Months Later, Examining Russia's Takeover Of Crimea
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In his New Year's address, Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated what he called a milestone in 2014 - the annexation of Crimea. Western countries were furious that Russia grabbed that piece of Ukraine. And when we went to Crimea to report a few months ago, we found a place where beneath the headlines about Russian aggression and changing borders, lives were left in limbo, and that remains the case.
Even though Russia runs the government, Ukraine still controls the power. And they began cutting off electricity last week. We reached Yevgenia Novitskaya, who served as our interpreter in Crimea. She told us that during the blackouts, she gets by using candles and...
YEVGENIA NOVITSKAYA: Movies downloaded on the laptop to watch with my son when it's too dark to do anything else.
GREENE: Now, Russian officials, she said, have promised to end the dependence on Ukraine and to provide Crimea with full power by 2017. But it's not just power.
NOVITSKAYA: The Visa and MasterCard credit cards are not working. They are blocked. You cannot use your money. You cannot even cash out your money.
GREENE: And last week, Ukraine cut train service to Crimea. Yevgenia was planning to visit her sister in Kiev who's about to have a baby. But now...
NOVITSKAYA: I don't know how to get there.
GREENE: And since Crimea came under Russian rule, Yevgenia has lost a lot of work.
NOVITSKAYA: I'm an interpreter and translator, so I used to work with international companies on international projects with foreign people. And now some people think that we don't need foreign languages anymore because we're in Russia.
GREENE: Who is coming to Crimea? Are there tourists who are coming still?
NOVITSKAYA: Now Crimea is full of government officials on business trips. As for tourism, there is tourism, but it's oriented on Russian markets. In Soviet Union times, Crimea used to be a main health resort of the whole USSR. Even now there are a lot of elder people who used to travel the Crimea when they were young. So they just want to come back to USSR, so to say.
GREENE: (Laughter) But the currency exchange in - I mean, the ruble, which is now the currency there - has just taken a nosedive and dropped in value. Does that mean that even pensioners might not be happy at some point soon?
NOVITSKAYA: Yeah, so the majority of all the goods and products here in Crimea, they are imported. And the price is directly influenced by the exchange rate. In the morning you are buying something at this price, in a couple of hours it will be twice more.
GREENE: So are you sensing a change in opinion in Crimea because of this? Are people starting to get more frustrated with this transformation this year?
NOVITSKAYA: Yes and no. I mean, there are several types of Crimeans, some of them who are absolutely unhappy with what is going on. The majority of them left to Ukraine. There are people who are like, we are ready to suffer and we are ready to feel whatever it takes, but we're in Russia. Thank God we are home.
GREENE: Yevgenia, what about your level of happiness? When we spoke a few months ago, you said you had lived through so many changes - I mean, the collapse of the Soviet Union and then living as part of independent Ukraine and now another change. You were ready to live as a single mom with your son and give it time and just sort of get by as best you could. Is that you're feeling still today?
NOVITSKAYA: What else can I do? I used to work for international companies. But now I need to find something else to survive.
GREENE: What about the option of just moving to Kiev like your sister?
NOVITSKAYA: If things are the same, I think I will move, but I don't want to. I want to stay in Crimea because I am Crimean. You know, I travel to Kiev. But I spent there one week there, and I was trying just to feel like I'm living here. How did I feel? That it's not my place.
GREENE: Yevgenia Novitskaya spoke to us from her home in the city of Simferopol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.