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Crimea referendum divides friends and families

© Vasiliy BATANOV / AFP

Text by Brenna DALDORPH

Latest update : 2014-03-17

Crimea voted by 93% Sunday to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a referendum condemned as illegal by the US and EU. Yet Crimeans themselves tell a more nuanced story about making divisive decisions on how and whether or not to vote.

The vote took place several weeks after Russian-led forces took control of Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian region in southeastern Ukraine that has close historic ties to Moscow. Many Russophone residents of Crimea fear oppression from the Western-leaning Ukrainian government that took over when President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted last month.

Borys Tatorin, a resident of the regional capital of Simferopol, said that many voters seemed exuberant at his local polling station.

“Almost everyone was happy about the idea of returning to Russia,” he said.

Not all residents, however, want to be part of Russia. Some residents, especially Muslim Tartars and ethnic Ukrainians, even fear oppression from Russia.

"The media has glossed over the complexities that characterise ethnic identities and political orientations among Crimea’s diverse population,” said Austin Charron, a PhD candidate from the University of Kansas, who completed research on nationalism and identity in Crimea.

“Most reports regarding the region’s ethnic makeup would have you believe that its citizens are sharply polarised between those who look towards Moscow and those who look towards Kyiv- Russians on the one hand, and Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars on the other. My research tells a very different story.”

'I spoilt my ballot in protest'

In this multi-ethnic area with a proud regional identity, national divisions and loyalties are both nuanced and difficult and don’t always fall along ethnic lines.

Borys Tatorin is ethnically Russian but he considers himself Ukrainian and wants Crimea to stay part of Ukraine.

It’s a choice that has caused him some personal angst.

“I split up with my girlfriend because of our different views on the Crimean future. Many of my friends would like to stay in Ukraine, on the other hand, some of them would like to acquire a Russian passport. That theme has united us, but at the same time, it has divided us.

“My family also has different points of view. My parents prefer to stay in Ukraine but another part of my family wants to unite to Russia.”

He was unsure how to express his opinion in a referendum that he felt did not contain enough choices.

“I made a protest in European way (particularly British one). I put a cross to every square, which means, that my ballot is no longer active. It’s spoilt,” he told FRANCE 24 on Sunday.

Difficult choices

Aleksey Sobol, a paediatric neurosurgeon, chose not to vote even though the hospital where he works was a polling station.

“I decided not to vote from the very beginning of this process. I want Crimea with Ukraine: it is about feelings,” he said.

The decision was harder for his Russophone parents, who live in the small town of Saki on the outskirts of Simferopol.

“My father considered spoiling his ballot by crossing out both options,” Sobol said. “My father was born in Russia but he is very attached to the idea of freedom of speech.”

“My mother, on the other hand, is afraid of the consequences of not voting. She also has a lot of doubts. Her brother lives in Russia and he called her yesterday and asked her to vote to join Russia.”

Whether or not the results of the referendum hand a landslide victory to Russia, the story of individual Crimeans and their national identity remains far more complex and nuanced.

Date created : 2014-03-16


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