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An Eyewitness Recounts the Crimean Referendum Two Years Ago (Part 3)

Until the moment of Putin’s speech in Moscow on March 18, Crimeans feared Russia would not accept them

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March 18 marked the second anniversary of Crimea rejoining Russia after referendum on independence from the Ukraine. RI commemorates the event with remarks and recollections of an eyewitness, a scientist who lives in Sevastopol. Before the February coup in the Ukraine, he spent two weeks in Kiev, personally witnessing the chaos going on there. Back home, he became active in the Russian liberation movement. 

In this the third of three articles written specially for RI, the author describes the mood in Sevastopol as they were anticipating Vladimir Putin’s decision on the fate of Crimea.

<figcaption>The motherland!</figcaption>
The motherland!

Recently I’ve watched a movie dedicated to Victory Day. In the evening of May 9, 1945 people gathered on the Red Square and patiently wait for the famous presenter, Levitan, reading the order of the Commander-in-Chief on the victory over fascist Germany. Everyone had already known that the war was over, the Act of unconditional surrender of Germany was signed but we were waiting the very moment when it’ would become fait accompli, when the hideous war would become a thing of the past, when we would finally burst into tears and congratulate each other.

Of course, it’s nothing to be compared between this war and our “Crimean Spring”. But the emotions we experienced on March 18, may be the same in some way. About 3 p.m. everyone switched on TV. Thousands of people gathered in front of the screen on Nakhimov Square. People were waiting with strained attention and anticipation for the very moment when speaker would say: “This is Moscow!”

Up until yesterday an idea crept into my mind every once in a while what if they would betray us? What if the referendum was all farce, an element of tricky political game? Everything seemed so unreal. Would Putin actually go against the West? Would he deny all that positive that Russia had gained due to the Olympics? So many efforts and resources were put in it. They were likely to use the referendum as a bargaining chip in trade, saying: “Look, 90% are for Russia. The Crimea can’t live like it lived before”.

Then they would bargain over some confederation as a part of the Ukraine or autonomous status like that of Hong Kong. And this entire story about joining the Russian Federation was made up to make people actually believe them and vote in the referendum in order to demonstrate figures.

But on the other hand our mind told us: “No, they can’t do this to us. We’ll be so disappointed! People won’t be able to believe Russia – neither in the Crimea, nor in the Ukraine, nowhere. Russia’s own nation will never forgive this betrayal”.

I remember the day after the referendum  Lyube rock  band performed on Nakhimov Square. Guys came answering the call of their heart, not because of money, just to support us. Both audience and musicians understood that that moment was historical. There was some authenticity in it.

Their lyrics “Sevastopol’s waiting for us, Kamchatka’s waiting for us…" made our skin crawl. A man of 40 stood next to us. He said: “I’ve never voted in elections my whole life. Because it makes no difference – nothing depends on us. This ‘theatre’ is not for me. But I voted in the referendum though!” I answered: “So did we. No one among our neighbors voted in elections for many years; the same about our relatives. No one believes the elections. But today they all voted. Even a woman, who lives above and hasn’t gone out for 2 years, got up and visited the polling station!”

Almost the whole yard voted in the referendum. An old lady of 93 was the first who voted early in the morning. She saw us in the yard in the afternoon and said: “Have you visited the polls? You should go. It all depends on us, on each of us”. People believed, hoped for the referendum. The fate not only of my whole life but also that of my children and grandchildren was being decided. Such thing happens only once in the lifetime. It can’t be given away.

After the results of the referendum were known on March 17, it became clear – we were going to become a part of Russia. The Supreme Council of the Crimea declared the independence of the Republic of Crimea from Ukraine and requested to join the Russian Federation. Russia accepted the Crimea. Just one small thing was lacking – signing and ratifying the agreement.  

St George's Hall of the Kremlin. Deputies, eminent state, public and religious figures of Russia – all colors of the country. The Crimeans  - Aksenov, Konstantinov and Sevastopol’s ‘people’s mayor’ Chaly wearing his branded black sweater that he wore for last days – were sitting in the front row. Wow! Let everyone see that Sevastopol is a special city, not like others. Tears came to my eyes from the first minute. People applauded – someone streamed Sevastopol’s flag. Well done.

It could be seen how Putin was tense. It might be the most important moment in his political career. The President spoke about the part that the Crimea played in the fate of Russia, separately about Sevastopol – the birthplace of Black Sea Fleet. Then he spoke that there was no legitimate power in the Ukraine, about the repressions threatening for oppositionists of the coup. He spoke about the vested right for self-determination, about Kosovo independence precedent and that the Crimea’s people had the right to decide on their own destiny. He thanked India and China for understanding and support in relation to this question. In fact he motivated the legitimacy of the decision on the Crimea joining from a perspective of international law. What powerful and informative speech!

Until the last minutes we were nervous whether our city would join Russia as a separate subject or as a part of the Crimea. The reason suggested that it would be a city of federal importance because it always had special status. And now the last phrase: “…ask to consider the Constitutional Law on annexation of two new federal subjects by the Russian Federation: the Republic of the Crimea and the city of Sevastopol”.  Tears streamed down from my eyes. In a moment we saw that Chaly couldn’t either keep tears from his eyes and cried with happiness. Possibly thousands of people experienced the same at that moment. Our dream came true!

All tension went away at once. Of course, we hoped that everything would happen in this way. But we weren’t sure to the last – would Putin do it or not?

Yet on March 19, we woke up to live in the other country. Literally. The same we experienced in 1991 when the USSR collapsed – fell asleep in one country but woke up in the other. But the country broke up back then, and now in opposite it is sticking together!

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