Video: Crimea’s isolation increasing after Russian annexation
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A group of truck and taxi drivers gather on a railway platform in the southeastern Ukrainian town of Novooleksiyivka to greet what was the Kiev-Simferopol train.
But the train from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev to Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, no longer crosses into the disputed Crimean peninsula. Passengers heading to Crimea must get off the train and continue their journey by road.
A year after the Russian annexation of Crimea, the transportation business is suddenly thriving in this sleepy town, but there are still always more drivers than passengers.
Many of the drivers are ethnic Tatars, who make up a third of the population here. The annexation of Crimea has cut off mainland Tartars from those on the peninsula, some of whom have been forced to flee.
Bilal Bilalovt, a Tatar metal-worker displaced from Crimea, says he faced jail on trumped up charges because of his pro-Ukrainian position. “There are lots of people in my position. The younger ones don't stop here; they go further into Ukraine to find work. But I'm old. So I'm living at the mosque and helping with the renovations,” explained Bilalovt.
The Tatars hope Crimea will one day be returned to Ukraine, but they know the opposite is also possible: that Russia will try to take these regions of eastern Ukraine in order to access the Crimean peninsula.
“I know that the Ukrainian government is seriously worried about this possibility,” said Asan Aliev, chairman of the regional Tatar mejlis, or parliament. “There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved, but they must be resolved whilst respecting Ukraine's sovereignty,” he adds.
Waiting at the Chongar border
At the Chongar border crossing between Ukraine and Crimea, a long line of trucks snakes out under the springtime sun. Chongar is one of only two roads into Crimea and individuals must wait hours, and trucks days, to pass through.
“God knows what the Russians' instructions are because really it should be possible to check the vehicles much quicker than this,” grumbles Vladimir, a truck driver waiting to pass to the other side.
The long delays at the border are forcing prices up in Crimea up and squeezing the profits of Ukrainian suppliers on the other side. Most people around here agree that the current situation with Crimea is not economically viable, but no-one can really predict how things are going to evolve.