everything worked out. But they took some information from the neighbors.

The ones who are absolutely unshakable and serenely calm in the current situation are Russian patriots who are guided by the TV. These folks aren’t going anywhere and all the time are repeating mantras that everything will be fine, and that they believe in victory. Or, as my 70-year-old neighbor likes to say: “I trust Putin more than myself!”

In the meantime, earning money here is becoming increasingly difficult. Agricultural products are worth a penny now, because the residents of the occupied Kherson Oblast have nowhere to sell fruits and vegetables. That is why they bring them to the Crimea and dump them so much that sometimes one feels sorry for local farmers. 15 rubles (about 0,25 USD) per kilogram of tomatoes, which require a lot of time, effort and expensive fertilizers to grow.

Cars with Kherson license plates often come to the markets. They need not only to sell goods, but also to buy flour and sugar that are in short supply at home. These, like other products, have jumped in price since February. My friend at the service station keeps spare parts in reserve, because it is difficult to imagine at what price they can be sold tomorrow.

The situation is now changing so dynamically that even if you leave here for a couple of days, you can return back to a completely different Crimea.

Marina, owner of a hotel in Partenit

The Yalta area is relatively calm. But there are only a few buses, and visitors take taxis, which have doubled their prices. For example, it is no longer possible to get to Sevastopol through the Kerch Bridge for less than 5 thousand rubles (around 83 USD) if one enters Crimea from the side of the bridge. At some point, there was a wave of canceled bookings.

And all the locals do is correspond in chat rooms about how loud planes in the sky are, as they fly towards Kherson. They say it's a creepy view to behold.

About explosions at the airfield and other incidents, people say that they are 200% sure it's sabotage. They say that some former Ukrainian officials who still work here, are "already singing the anthem of Ukraine."

At the same time, they scare each other with stories about saboteurs. For example, they will say that a group of Ukrainian saboteurs, consisting of twenty people, entered Crimea. At the same time, the saboteurs allegedly behave strangely - they hide in the catacombs, walk along the beaches in sneakers, chat with everyone, they also have push-button phones and they ride old model (Daewoo) Lanos cars. Don’t ask what Lanos’ have to do with any of it - folk stories can be very imaginative.

All this creates tension in society as people glance towards the Kerch bridge. Some sites are selling cars in Crimea and they have a lot of ads that go like “I’m selling a car urgently because I'm moving away.”

Real estate prices have frozen, although they are not falling yet. However, there are already a lot of similar ads for the sale of businesses, like small hotels and boarding houses. I don’t think there is an exodus yet, but such sentiments are in the air.

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