Poker Face Crimea Style

Photo credit: Svetlana Havrylenko

[My 1st Day in Crimea, occupied by Russian army]

by Ekaterina Sergatskova, Ukrainian Pravda. Life.
Originally published in Russian: http://life.pravda.com.ua/society/2014/03/3/155231/
March 3, 2014

I thought I was going to the occupied Crimea. The air would be charged with the energy of impending war. At the train station I would meet armed men wearing camouflage. The passengers would be taken off the trains in Armiansk (transportation hub, connecting continental Ukraine to Crimea peninsula) and left for good in the middle of nowhere. Upon arrival I would be surrounded by disturbed and anxious people.

The Crimea I found was nothing like that. It was serene, apathetic, and spring-spirited.

Life goes on. With its regular pace. Taxi drivers are touting arrived tourists to take off for the coastal resorts: “Yalta! Alushta! Sevastopol!,” -pouncing on visitors, as if nothing has had happened. Bus drivers are patiently waiting for passengers to arrive, ready to drive them to any destination customer desires. However, there are not so many tourists, if there are any at all. But tourists are expected to keep arriving anyway,  and this feels surreal and surprising to me…

“Crimea is a solid poker face.  They pretend not to notice anything,” – my friend tells me.

There are two protests happening in Simferopol at once: one of them is just outside the Supreme Council (Verhovniy Sovet), the second one is held next to the Council of Ministers

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Later during the day, I witness some local activists replacing Ukrainian flags on the Council of Ministers building with the local Crimean flags.  An exalted man brings a bunch of white-blue-red colored flags: “Might as well just be hanging Russian!

Hours later they actually are. Answering my question about what organization they all belong to, one of the activists jokes: “the United Nations,” and bursts into the creepy laughter…

Veteran of the Afghan war is telling his story in front of the cameras. When he, along with dozens of other activists, arrived to Kiev to support “Berkut,” someone from Maidan was throwing cocktails Molotov at them. Also, seven of his fellow-activists were beaten up to death by ‘bandera’-females.  He is not talking, but mostly yelling.

Some former officer of the special security forces says that he is against the war, he stands for the broader powers for the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and against ‘banderovtsy’; he is friends with many Crimea Tatars, and believes that Crimea is better off being left alone… I believe him, as he is not yelling or screaming.

Unidentified stranger in camouflage comes up to me while I am broadcasting live with my tablet PC, he comes up so close to me that I can feel his damn gun. He orders me to step back and stop filming. Another man dressed as civilian pushes me out, while holding my elbow.

The guy from the special security forces tells them: ‘She is ours, Crimean!’ They cool down then.

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But what if I did not have Crimean residence registration and/or Russian passport, which I am starting to despise? I mean, I still respect my homeland, and I do love my Russian friends, but …right now… it all boils down to one person’s name, and I bet you know whose name it is.

Some people here, in Crimea, say: ‘Putin is our president.’ I’m confused. Everyone seems to have his own president now. Yanukovich, Turchinov, Putin. Personally, I have no president at the moment. President is someone different, much more than just a name…

Some of those people, who do not scream, are saying: “Thank you, Maidan, for teaching us how to upraise.  We have figured out a lot. We have figured out ourselves.”

Some have realized that Maidan and the new government are quite different things.

Some people, when they hear “Maidan”, are clenching their fists and start yelling.

A band, named Russkie (the Russians) is playing at Lenin square. They claim they came on their own initiative to support the peaceful assembly of people. There is another band performing later, Zemliane (the Earthlings). To me, all of them are aliens, coming from some distant planet. They call me, Russian citizen, a Nazi. They promise to knock me down and smash me.

A woman yells: “the day, when Putin addresses us with the words ‘Good morning, my country!’, – would become the brightest day of my life.”

Some lady with a dog is frantically yelling that she wants to join Russia.

Everyone around me is so convincible in his or her own hysterical calls to join Russia that it feels like staged performance.  At the same time it feels sincere. And this makes it even more terrifying.

Late night. Protests are over.

An old lady is walking down the street, carrying Ukrainian flag.

“Aren’t you afraid to walk alone like this?” I ask.

“No, – she replies in Ukrainian, – I’m not afraid of anyone. They can cut me up, if they wish. Glory to Ukraine!”

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