March 18, 2015. The following article was published on ‘Colonel Cassad’, the website of Russian writer Boris Rozhin, on March 18, 2015. It is translated and published in English at Colonel Cassad in English.
The last year changed many things in my life, so it will be appropriate to summarize certain intermediate results associated with the changes in Sevastopol borne of the Crimean Spring. I decided not to group this in blocks, so I simply write what came to my mind during the attempts to recall what has changed over a year.
1. Crimea stopped being a part of Ukraine and became a part of Russia. I wished for this event for many years, so here my dream simply came true. Those people whose dreams come true must understand very well how this feels.
2. Ukrainian flags and Ukrainian insignia disappeared from the city. Only very rarely one can meet Ukrainian text or old advertisement banners in Ukrainian. The city speaks Russian and after the cancellation of the obligatory use of Ukrainian, which they previously tried to implant by force, the Ukrainian language simply disappeared because it wasn’t needed, even though there is no special ban on the use of Ukrainian – if one wants, one can put banners in Ukrainian, the law permits it. If one wants to speak Ukrainian, one is free to do so. All of these rights are present, but nobody uses them because there is no need to do so.
3. One may now go to a movie theater without fearing the obligatory translation of the movies to Ukrainian in a city where 99% speak Russian. For several years, I didn’t go watch movies for the language reasons. In the last year, I was there more often than in the previous five years.
4. Everything is now in Russian in the state institutions. The obligatory process of filling out documents in Ukrainian has disappeared. The same is true for the judicial branch. Even the officials who earlier had to learn the ugly Surzhyk to put it on paper for the Russian-speaking citizens are now happy.
5. The “miraculous Ukrainian history” disappeared from schools, nobody is telling fairy-tales about the UPA heroes, Cossack-submariners, and ancient Ukrainian camels to the people. People now laugh at this period at the mention of the Tripolian shards, Jesus of Carpathians, and battle healers.
6. The Ukrainian monuments disappeared from Sevastopol. They were accurately removed and sent to their historical Motherland. They decided to keep Shevchenko, because there are no reasons to give the monopoly on Shevchenko to the bander-logs.
7. Two fleets are in Sevastopol no longer, only one is now stationed – the Russian one. It is just as old, only somewhat increased in size due to the ships that remained from Ukraine. They planned to build new piers for the “Mistral” [warships to be purchased from France] and the appropriate infrastructure, but the process got stuck for well-known reasons.
8. Almost everyone who used to form the local “elite” disappeared from the city authorities. Unlike in Crimea, there was a more radical revolution in Sevastopol, which was actively assisted by Aleksey Chalyi. There are many new faces in the leadership, both locals and from mainland Russia, starting from the governor Menyaylo. As for Menyaylo himself, he left a mixed feeling over the last year: on the one side he didn’t accept bribes and actively removed squatters; on the other side, some questions of the city development were stuck in bureaucratic red tape. In the March of this year, there were even rumors that Menyaylo will be removed.
9. The nationalizations did happen here, but it was quite limited: such half-measures weren’t expected from the local authorities, although the fact that the shipyard was finally taken away from Poroshenko was pleasing to many.
10. The banking collapse has been overcome over the last year and now, despite the sanctions, the banking system is working, albeit with an effort. The crucial banks for Sevastopol became the RNCB (which recently made it to the sanctions list), and Genbank.
11. The communications more or less settled, although their quality leaves much to be desired. The process of disconnecting from Ukrainian cellular networks ended up being fairly painful, although by now the process of migrating to the Russian numbers is effectively over.
12. The transport flow situation worsened, there are more cars in the city now (visitors, tourists, refugees), so the city transport network is now overloaded. The problem of parking in the downtown is very prominent.
13. The increase in salaries and prices wasn’t uniform. In the first months, the tempos of salary increases were ahead of the tempos of price increases. In the second half of the year, the situation changed. The prices gradually equalized mid-Russian ones. Ukrainian goods disappear from stores and are gradually replaced by Russian goods.
14. Regarding the promises, they were given during the period of stable ruble and expensive oil, so under the conditions of the ongoing war with the USA, the announced volume of promises will be hard to fulfill. Nevertheless, the work on building the bridge across the Kerch Strait has begun and the Sevastopol shipyard workers will get the promised orders in the coming months; they eagerly wait for those.
15. The crime level in the city is reduced, the security organs gradually transferred to the Russian standards, and there is no longer a major need to send the MIA [police] employees from the Moscow region here.
16. The reduction in crime levels is not in the least part due to stringent measures for regulating the alcohol market. The ban on selling booze during the night hours sharply reduced the number of drunks on the streets and the number of crimes associated with alcohol abuse. The difficulties of obtaining a license for selling alcohol sharply reduced the number of outlets where it is possible to buy anything stronger than beer. The road police officers take much fewer bribes now, and correspondingly it got much harder for drivers to avoid responsibility.
17. There is little change with respect to communal utilities, pretty much the same stuff. The tariffs increase, but not as fast as in Ukraine. There is some improvement with respect to cleanliness, but the city is still fairly dirty – there is still room for improvement.
18. For the first time in many years, the Internet became more expensive after the ruble collapse. 100 rubles were added on top of the previous tariff. The quality of the internet remains very good here, almost like in Moscow. After Rostov, I’m a bit ashamed of cursing our provider. The copyright holders squeezed it somewhat for running a network tracker, but the guys are clever, they made a new tracker and pretended that it is not theirs. Overall, everything remains the same here.
19. Despite the end of the rebellion, the city is still quite politicized. The symbols of Novorossia, the DPR, the militia insignia can be often encountered. The events in Donbass are constantly discussed – the hottest topics in the city are the relations with America, sanctions, and the war in Donbass.
20. Those who want to return to Ukraine are few. Even those who wanted to leave the “Russian occupation” in the summer sharply lost their desire to go to Ukraine after the start of mobilization [military conscription]. It is one thing to argue on the Internet and it is a quite different thing to get an assault rifle and depart to Donbass to get slaughtered. It’s not that there are absolutely no idiots, but that there are very few of them.
21. The city became more militarized, one can see military patrols, the movement of columns, flights of military jets more often these days. In this respect, the city returned to its historical role of a Russian military stronghold. Furthermore, according to plans, there will be further development in this direction.
22. The question of the airport remains unresolved. The military are not going to give up Belbek for civilian needs, so the projects of building an airport somewhere close to the city are constantly being discussed, so that one doesn’t have to go through Simferopol.
23. About passports – the question was closed already by the end of the summer. Effectively, everyone who wanted it already managed to obtain Russian documents, so the gigantic lines in passport offices became history. The refugees had a harder time, they are currently able to get the Russian passport only through a court by proving that some of their relatives lived in Crimea. For the most part, people got used to the refugees, now people are mostly indifferent to them, they pity women and children and view men with suspicion because they believe that men must be fighting in Donbass, where the residents of Sevastopol went to fight along with everyone else. The humanitarian aid for Donbass is still collected.
24. The tension in the relationship with the Tartars is not felt in the city, overall everything is the same with them as it used to be. Sevastopol was always aside from these conflicts that pursued Crimea, so here there is peaceful coexistence in this respect. Furthermore, the majority of Crimean-Tartar radicals left Crimea.
25. Chalyi is still the most popular person in the city, his authority among the common residents is huge. The first “people’s governor” of the Russian Spring remains one of its symbols, although in the context of the events in Donbass, his star is no longer as bright, after the rivers of blood and massive destruction in Donbass, after which the romance of the spring of 2014 evaporated and the harsh routine of protracted war that smells of dirt and blood came.
26. Fares for public transportation stabilized at 8-10 rubles [app. US17 cents] and remained there. Shuttle buses remain one of the most popular means of transportation in Sevastopol. The gas is 4-5 rubles more expensive here than in Rostov or in Krasnodar. The evaluations of gas stations differ: some do a good job, others “suck”.
27. There are many problems with e-commerce: the sanctions are not all that painful, rather, they are annoying. The freelancers did take a hit. The blockade of PlayMarket ended up being unpleasant for many, but upon leaving Crimea it is possible to download everything that is blocked in Crimea.
28. The political life of the city is half dead, just like before. Boring officialdom, local scandals. The scandal from the last year between Menyaylo and Chalyi was pretty much a hurricane if compared to the swamp of these days. Plus, the separatist movement cancelled itself for obvious reasons, so the reasons to get loud – with a pretense or without one – became much fewer.
29. Major Russian companies are reluctant to come to us, they are afraid of sanctions. So, for now, either the obscure intra-Russian companies show up or the big business cheats and deploys various “offspring” companies here, while pretending to be uninvolved.
30. The Communist movement in the city is average: there is a weak CPRF office (from the personnel of the former CPU), plus various groups of Marxists, Trotskyites, and worker organizations. After not taking the lead during the Crimean Spring, the communist organizations now undergo a difficult period of reorganization.
31. The anti-American sentiment in the city is very strong. Only the junta and the banderovites are hated more, who created a bloodbath in the Ukraine. Yanukovich and the Party of Regions are constantly remembered as being guilty in what happened. People often lament that they didn’t have the balls to execute “Euromaidan”.
32. The tourist season is expected to be better than last year, when there was a certain decrease in the number of tourists (the flow of tourists from Ukraine was narrower). Overall, the city is not likely to focus on the resort aspect of its development, because the major focus will be on army, fleet, and ship repair.
33. Nobody counts on foreign investments too much, so without many illusions, they focus on intra-Russian projects. Plus, they naturally expect government investments in production and infrastructure.
34. Some of the Ukrainian military who transferred to the Russian service continue to serve, although they are trying to route them through other fleets with the confines of strengthening their loyalty. Also there are programs of patriotic education, because the service to Ukraine naturally left its mark.
35. They are not going to turn Balaklava into a military base. They also don’t intend to restore the shaft-base and the Backup Command Office of the Black Sea Fleet “Alsu-2”, which were ruined by Ukraine. These projects are too expensive, so they clearly won’t give money for those now. On the other hand, the airports and the military camps are brought into order, plus they also deploy new materiel in them. Earlier, this had to be negotiated with Kiev, now one can bring whatever, up to strategic bombers. The military people are jubilant.
36. Housing prices increased. Furthermore, considering the holiday season, further increase in prices is unavoidable. The apartments are purchased by refugees from Ukraine and also by the residents of mainland Russia, who want to get here to live “close to the sea” or to have the opportunity for long-term recreation in the summer. The mess with the registries is mostly over, so the housing market gradually went back to normal.
37. Medical care is still conditionally free: just like during Ukraine, the help is free but they would be very grateful if a patient will buy some drugs for the department, of which there is always a shortage. Overall, little has changed here.
38. Ukrainian channels effectively disappeared from the TV screens, although everything is still present on cable networks. Some even watch the Ukrainian TV specifically “for the laughs”. So people sit and watch it with the utterances like “Did you see that, did you see these idiots?”. A comedy of sorts. Kiselyov isn’t liked much: too sugary. Solovyov’s program is the most popular among the political shows. As before, I don’t watch TV.
39. There is still unemployment, although it is partially hidden. New vacancies are expected due to the implementation of various infrastructural projects, which are currently in the preparation stage.
40. People in the city became somewhat more friendly, the cumulative effect from the last year’s union for reaching the common purpose is still active. The sudden outburst of collectivism showed people that it is possible to achieve results if they come together. This played an important role in the growth of the civilian conscience of the Sevastopol residents, who indeed felt that they are citizens and not just population. It is always more pleasant to talk to citizens. People like that.
Overall, the city changed quite dramatically and continues to change, just like the world around it. Sevastopol, having realized its dream, now lives with the expectations of the fulfillment of the promises given in the spring of 2014 and is at the same time preparing for the trials it has to go through together with Russia. And, of course, my life also changed a lot – a year ago I could afford to intellectualize on a sofa without much responsibility, and exactly a year ago I could simply be honestly jubilant about my involvement in the events I dreamt about. A year later, I mark this holiday away from home, not far away from the fighting in Donbass to which my life is now bound. Back then, Donbass arose together with us and continues to fight for that which we obtained relatively easily, on the background of what the residents of Novorossia had to go through.
Besides the fulfillment of my dream, this year also gave me the feeling of responsibility for those people who continue to fight and whom I can’t abandon on the road to their dream – of ending the war and of Novorossia being free. So for me, the today’s holiday is both happy and sad. I cannot be happy enough about what happened a year ago, but I’m also sad and hurt that Novorossia ended up having a much rougher road to freedom.
Once again, I wish everyone a happy holiday and urge you to remember about our comrades, who started together with us and continue to fight for what is right. I am confident that we will win and that Novorossia will happen.
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