Feodosiya and Kerch. Come to Fight Club, Enjoy Your Flowers.
[My Day 6 in Crimea, occupied by Russian army]by Ekaterina Sergatskova, Ukrainian Pravda. Life. Originally published in Russian: http://life.pravda.com.ua/society/2014/03/8/156369 March 8, 2014
We arrived at Ukrainian Marine base in Feodosiya to meet with Colonel Dmitry Delyatitskiy.
He is the man, who told Denis Berezovsky to go to hell. Berezovsky was appointed by the new Ukrainian government as Commander-in-chief of Crimean Navy. Just 24 hours later Berezovsky deserted, took oath to serve self-proclaimed Crimea authorities, and pressured other military staff to surrender.
“Commander Delyatitskiy is very busy right now, and these guys won’t let you in, anyway (nodes in the direction of people with orange-and-black ribbons to identify that they belong to pro-Russian activists.) Besides, it’s not safe for girls to climb over the fences” — young officer Tolya Mozgovoi tells us.
Tolya is a genuine gentleman. Attentive, polite, confident. He assures that his officers will never betray their oath to Ukrainian people and will stand to the very end. Things are not as bad at their base as it is portrayed by media and social networks.
Tolya Mozgovoi. Photo: Sergii Morgunov
The “orange-and-black stripes” people do not interfere much, but trying to inflict psychological pressure. Once they even cut down electricity, but the issue was resolved rather fast, the “stripes” guys turned out to be pretty lousy runners.
Since then it’s quite calm here. Yet, soldiers are worried for the safety of the journalists.
Feodosiya. Photo: Sergii Morgunov
“We know how they feel about you. Please, don’t go there alone and try not to talk to these loonies,” Tolya says.
Not far from the base, next to Crystal stadium, there is a small “self-defense” camp. Two military armored vehicles are blocking road to the Ukrainian military base. Several young guys, almost teenagers, are hanging out at the curb. They ask us to use our Wi-Fi and keep sharing with us jokes from Russian Facebook-like social network Vkontakte. “I’m actually from Moscow, just came here to visit a friend,”- one of them explains.
We learn that there are many young Russians here, all of them allegedly visiting friends. Meanwhile, cars with Moscow license plates are passing by. One after another.
A man of a strong physique walks toward us. He is wearing hooded coat and refers to himself as Spartacus.
As soon as he learns that we are video-streaming live, he asks us to show our passports, takes pictures of the pages with home addresses, and only then starts speaking.
“Everybody is for Russia here, got it? EVERYBODY! Trust me, it is the real truth, not the one they show on TV. No, I mean, we are for peace and unity. But we don’t need westerners (people from western Ukraine) here, got it?”
He adds: “Tell westerners when they get here, they should come to visit us at “Gladiator” club, we will welcome them here.” He clenches his fists.
“Gladiator” – is a local fight club.
Young guys from “self-defense” told us that they cooperate with the local police now …
“They used to detain me for street fights and now I socialize with them all the time with no problems,” one of the guys proudly admits.
Another man walks over, an Afghan veteran, as we learn later. He starts asking us already familiar questions: “Is it true that it wasn’t “Berkut” who was shooting at people on Maidan? No? Maybe you are just not telling the truth? You all are media whores!” He starts to insult us.
He tells me that two days ago several people from Crimea have been torched in Kiev, and seven were killed by female “banderivtsi.”
I’ve heard exactly the same story four days earlier in Simferopol, told by another Afghan soldier. Same story, different dates…
Photo: Sergii Morgunov
It is already dark, when we finally get to the military base near Kerch. Two elderly men, who identify themselves as Kazaks (not to confuse with Ukrainian Cossacks) are on guard by the entry point. They do not allow us to film, covering my camera with their hands and pushing us away.
“You Bandera, huh? Yeah-ah, I can see, you are Bandera,” one of them says.
“You all should be smashed. Even my mother, a retired old lady, if she had any strength left, she’d choke you with her own hands.”
The wind picks up, swaying tall grass. Lonely traffic sign sticks out in the field, swinging and rhythmically squeaking in the wind. The young moon is dim. Quiet, dark and eerie. “Quiet is the Ukrainian night …”
Photo: Sergii Morgunov
Close to the base itself, our car is stopped by a crowd of aggressive young man wearing “stripes” ribbons. They force us to get out, threat Sergey, our photographer, and attempt to start a fight.
At this very moment similar guys are beating up journalists in Sevastopol, but we are yet to learn this much later.
The confrontation stops only when a soldier, named Aleksey, interferes. He is famous for organizing legendary concert of Ukrainian army band, which impressed everybody, including Slava Vakarchuk, front man of Ukraine’s most prominent rock band Оcean Elzy.
Aleksey. Photo: Sergii Morgunov
“We will not let you set your foot inside the military base,” obnoxiously states a guy with the “stripes.” Aleksey laughs in his face and says: “These thugs are talking nonsense, just trying to scare you away. They have no right to stop you. But since they have problems with you entering the base, let me personally kindly invite you in!”
At the base, Marines are beyond happy to see us. “We are so excited that you support us… that all of Ukraine supports us,” officers say. “If it was not for you, who knows, we might have not lasted this long.”
Locals treat them in different ways. Some of them bring food and pay soldiers’ mobile phone bills, others spit in their faces…
Rumor has it, that Kerch Marines are the toughest Marines ever, and it shows: they are strong, confident, and fearless.
Battalion commander Aleksander Saenko comes out to meet us. He looks tired, but pleased. He gives us two carnations, one for me, one for Masha, a girl, who came here specifically to bring little presents gathered for soldiers from all over Ukraine. He says he was not prepared to welcome us, but luckily the flowers were left over after the Women’s Day celebration on March 8th. He is laughing and making jokes.
Suddenly, he lowers his head down and says: “I might be jeopardizing my military career right now, but I can’t keep this to myself. Sergeants from Kiev have been here, offering their support and shaking our hands. But I don’t understand where are the generals, who can explain to us what is going on? Where are the members of Parliament? They should be here, but they have never come… My officers ask me the same question over and over again: What’s next? What do we do? It is scary, when one brother might kill another. Soldiers of both sides are looking each other in the eye through the optical devices. They would smile, but it is not noticed by the other side…”
I choke up. The same question is running thought my head. Is it possible to just give up and pass Crimea to another country just like that?
“Whatever happens next, we are still keeping our morale up. I am proud of my personnel, of my sergeants. Even if we going to die in this war, morally we will win.”
Crimean night on March 8th, 2014 is serene…
Quiet is the Ukrainian night …