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The Moscow Time

March 20, 2014

by Ekaterina Sergatskova. Ukrainska Pravda. Life

Originally published in Russian here: http://life.pravda.com.ua/society/2014/03/20/158997/

In the middle of the Donuzlav lake there is a lone ship: heroic Konstantin Olshansky. It is the same ship that evacuated Ukrainians and other nations during the civil war in Libya.

On March 6th, together with other Ukrainian ships, it was blocked by the Russian army.

After the referendum Olshansky  sailed away from the pier to the middle of the lake and has not returned back to the shore since that time.

“As soon as we come back to the shore, they would immediately attack us”

captain Dmitry Kovalenko says. And then he adds in sad voice:

“It will be finally resolved tomorrow. We just cannot stay at the lake. This is the end.”

By tradition, at sunset Ukrainian flag is lowered on the ship. From the shore I hear that they play Ukrainian national anthem. I text message the captain: “Glory to Ukraine!”

Never thought I would be texting a hero like that, even though he is not a victor right now. And there is none of his fault in anything that is going on right now.

A few days ago I was sitting in Kovalenko’s office listening to the stories, he and his officers were telling. His office is a small room full of shelves with books about the wars and ships, there was also a tiny couch and some freshly brewed coffee on a tray.

Every 60 minutes I was hearing a grenade exploding in the lake. Army officers looking strong and courageous, were making jokes about it, that in case of attack they would fire the cannon and “then they would get it.” They realized that they had been abandoned [by Kiev], but they also strongly believed that they would never side with the occupiers.

I don’t think they would ever side [with Russians]. They would probably give up their position, and leave getting as far away from this occupied land [as they could.]

Ukrainian military bases across Crimea are surrounded by the enemy, some of the military personnel surrender to Russians, but there are also those who would stand to the very end.

Sevastopol calls: Russian Special Forces forced them to disarm, the order was given by the new commander, and he used to be a deputy of the former “pro-Ukrainian” commander. Nevertheless, they are still [holding up] waiting for protection, provided by Kiev.

Marine Alexei Nikiforov is the one, who organized the concert of Kerch army officers and Vakarchuk was nearly crying watching them singing. He reports that they have not yet been forced to surrender, they are still being blocked by Kazaki, Russian military is not around yet.

“But, most likely,  soon everything will be resolved”

he says gloomily, although trying to sound positive.

“Forgive us – he suddenly says – Forgive us, the army, we are sorry for everything.”

Ordinary Crimeans are still in the elated mood. They drive around with Russian flags, discuss prospective realities, wondering when their salaries and pension payments would go up. But, speaking frankly, they are not so sure about the tourist season.

“Most likely, the season will not happen

– an owner of Donuzlava café says –

Well, if not, then we will cook for ourselves, and you’ll come to stay here,as well, huh?”

Crimea is preparing to switch to the Moscow time.

A couple of years ago, my colleagues and I, of the “Big Idea” project team, opened a special page on our site, named “Modern Crimea.”

We spread information about the social and cultural initiatives of the Crimea peninsula, there were more and more of them appearing and getting more support from the local innovators.

For the long time Crimea was perceived by both Russians and Ukrainians, only as a tourist destination, and there was nothing to do there, but to sunbath on the beach and to hike the mountains.

Only a few knew that in Crimea the first open lectures of the “Street University” format were launched, that the eminent project “UkrYama” was founded right there, that the environmental technologies were vigorously developing, that some very significant forums of the social enthusiasts were held in Crimea.

The social responsibility was developing slowly, but steadily, some important initiatives were created for locals, but also integrated in the all-Ukrainian context. Crimea in my eyes, was getting stronger. But suddenly…

Now peninsula would probably follow a Sochi model. Spas, resorts, and sports. Grassroots initiatives would gradually recede, because there is no place for them under a dictatorship regime.

Perhaps army is the only entity left in Crimea, who continues to stand for Ukraine’s national interests.

Ordinary Crimeans have other interests now. Crimea is preparing to switch to the Moscow time, and most likely it would.

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Bakhchysarai. Now You’re With Us. Now You’re Not.

Long overdue translation of my interview with Ilimi Umerov, head of Regional Administration of Bakhchysarai, who decided to boycott the referendum. Ironically, I post it here on the day when referendum is held. 

by Ekaterina Sergatskova, Ukrainian Pravda. Life.
Originally published in Russian: http://life.pravda.com.ua/society/2014/03/12/156950/

It is unusually quiet next to the military base in Bakhchysarai. It’s so quiet, it gets suspicious. There are no “self defense forces,” no Russian Cossacks, no “green military men.”  All of them are not around. That’s because they are already inside, behind the fence. Armed, quiet men in black masks are walking side by side along Ukrainian soldiers.

Creepy feeling.

As if you come home one day, but someone else is already lives in your house:  cooking dinner in your kitchen, wiping their hands with your clean crispy towels…

On March 9th, during the car-rally held by pro-Russian activists in Bakhchysarai, Vladimir Sadovnik, commander in charge of Bakhchysarai Ukrainian military base, crashed his bike into the cars, while being completely drunk, according to the witnesses. Just after the accident, for some unclear reason, he was taken to the Simferopol military enlistment station, and was held there for at least 24 hours.

When he came back to the base the next day, some of the Russian military men and their “support squad” of so-called “Crimean Self Defense” were welcoming him already from the inside of the base. Sadovnik offered to soldiers and officers to decide each one of them personally which side to take. Sadovnik’s own words, half of the base personnel turned to the Russian side, this is why Russians [occupants] were welcome inside the base.

“They were shooting at us, while taking over the base. Now they’ve already got through the gates, – tells the commander, – and they live there now, live just in our barracks.”

Sadovnik sports a black eye, but I can’t tell whether he got it during the fight after the crash or while staying in the recruitment office. Although he still thinks that it is just a simple coincidence that the base was captured while he was away.

From the military base I went straight to the office of the head of Bakhchysarai regional administration. Walking across the city, I didn’t meet a single person on my way. Even the administration building was deserted.

Ilimi Umerov is sitting quietly in his chair.

You’re one of the officials who are publicly boycotting the referendum. How effective do you think your position is and how does the rest of the city react to it?

Boycotting is not always effective. It is only an opinion or position…

He stops the conversation to sign the letters addressed to Turchinov and Yatsenyuk (Interim president and interim prime minister of Ukraine.) In this letters he asks them not to recognize the results of the referendum and to order Crimean officials not to follow orders of criminals. After that, he signs an address to Bakhchysarai residents, asking them to boycott the referendum.

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Boycotting the referendum – it’s a position that won’t always be effective to stop it from happening. If it’s just me boycotting, even if I’m the head of the regional administration,  while everyone else, every other organization and political party, support it – they (Crimean government) will proceed with it in any case. I cant stop the referendum on my own. 

Yes, I consider it illegal, because it is against the Constitution of Ukraine and Ukrainian law on referendum. The Constitution does not allow for regional referendums  decide on territorial status or changing the borders. This is from the legal point of view.

There is also a moral point of view. Decision about the referendum was decided by the Verhovna Rada (parliament of Crimea,) it’s questionable if there was a quorum, also the session itself was held under the threat of armed men. No matter how hard they are trying to convince that this have never happened, that there are no “green army men” ,- the truth is – they have been there, we saw them with our own eyes, and they didn’t deny they were Russian soldiers. At the same time, their commanders are denying it. 

At first, they wanted to hold this session on 26th of February, but we didn’t allow that, we held a big protest. I should admit though, it was on the brink of failure.

Crimean Tatars called out to all pro-Ukrainian forces and people to gather, not to let the Crimean Parliament meet, but “Russian unity” also had a protest at the same location. Crimean Tatars were pushed out, there were fights, and probably some people were injured.

That day, the parliament didn’t hold a session, but the night of 27th, the both buildings of the Parliament and the Council of Ministers were occupied by armed men – back then they were called simply “armed men.” These men took the deputies of the Crimean parliament in, seized their cell phones and showed them to the voting floor. 

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“Green Armed Men” on the balcony of the Parliament of Crimea, Simferopol, February 27. Photo by Svetlana Gavrylenko

As of right now the referendum ballot asks two questions, but essentially they do not differ. 

There is no difference, because if we remember the Constitution of 1992, Crimea has a status of a “republic”, it was acting by signing agreements with Ukraine. Now, if we return that Constitution, current government of Crimea will sign such agreements with Russia, not Ukraine. People are simply being lied to, when they are told that there is an “alternative.”

(He is refers to the way that questions are formulated in the ballot: 1. Are you in favor of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea reuniting with Russia as a constituent part of the Russian Federation? Or 2. Are you in favor of restoring the Constitution of the Republic of Crimea of 1992 and of Crimea’s status as part of Ukraine?)

Is there a way out?

The way out is to boycott, turn to the government of Ukraine, ask them to take adequate measures and to turn to the international community, leaders of the prominent countries, leaders of the EU, UN, asking them to react to the things that are going on here. 

Ukraine, as a country, has to classify foreign armed forces, which we all currently witness in Crimea, as terrorists in case they are not Russian army, and in case they are Russian army, they should be classified as occupants. There is no third choice here.

Do you think the boycott can attract the masses? It was announced only by you and the head of Belogorsk. Do you have any other support?

In my opinion, the break down looks something like this: Crimean Tatars are 99.9% support the boycott. As for the rest of the population, in my opinion, about half of them will not participate in the referendum, and the other half will be obediently voting in favor of joining Russia.

Looking at it from the standpoint of the organizers of referendum, it would take place in any case, regardless of who opposes it and in what way. In the paper they issued to regulate referendum, there is no stipulation of how many people have to participate to call it happened.

Even in case if only one person shows up – hence the referendum is declared as it was held.

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Ilmi Umerov. Photo http://www.brda.gov.ua

Have you, as the head of the city administration, receive any threats? Have anyone tried to demote you?

– No. At least, not during the period of Maidan and, later, when events moved further South and East. I think they don’t see a point of it. 

I’ve been here for nine years. In that time our economic stats went up, although in situations like this, it counts for nothing. All that counts is “with us” or “against us.”

Well, and you, by today’s standards, are “against them.”

Yes. For some people in administration, I am. Three years ago, Yanukovych fired me the same way as he fired every head of the regional administration throughout Ukraine. I was the only one who was reappointed back after 21 days of my dismissal, responding to the public pressure of the community.

Yanukovych personally interviewed me right here, in Bakhchysarai. That was the first time when Yanukovych conducted personal interview with someone as low as my position.

Did he realize that you had popular public support? … And do you know anything about “self-defense” squads of Crimean Tatars in Bakhchysarai?

Of course, i do.

How are they organized, what are their plans?

To tell you the truth, they don’t have any serious formations. They are organized in small groups, we call them crews.  Five people get in the car and patrol the neighborhood. In my tiny neighborhood listed as many as 36 of such groups

In fact, there’ are more people joining every day. The crews divide the city districts accordingly, and patrol the assigned territory at night.

They don’t attack or defend. They carry no weapons. They just observe. If anything happens, they must report to the head of local Majlis, who, in turn, reports to the regional head and, after all, they decide on the measure to respond.

The conversations got interrupted again: Umerov gets a call from Simferopol, the one that says that the Crimean parliament decided to take over all regional administrations.

Another illegal decision – he says.

And what would you do now?

Not obey. – He smiles.

And what if Russian “self-defense” gets you?

( Sighs ) The scariest or the most dangerous fact is that right after the actions these people take as members of “self-defense” squads, the same people might also act as provocateurs. And if we react back to their deeds, the Russian army will justify its actions as the response to the threats toward Crimean Russians.

And what do we do now?

You know, a schizophrenic is in power…

And do you mean someone specifically? There are a lot of those, who would fit this description, in my opinion

Aksenov. It’s clear that the police won’t help; they are demoralized and are collaborating with the “self defense” forces. What should we do? I don’t know, I have never thought about it.

I expected this to happen one day, but I thought they would put their own men in charge of regional administrations. But they, on the contrary, first got reassured [obedience of the current heads of the regional administrations] and now, much later, they would replace them. Well, we’ll see…

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In your opinion, will the Crimean Tatars remain nonviolent further on?

I’m positive about it. Because we stand by this (nonviolent) position. Never have we instigated any conflict, although [I admit that] there were several conflicts [happening] here [in Crimea].

All that said, Bakhchysarai feels very calm at the moment.

And it has to pay  its own price – Umerov sighs again – it takes a lot [of nerves] to talk to everyone individually, assuring all of them that they are right, and at the same time explaining them that there are some good people who think differently, and we have to respect their opinion as well.

After this meeting, we were informed that Vladimir Putin has personally invited Mustafa Cemil to Kremlin. Mustafa is a former leader of the Crimea Tatar Mejlis, currently he serves as a deputy of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

As for the current leader of Crimean Tatars’  Majlis, Refat Chubarov, he stated that, despite Crimean parliament offering to provide some benefit package for Tatars, Tatars ignore this offer and do not recognize this referendum as legitimate…

Pearl of Crimea. The Fist Fight.

as promised earlier, my report on yesterday rally in Yalta

March 13, 2014

by Ekaterina  Sergatskova. Ukrainska pravda. Life.

Originally posted in Russian: http://life.pravda.com.ua/society/2014/03/14/157460/

“Please come to Yalta, and ask everybody else to come. It seems like things gonna get heated here” – Anton, Eiromaidan activist, told me this morning. And this evening, he called me to tell how he was chased by bikers. Tomorrow he takes his family and leaves Crimea. For better times.

Yalta, the key Ukrainian resort looks as usual: palm trees, mountains, sun.

But something in this picture is not right.

A handful of people wearing gray are loitering under the palm trees, Russian flag flies proudly in front of the mountains, and the sun shimmers on a polished to a shine bikes of the “Night Wolves.

There is a stage, built right in front of the Lenin monument, all decorated with slogans “for the people’s unity.”  Women in traditional Russian costumes sing: “It’s better with Russia.”  It was supposed to be a pro-Ukrainian rally today, but something went wrong. At the place where pro-Ukrainian activists were supposed to be instead appeared tough guys in sportswear and severe Russian bikers.

An old lady is telling me about how she was buying a ribbon in Ukrainian colors, and the seller asked her not to, because it was too risky. She bought that ribbon anyway. Old lady wearing gray hat and an old cloak. Smiling.

“I was born in the Russian Far East, my dad was a Belorussian, and my husband is Ukrainian”- she says. “I love Ukraine, God is with Ukraine, and God does not want war.” Still smiling with all of her teeth, as many of them, as she has left, she adds, as if speaking to herself: “Do not kill, do not lie! Ukraine is melodic, musical, talented …»

Half an hour later this lady would be knocked down by big guys with a Russian accent.  She would repeat, smiling “Glory to Ukraine” and twirling her ribbon, and they would push her down to the ground.

The same guys, chanting “Fascism will not pass!”, will tramp down Ukrainian flag, butt pro-Ukrainian activists down from the fountain.

The same slogan is chanted by those, who came here to stand up “for peace.”

What fascism are they talking about?

“Yes, you! All of you, Bandera, get out of here back to your Ukraine!” – Standard reply of the women, who are joining this mess later. Men are less talkative: just close my camera with their hands and promise to “whack” me.  One of them with no unnecessary warnings just punched me in the nose and tried to snatch my tablet. He failed: iPad was not mine; I borrowed it, and couldn’t so easily give away someone else’s property.

After that, my camera captured the same big men beating up some old man, and later, in some grotesquely polite way  trying to seat him down, all beaten up and with a head injury, on a wicker chair of one of the summer cafes around.

Now, the rally is over. Some are still looking for their cameras taken away by whether “self-defense “, or bikers, some are still screaming discussing the geopolitical situation.

“We don’t want you here, understand?”-  squealing a woman in fur coat and a wig. – “They stuffed you there on Maidan with drugs, and now you got here. How much do they pay you? ”

People with black-and-orange pro-Russian ribbons are walking along the waterfront. I automatically change my path to more secluded trail, franticly looking around, speaking quietly. At this time, Anton tries to escape from violent bikers.  How does he feel, the indigenous Yalta resident, trying to get away from the foreigners who believe that the land belongs to them now?

Two days are left to the referendum.

I look at the Black sea just across the boardwalk.  It doesn’t look gentle. Doesn’t look like Yalta’s Black sea.

Would it welcome any tourists this summer? Would it make anybody happy anymore? ..

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.

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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.

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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…

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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 …”

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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.

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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?

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“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 …

At Simferopol Rally: “You are Not Our Wives! We Have No Respect for You!”

[My 2nd Day in Crimea, occupied by Russian army]

by Ekaterina Sergatskova, Ukrainian Pravda. Life.
Photos by Sergii Morgunov
Originally published in Ukrainian: http://life.pravda.com.ua/society/2014/03/5/155762/
March 5, 2014

Wednesday, March 5, women of Simferopol held a “Women for Peace” rally in front of a Ukraine military base, blocked off by “Crimean self-defence forces.” They brought posters that spoke against armed conflict and reemphasized a need for peaceful resolution. “We raise our children to live in happiness and piece”, ” Crimea residents are grateful to Crimea Military for your courage “, ” Crimea  – territory of peace .”

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Photo: Sergii Morgunov

At the same time, several dozen of pro-Russian members of “self-defense” were also at the event. They were easy to identify by their Russian flags and black and orange stripes they wore in solidarity of their beliefs. For three days, this group has been blocking Ukrainian soldiers and scaring away pro-Ukrainian supporters.

Several of the “self-defence ”  guys run up at the women, pushed them,  tore their posters apart, yelled vulgar statements at the female protesters declaring that they’re “not real women”, “get out of here!” you “do not deserve respect.”

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Photo: Sergii Morgunov

While the local police arrived, but remained inactive, the pro-Russian “self-defence” group pushed the activists away from the military base and across the street.

Ukrainian soldiers are watching this from behind the fence. They have been barricaded by “self-defence”  for several days. While they are allowed to leave freely, their access back to the base is blocked. On the record, most “self-defence” says that the soldiers do not want to return themselves.  But truth is several soldiers had to jump over the fence to get back to the base.

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Photo: Sergii Morgunov

Both groups of protesters gathered on two sides of the same road, occasionally crossing over to speak. Traffic was still moving, as if nothing was happening – no roadway block, no traffic police present on site. The pro-Russian group slowly forced journalists away from the base, saying that they can’t film there. When asked “why?” the only response give was “because we said so.”

As the “Women for Peace” rally began to disperse one man, in a jogging suit in Russian colours forced himself in the middle of the group and tried to provoke an altercation, with no response from the crowd.

Despite being blockaded by pro-Russian supporters and unidentified military personnel, the military base still flies a Ukrainian flag.

Crimea. The Virus Has Been Avctivated.

[My Day 3 in Crimea, occupied by Russian army]

by Ekaterina Sergatskova, Ukrainian Pravda. Life.
Originally published in Russian: http://life.pravda.com.ua/society/2014/03/5/155805/
March 5, 2014

A pale pink fortress, used as a terrace of one soviet café.

My friend is trying to take a picture of hiding “green dudes” also known in the streets as “polite armed men.” Those are the same guys in Russian uniforms with guns, which all of a sudden appeared in Crimea on February 28th.

A young female is approaching by asking “Why are you taking pictures of them? Are you at a zoo?!” My voice is breaking, trembling but I’m asking her: “Are you nervous?” – “Yes, I am nervous!” – she replies. “Why? Do you know those guys?” She is saying “no” and at the same time is taking her cellphone out of her purse to take a picture of us. A lot of people here do this now.

“Why are you defending them?” – I’m curious. “They are protecting me, and I’m protecting them!” she replies while running away to a nearby bank.

My friends and I look at each other, confused: “What did just happen?”

Perhaps it’s an overdue reaction to the fact the people were tirelessly taking pictures with “berkut” in the background on Bankova St in Kiev? Perhaps that woman thought that made them feel low…

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Photo: Sergii Morgunov

Sergey today arrived to Crimea for the first time. His head is exploding. He is saying he saw one guy with a Ukrainian flag amongst Crimean “self-defense.” Yet he was told that was a crack on “pro-Ukrainian” activists.

Every time two camps meet, it turns into a scandal urging to turn into a fight. Everyone who is on the “Ukrainian” side, according to others’ opinion are “western Ukrainians,” “banderovtzi” and “maidan loonies.” They were paid to be present on Maidan, and now they came here to make some money by shuddering Crimea’s peaceful land. The replies such as “but I’m local” – not taken into consideration. Everyone who thinks contrary to “georgiy ribbons” (pro-Russian activist who wear orange-and-black ribbons to identify themselves) are traitors. And that is exactly what they say: “you are traitors. Get out of here.”

Crimean residents don’t seem to have a unified position in relation to what is going on. Some have a standpoint that changes every five minutes, depends on whom they are talking to.

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Photo: Sergii Morgunov

The majority is assured that Yanukovych has stolen so much as no other leader of Ukraine has. However, at the same time they acknowledge his legitimacy as a president and put the fault on “Yatz” (Yatzeniuk, interim Prime Minister) that he and some other “radical fascists” unlawfully have highjacked the power. They agree that the government of Crimea was also dismantled unlawfully. Thus “since you showed us that example, now you deal with it.”

One man at the protest in Yalta entered a discussion with the activists. To a question whether Crimea should remain a part of Ukraine, replied: “What did you say? In that PROJECT?”

He obviously does not consider Ukraine to be a country.

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Photo: Sergii Morgunov

The discussions have become so heated, and the intellectual level of arguments is so low that it is simply impossible to figure out what the Crimean residents want. It’s a “mix of different crops with poured over syrup or smelly water from a vase.”

Is all-Crimean referendum capable to put everything in its own place?

Can the new government guarantee its legitimacy?

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“Russia! Come to Crimea” Photo: Sergii Morgunov

I read the comments from the readers and some of them consider the reports such as mine lead the country to a breakdown. I thought – how did all this mess start? Did it start with the change of government and activation of pro-putin’s “Russian unity” by Aksenov? Or with the first “Molotov cocktail” thrown into “berkut?”

Crimean residents do not accept radical rhetoric. They are used to serenity and good aspirations. Some of them are still assured that a tourist season will come soon and everything will return in its place.

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Photo: Sergii Morgunov

It is obvious there’s a phase of serious illness here. A virus, that had been sleeping in the body of Crimea for a long time, has been activated now.

Curing symptoms won’t help. There is a need for a complex surgery and long period of rehabilitation.

In order to understand how to cure this illness, there is a need to calm down and “unravel this bizarre and terrible tangle.”

Crimea. The Upside Down World.

[My 2nd Day in Crimea, occupied by Russian army]

by Ekaterina Sergatskova, Ukrainian Pravda. Life.
Originally published in Russian: http://life.pravda.com.ua/society/2014/03/4/155436/
March 4, 2014

Discussion about civil war should have started with discussion about Crimea.

If there is a civil war somewhere – it is happening now in Crimea, not in Kiev, where Ukrainian special forces confronted civilians while defending people in power.

Ukrainian army in Crimea is still defending civilians regardless the orders by Aksenov, self-proclaimed head of Crimea’s Council of Ministers.

Yesterday “pro-Ukrainian activists” – rarely anyone calls them that neutral name here, but mostly “banderovtzi” or “fascists”, – gathered spontaneously without flags and posters outside Simferopol military unit in order to support the troops. A few activists offered to stay at the military unit for the night, just in case.

A colonel came out and promised that the military will stay on the side of the people no matter what. We wanted to believe him – he was sincere. You could feel he cared.

While colonel was talking with the activists, a group of thugs gathered near the military unit. We would call them “titushki” if we were in Kiev. Red faces, hangover odor, and cigarettes in their mouths – grim spectacle. In Crimea they are called “self-defense.”

In Crimea everything is upside down.

Instead of Ukrainian flags, people are wearing tricolor (Russian) flags. Yellow and blue ribbons here are considered a prank. If you wear Ukrainian symbols you are considered a nationalist and “banderovets.” If you speak Ukrainian you are a provocateur. Anybody who asks too many questions is also provocateur.

“Pro-Ukrainian activists” have to walk around quietly. None of them discusses meetings over the phone anymore.

In a tent of the Communist party on Lenin square they were gathering opinions of what to do with the statue of the “leader.” There were three options: to move it, to leave it, or to build a fountain in its place. It seems the majority voted to leave it as is.

“Why to demolish it? It’s my history! – one Afghan veteran was annoyed. He already recognizes my face now. It’s the same guy who a few days ago was telling me he had been hosed with “Molotov cocktails” in Kiev. “If someone needs this fountain, they can position it right in front of Lenin. So what?”

One elderly woman is holding a poster with “Our Russia” written in red and hammer and sickle painted on it. I asked her “why are there Soviet symbols on your poster if you are pro-Russia?”

She answered “because Russia is Soviet Union. Haven’t you studied it in school?”

At the same time, I am attacked by another elderly woman. She says I am recording a lie. “But I’m broadcasting it live, whatever you are saying, that’s being shown right now” – I try to defend myself.

She is grabbing my hands and yelling “You are lying, anyways!” And she is supported by people behind.

People are gathering from all sides and saying that they want a union Russia-Ukraine-Belarus to be created. Someone states: “Let the father Lukashenko come here and bring us order!”

Crimea – is an upside down world.

Thousands of people on Maidan came out for changes, for progressive development in the country, but here, in Crimea, people demand reversion. When people on Maidan look each other in the eye they saw new type of thinking, far from Sovietism, but here, in Crimea, people are sharing the views of already perished, degrading epoch.

By carrying and wearing Soviet symbols, Crimean residents are in fact demanding Russian imperialism. They are sympathizing not with communist or leftist values, but with a myth about Soviet welfare.

To them Maidan is an image of the world, which they are not ready to accept. That is why they believe in such a monster as “banderovets” without any interest in who Bandera actually is.

Here you say “Glory to Ukraine” in the lowest voice possible. And “Glory to Heroes” is whispered in response. However, nobody shouts “Glory to Russia,” as well. They simply yell “Russia.” With no “glory.”

Crimea – is effective space of cognitive dissonance. To understand Crimea residents who come out to vote for joining Russia, restoration of the USSR, or autonomy, you have to live here.

Unfortunately Kiev ignored Crimea for many years, considering it perhaps “toothless” vacation add-on to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the “add-on” was accumulating anger towards those who were regularly ripping it off. In Crimea eyes, Russia was the only one who didn’t, and now it is considered to be the most loyal friend.

Therefore, “self-defense” here protects from “pro-Ukrainian activists,”  “normal” people wear ribbons with Russian symbols, and organizers of anti-maidan movement are heroes.

Presence of Russian army throughout Crimea is nothing compared to the military action that is taking place among civilians.