ShareThis Page
News

Crimeans given 2 options in referendum, neither is status quo

| Friday, March 14, 2014, 10:19 a.m.
Armed men, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stand beneath a Russian flag outside of a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, on Thursday, March 13, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Armed men, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stand beneath a Russian flag outside of a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, on Thursday, March 13, 2014.
Oksana Rasskalova, 43, an artist who paints along a promenade next to the Black Sea in Yalta, a Russian by birth, believes that the outcome of Crimea's referendum vote is predictable, and that Crimea will become part of Russia.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Oksana Rasskalova, 43, an artist who paints along a promenade next to the Black Sea in Yalta, a Russian by birth, believes that the outcome of Crimea's referendum vote is predictable, and that Crimea will become part of Russia.
While many in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula try to live life as close to normal as possible, much uncertainty remains about what is to come after the March 16th referendum vote.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
While many in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula try to live life as close to normal as possible, much uncertainty remains about what is to come after the March 16th referendum vote.
Oleg Ignatyev, 42, an artist and jeweler, supports the referendum in Crimea to join with Russia. 'We have the same spirit as the Russians,' he said.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Oleg Ignatyev, 42, an artist and jeweler, supports the referendum in Crimea to join with Russia. 'We have the same spirit as the Russians,' he said.
Lena Ushachova initially happy when the Russian soldiers came to Crimea, although now feels the propaganda is all pro-Russian says, 'I will vote to be part of Ukraine.'  She continues, 'I just want to show the authorities, if they are interested in knowing, that not 100% of us are with joining Russia.'
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Lena Ushachova initially happy when the Russian soldiers came to Crimea, although now feels the propaganda is all pro-Russian says, 'I will vote to be part of Ukraine.' She continues, 'I just want to show the authorities, if they are interested in knowing, that not 100% of us are with joining Russia.'
Armed men, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stand guard outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, where Ukrainian soldiers are besieged inside on Thursday, March 13, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Armed men, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stand guard outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, where Ukrainian soldiers are besieged inside on Thursday, March 13, 2014.
Armed men, believed to be a Russian serviceman, walk along a road outside of a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, where Ukrainian soldiers are besieged inside on Thursday, March 13, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Armed men, believed to be a Russian serviceman, walk along a road outside of a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, where Ukrainian soldiers are besieged inside on Thursday, March 13, 2014.
Armed men, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stand guard outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, where Ukrainian soldiers are besieged inside on Thursday, March 13, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Armed men, believed to be a Russian serviceman, stand guard outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean city of Simferopol, where Ukrainian soldiers are besieged inside on Thursday, March 13, 2014.

YALTA, Ukraine — Along the promenade of this historic Black Sea resort, billboards tout Sunday's referendum on Crimea's future.

“Join with Russia,” urges one with white, blue and red bands of Russia's flag as a background.

On another, a bouquet of snowdrop flowers is held together by a white-blue-red ribbon with a message: “Spring, Crimea, Russia.”

Artist Oksana Rasskalova, 43, puts down her paintbrush to explain the political reality that is foremost in every Crimean mind: “The majority of people here came from Russia. It is predictable what our choice will be.”

But separating from the rest of the country will be “really sad,” she says. “My mom lives in Ukraine, and we will be divided.

“The only thing I don't like about this referendum is that there is no compromise – it is Russia and no other side. … People voting yes or no, it doesn't matter. It has already been decided what will happen.”

The referendum appears to offer two options for Crimeans, but neither allows them to choose the status quo, experts say. The choices are to join the Russian Federation or to restore the 1992 Constitution and Crimea's status as part of Ukraine.

That second option would revive a document adopted soon after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 but then quickly rescinded by a newly independent Ukrainian government. It would allow Crimea to become independent and to make its own foreign-policy choices.

On streets and in shops here, many people are visibly reluctant to speak with a foreigner about the situation, or offer only a first name if they do talk.

For many, there appears to be only one real option.

“I am going to vote for joining Russia,” says Oleg Ignatyev, 42, another artist. “Aside from the politics and the economy, our mentality is different from the rest of Ukraine. We have the same spirit as the Russians.”

“You see that no one has ever felt that Crimea was part of Ukraine,” Rasskalova explains. And while Russian President Vladimir Putin may be a tyrant, “he made life better for many Russians.”

At the Crimean parliament in Simferopol, the regional capital, the only flags flying are Russian and Crimean. Russian Cossacks and local self-defense groups stand outside.

About 200 Ukrainian marines are inside their base in the nearby village of Perevalnoye, besieged by what many Ukrainians call “the mystery men in green” — thought to be Russian soldiers, with no insignia on their uniforms.

Andrey Karaulow, 43, a retired military officer, is part of that self-described defense group outside the base. Orange-and-black armbands on their military fatigues signify the Order of St. George, established by Russia's Catherine the Great in 1769; the colors symbolize fire and gunpowder.

“The referendum is the best way to see what people here want,” Karaulow insists. “We were slaves to Ukraine. We are free people and want to be free.”

He believes Crimea “will return to Russia, as it always was,” and “negate” the “mistake” of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

In 1954, Khrushshev signed Crimea over to Ukraine — but Ukraine was then part of the Soviet Union, until its 1991 breakup.

“On the Fourth of July, 1776, America declared independence and nobody tried to intervene,” Karaulow says.

As for those besieged Ukrainian marines, he says they will have three options if Crimea secedes: “Whoever wants to continue to work for Ukraine, we will create a green cordon to allow them to leave safely.” Those who want to stay in Crimea can do so; others, he thinks, may want to leave the military entirely.

Sipping coffee on the boardwalk in Alushta along the Black Sea, Lena Ushacho says she was initially happy when Russian soldiers — those “mystery men” ­— arrived.

“The Russian speakers were not oppressed here. But they felt that the new government would prohibit the Russian language — as they tried to do,” says Ushacho, 51, a shop owner.

“We saw the Russian troops and thought we were safe, and I felt at peace here.” But now “the propaganda is all pro-Russian, and they shut down all the Ukrainian television channels. Now we only get Russian channels.”

She will “vote to be part of Ukraine. I just want to show the authorities — if they are interested in knowing — that not 100 percent of us are with joining Russia.”

In this area, with its seaside boardwalks, cypress-lined streets and mountain backdrops, many Crimeans survive on tourism. Right now, tourists are canceling reservations and staying away; people here hope that will change in a year or two — under Russia.

“We will see in three years, who was right and who was wrong,” says Rasskalova, the painter.

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me