I see many articles in the West saying how bad things are on the Crimean peninsula, under Russia’s control. Closed businesses, crumbling infrastructure, poor treatment of Tatars, and families unable to visit each other due to the Russia/Ukraine border. All I can say from first-hand experience is that it just is not so.
Plight of the Tatars
We see Western media painting pictures of illegal trials and jailing of Tatars. All these articles show videos of riots in 2014, where some of the jailed people participated in riots. Russians do not tolerate rioting. You can have a peaceful protest, but having a ruckus just is not something people get away with on the Crimean peninsula. More countries might learn from this.
A Tatar hotel was burned during the Ukrainian turmoil of 2014. The Western media lists stories like this as personal attacks against Tatars while glorifying the same the same behavior elsewhere. Attacks on people due to their religion, ethnicity, or language are not tolerated in Crimea.
My experience in visiting Tatar villages and towns in Crimea does not match stories of this severe treatment. I am not saying it did not happen, just that it is not my experience.
As I have walked through Crimean Tatar towns, I see new apartments and private homes, new businesses, and new mosques. The people are friendly and welcoming. They also make some of the best wine I have had and sell it in 2-liter bottles at a reasonable price.
Western and Ukrainian press write articles that talk about people being beaten for using their native language. Articles about people being kidnapped and arrested are not true. There are primary grade schools in Crimea that teach in Russian, Ukrainian, and Tatar, and as a result, parents can enroll their children in the school of their choice. Schools teach children in their native language. Due to this ethnic diversity, there are 3 official languages in Crimea: Ukrainian, Russian, and Tatar.
Ukrainians and Russians live together in Crimea and travel back and forth across the border freely. I have a mother-in-law who lives in Crimea, and a brother-in-law that lives in mainland Ukraine. They travel back and forth to visit each other often. They have been doing this since the 2014 referendum to join Russia. Families are free to travel across borders to visit each other. Admittedly, there are delays at the Crimean/Ukrainian border. Much of this is due to neither side wanting trouble with the other.
Anything Ukrainian is Bad
There are many articles that say “anything Ukrainian is bad” in Crimea. This is a statement obviously made by someone who has not been to Crimea. Unlike Ukraine, which is trying to remove everything Russian from their culture, Crimea recognizes Ukraine openly. We have a condo not far from Kyivskaya street. Businesses have exit signs in Ukrainian. The local internet company offers “internet TV” which hosts nothing but Ukrainian television channels.
Our next door neighbor is a resident of Crimea and sports Ukrainian license plates on his car. His children go to the Ukrainian language school down the street from us. There are Ukrainian and Tatar restaurants. Even the local city administrations have signs in Russian and Ukrainian (and Tatar).
It just is not what Ukrainian propagandists want us to believe.
Russian or Ukrainian
Reality is, the Crimean peninsula has always been “Russian” and did not fare well under Ukraine’s government. The press often cites crumbling infrastructure in Crimea. What I see crumbling is in buildings from the Ukrainian era. New buildings are replacing substandard and crumbling buildings. New gas stations have replaced old stations with leaky tanks. Businesses are run according to Russian law. A new airport in Simferopol is being built, and highways are being improved. There is a new highway being built between Simferopol and Kerch. Parks are being beautified, and embankments and historical sites are being updated.
Some of the things mentioned in articles from 2016 are, or were, true. But things are changing here. Russian banks have arrived. European businesses still do business here (I just bought a pair of ECCO shoes and a Stetson hat). People are faring well compared to 2014 and 2015. The Crimean peninsula has become a regular tourist area for Russians, Ukrainians, and foreigners from other countries.
I do not see a lot of effects caused by sanctions. I cannot use a VISA credit card issued outside of Russia, and I cannot eat at an American fast food restaurant. There are no food shortages, and people are working seasonally – as it has always been under Ukraine. There are many people who wear traditional clothing, both Tatar and Ukrainian. Only Russian citizens can get free healthcare in Crimea, but anyone can get care. Ukrainian residents of Crimea even get healthcare at a reduced cost. The policy of “citizens only” applies in Ukraine, too.
A car cannot be re-registered as a Ukrainian vehicle. One must return to Ukraine to do so. But I know I cannot register my Minnesota vehicle in the state of Washington without going to Washington. Banks do not restrict services to Russians only. I have hard this same complaint from my Ukrainian mother-in-law that resides in Crimea. But I hold a Russian bank account and have no restrictions on banking in Crimea.
Residency permits are available to people from Ukraine, related to a Ukrainian, or foreigners. My wife qualifies for residency through her mother, without owning property. As an American, I qualify through my wife, but owning property is beneficial in my case. Everyone must pass the Russian language, history, and law test though. Just like in the USA for citizenship. My friend at the police headquarters tells me I will pass with no problem. Living and working in Crimea is available to me as long as my visa is valid and I pay $10 every 3 months for my work permit. Work permits are required for all non-citizens, just like in the USA.