How Has Life In Crimea Changed Since Russia Seized It From Ukraine?
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So it's been nearly four years now since Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine by force. This was a move that led to sanctions against Russia, also soured relations between Russia and the West. NPR's Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim was in Crimea when Russian troops arrived, and he returned there this week. We began our conversation with Lucian talking about the changes he's noticed since Russia took over.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: What I found most surprising is that people were afraid to talk on microphone even if they support the takeover, even if they support Russian President Vladimir Putin. The main complaint I heard from almost everyone I talked to was that there's not enough work, that prices have doubled because the land connection to Ukraine has been cut. One driver even told me that the bribes have doubled.
GREENE: Well, that's so interesting because wasn't part of Russia's promise to improve life for Crimeans economically? So it sounds like there might be some reason for regret and that you're hearing some of that.
KIM: Well, exactly. I mean, I was surprised. I actually met one young man in the pedestrian zone here in Simferopol, and he said he voted in the referendum, which was never really recognized by any other country, but he voted in that referendum for joining Russia, and now he's very unhappy and wants to leave. He doesn't like the lack of political freedom and the lack of economic opportunity. But he is in a minority. Most Crimeans did support the annexation and continue to support it despite all the economic hardship. People tell me they think it would be much worse in Ukraine, which often can be quite a dysfunctional place. Or, they look at the war which is going on in Eastern Ukraine. They say, well, at least we don't have that.
And I think it's important to also say that even vocal critics of the annexation here in Crimea say not everything is bad. There really have been new investments such as kindergartens, schools, roads, hospitals, even some new power stations. All that is being built because Crimea is a prestige project for Vladimir Putin.
GREENE: And how much of this is about trust in Vladimir Putin? I mean, we see that, you know, in Russia obviously there are people who feel economic hardship but still have faith in that president.
KIM: I think it's very much tied to his personality. People were criticizing the level of corruption, the lack of jobs. And at the same time, they said they were ready to vote for Putin in the upcoming election because he had, in their words, reunified Crimea with Russia and accomplished this historic mission.
GREENE: And Lucian, I mean, I know it's official policy still of the United States that Crimea belongs to Ukraine, right? Is there any prospect of Crimea ever going back to Ukraine, or is this Russian control basically permanent?
KIM: Well, it's hard to imagine this annexation being reversed anytime soon in part because the population is either just completely apolitical or actually supports the Russian presence here in Crimea. People aren't particularly pro-Ukrainian because after Ukrainians got independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian state did quite a poor job in building a strong identity in Crimea and establishing a sense of loyalty to the state.
Another reason why it will be hard to reverse this process is that Russia is really doing its best to make it irreversible. There's a huge military buildup here in Crimea. And at the same time, Russia is in a big rush to finish a bridge connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland, and they're hoping that this will also solve some of the logistical problems bringing prices down. That bridge is due to open later this year.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim talking to us from the Crimean capital of Simferopol. Lucian, thanks a lot.
KIM: Great to talk to you, David.
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