In Russia-Held Crimea, Some Prosper, Others Fear

YALTA, Russia (Los Angeles Times/MCT) -
In Russia-held Crimea, some propser, others fear for their future
The village of Takhta-Dzhami, a Tartar settlement around 45 miles north of Yalta, where fear and apprehension over Russia’s annexation of Crimea outweigh joy and satisfaction. (Ann Simmons/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Six months after Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula was annexed by Russia, some here say they have prospered while others express anger, uncertainty or fear.

The appropriation, which came less than two days after Crimean voters backed secession from Ukraine, has resulted in the adoption of the Russian ruble and the nationalization of assets and companies once owned by the Ukrainian state. Russia has also assumed responsibility for pensions, and businesses must re-register with the Russian authorities.

The change has been good for some business owners.

“As the owner of a private taxi, my business has grown,” said Vladimir Tolmachyov, 45, a retired army officer who voted in favor of Crimea becoming independent, followed closely by an accord signed between President Putin and Crimea’s new Moscow-backed leaders. “Many Russians used to be interested in Crimea. Now (that) there are no customs procedures or border crossing, they can come.”

At Treasure Island restaurant, manager Stanislav Leonov said business was typically slow during August, just before school begins. This year, though, the crowds did not diminish. Replacing families were throngs of visitors from across Russia, some from as far as Siberia, Leonov said.

“I’m sure it’s all due to patriotic feelings of coming back home,” the Yalta native said of the peninsula, which was ruled by Russia and the Soviet Union from the 18th century until it was transferred to Ukraine in 1954. “Before people did not have the motivation. Now they do. Crimea has always been a multinational territory, but it’s always been Russia.”

Though many supporters of Russian authority in Crimea point to positive changes, it has not been welcomed by the region’s ethnic Tatar community, which has strong reservations. In Takhta-Dzhami, a Tatar village about 45 miles north of Yalta, there is fear and apprehension.

“Our people, we don’t know what awaits us tomorrow,” said Abide Sidarova, until recently the local council representative for the settlement of 800 residents. “We are worried about the whole situation. We need time to think. We have to compare the life we had before in Ukraine and the new conditions.”

Takhta-Dzhami was created 23 years ago with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the return of thousands of Tatars who had been deported to Uzbekistan in 1944 by Soviet leader Josef Stalin. Their suffering is well-documented, and there is concern that it could be starting again.

“We were used to freedom of speech in Ukraine,” Sidarova said. “We would have peaceful rallies. Now we are banned from doing this.”

The stress is particularly poignant among the elderly.

Elyame Kurtmulayeva, 73, remembers the old days. Her family was deported. Of four children, she was the only one to survive.

“We suffered in Uzbekistan,” said the matriarch, affectionately called Grandma Emma.

When Tatars returned to their Crimean homeland in the early 1990s, Ukraine welcomed them.

“Ukraine gave us plots of land. We love Ukraine so much,” Kurtmulayeva said. “But how will it be with Russia? Russia did nothing for us. We are waiting for Ukraine to take us back.”

The matriarch’s daughter-in-law, Elmira Kurtmulayeva, 42, and her husband run a small grocery store in the village. At the end of the year, they will have to re-register the family business as a Russian enterprise. It’s one formal step toward accepting what seems to be irreversible: Russian rule in Crimea.

“Our people lived in Uzbekistan and Ukraine, and we are grateful to them,” Sidarova said. “Now we need more time to get used to Russia. We can’t just wake up one morning and become Russian patriots.”