YALTA, Russia — Six months after Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula was annexed by Russia, some here say they have prospered while others express anger, uncertainty or fear.
The appropriation, which came less than two days after Crimean voters backed secession from Ukraine in a widely questioned referendum, has resulted in the adoption of the Russian ruble and the nationalization of assets and companies once owned by the Ukrainian state. Russia has also assumed responsibility for pensions, and businesses must re-register with the Russian authorities.
The change has been good for some business owners.
“As the owner of a private taxi, my business has grown,” said Vladimir Tolmachyov, 45, a retired army officer who voted in favor of Crimea becoming independent, which was followed closely by an accord signed between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Crimea’s new Moscow-backed leaders. “Many Russians always used to be interested in Crimea. Now (that) there are no customs procedures or border crossing, they can come.”
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At Treasure Island restaurant, offering vistas of sun-kissed beaches and the shimmering Black Sea, manager Stanislav Leonov said business was typically slow during August, just before school begins. This year, though, the crowds did not diminish. Replacing families were throngs of visitors from across Russia, some from as far as Siberia, Leonov said.
“I’m sure it’s all due to patriotic feelings of coming back home,” the 32-year-old Yalta native said of the peninsula, which was ruled by Russia and the Soviet Union from the 18th century until it was transferred to Ukraine in 1954. “Before, people did not have the motivation. Now they do. Crimea has always been a multinational territory, but it’s always been Russia.”
Though many supporters of Russian authority in Crimea point to positive changes, it has not been welcomed by the region’s ethnic Tatar community, which has strong reservations. In Takhta-Dzhami, a Tatar village about 45 miles north of Yalta, there is fear and apprehension.
“Our people, we don’t know what awaits us tomorrow,” said Abide Sidarova, until recently the local council representative for the settlement of 800 residents. “We are worried about the whole situation. We need time to think. We have to compare the life we had before in Ukraine and the new conditions.”
Takhta-Dzhami was created 23 years ago with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the return of thousands of Tatars who had been deported to Uzbekistan in 1944 by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Their suffering is well-documented, and there is concern that it could be starting again.
“We were used to freedom of speech in Ukraine,” Sidarova said. “We would have peaceful rallies. Now we are banned from doing this.”
On this May 18, the community was not given permission to commemorate Crimea Tatar Memorial Day, marking the 70th anniversary of the deportation, Sidarova said. But several people gathered anyway, under the watchful eye of military helicopters. On June 26, they were banned from celebrating the annual Tatar Flag Day. In recent weeks, Tatar homes and mosques were searched by Russian authorities, Sidarova said.
“We Crimea Tatars are tolerant, friendly and hardworking,” she said. “We obey the law, but we feel the authorities don’t trust us.”
The stress is particularly poignant among the elderly.
Elyame Kurtmulayeva, 73, remembers the old days. Her family was deported. Of four children, she was the only one to survive. Her 6-month-old sister died during the grueling train journey to Uzbekistan. Soviet authorities simply tossed the corpse out the window, she said.
“We suffered in Uzbekistan,” said Kurtmulayeva, affectionately called Grandma Emma.
When Tatars returned to their Crimean homeland in the early 1990s, Ukraine welcomed them.
“Ukraine gave us plots of land. We love Ukraine so much,” Kurtmulayeva said. “But how will it be with Russia? Russia did nothing for us. We are waiting for Ukraine to take us back.”
Her daughter-in-law, Elmira Kurtmulayeva, 42, runs a small grocery store in the village with her husband. At the end of the year, they will have to re-register the family business as a Russian enterprise. It’s one formal step toward accepting what seems to be irreversible: Russian rule in Crimea.
“Our people lived in Uzbekistan and Ukraine, and we are grateful to them,” Sidarova said. “Now we need more time to get used to Russia. We can’t just wake up one morning and become Russian patriots.”