As a native Crimean who studies Political Science at the New York University, I find it striking how the majority of my compatriots perceive political situation on the peninsula. During my last visit home, I have noticed the resentment against Ukraine has been growing as the result of the blackout. Crimeans’ anti-Ukrainian sentiment is understandable, considering Kyiv government’s ambiguous reaction to this incident, but I find it surprising that most blame all their woes on Ukraine, but never on the local authorities.
An overwhelming majority of people I talked to back home strongly believe that only Ukraine is responsible for their hardship. At the same time, most Crimeans do not blame the de-facto authorities of the peninsula for their hardships. On the contrary, Putin and Aksyonov are seen as heroes, who ensure safety and well-being of Crimeans. Such a high approval of Russian authorities in Crimea may be explained by the impact of massive propaganda from the Russian media that takes advantage of the mistakes of the Ukrainian government in its portrayal of current difficulties in Crimea.
I experienced the effect of this propaganda firsthand, when I interacted with my former teachers and classmates. Most of them believe that Ukrainian government aims to eradicate the Russian speaking population of Crimea by cutting off the electricity and food supplies. Crimeans’ blind support for the de facto government of Crimea clearly shows the extent of the impact of Russian propaganda.
In fact, not supporting these leaders and questioning Russia’s involvement in Ukraine is considered a crime by Crimean society that refuses to accept different opinions. Every time I expressed my critical stance on Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, I have been labeled as a “CIA agent” or a “traitor”. Some of my acquaintances even refused to talk to me after I dared to use words like “illegitimate” and “criminal” when referring to Aksyonov and his government.
Due to the tremendous social pressure, it is increasingly hard and dangerous to openly criticize current Crimean authorities or the Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. Every single Crimean resident is expected to praise and support Putin and Aksyonov for their combined efforts to “save Crimea from Ukrainian Neo-Nazis”. Those who do not join this campaign and have a critical position on the events in Crimea are often marginalized within their own communities and workplaces. Similarly, openly criticizing the Orthodox Church and its fundamental agenda as well as supporting human rights or LGBT issue can make one’s life unbearable in Crimea because of a huge social disapproval.
In general, it could not be any easier for a Crimean to become an outcast in his native land — having positive attitude to the West and western values is enough.