July, 21

Living in two houses. Why Crimeans travel to Ukraine and Russia more and more

07/11/2016 04:58:05 pm
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During the Russian annexation of Crimea locals suffered a lot from "the Russian world charms": energy, transport and food blockade, international isolation and rejection, sanctions, rising prices, investment outflows and empty beaches. In this regard, many decided to leave Crimea in search of a better life. Two directions are popular: Russia and Ukraine.

However, some Crimeans continue to live on the peninsula, but regularly travel to the mainland for registration (re-registration) of documents, for food, medicines, equipment. All those, who tore Ukrainian passport on camera, have long gone to Ukraine and restored it.

Crossing the Crimean "border"

A large number of people who for one reason or another are forced to regularly travel to Ukraine live in Crimea. They face a number of difficulties in the so-called Crimean-Ukrainian border where it is necessary to pass two customs controls. Locals have long received Russian passports. Those, who resisted to the last and lived in Crimea with the Ukrainian passport, had to give it up because it is extremely difficult to live without the main Russian document on the peninsula.

In 2014 President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko spoke in a strange way at one of his press conferences regarding the Crimean people who received Russian citizenship and passports, respectively.

"We will have different approaches to those Crimeans who adopted Russian citizenship, I promise you," - he said.

But in the summer of 2016 Minister on the occupied territories and internally displaced persons Vadim Chernysh stood up for the Crimean people.

"We understand that many of those in  Crimea had to get a Russian passport in order to survive. Here are some people calling to recognize them traitors. I strongly disagree with this position," - he said.

However, the Russian passport issued in Crimea has no power and can be removed and destroyed in Ukraine.

The main difficulty of crossing the Ukrainian-Crimean border is that the border guards of Ukraine do not recognize the Russian documents issued in Crimea. Russian border guards let reluctantly Crimean residents pass with Ukrainian passports. Therefore, the optimal solution for such trips  is to have two current passport: Russian and Ukrainian.

"We warn people that under no circumstances they should pass the border with the Russian passport issued in Crimea. 100% that Ukrainian border guards would not let them pass. But many do not listen to us and want to prove something, to show their incomprehensible and patriotic position . I know  cases when Russian passports were destroyed at the Ukrainian checkpoint and people went back. There were cases when the person traveled with two passports: at first showed Russia one, hid it, and at the next customs control showed the Ukrainian one. Everything would be all right, but during the searches the Russian passport was found and seized. Therefore, the safest way to travel is using valid Ukrainian passport. They let you pass with it," - says Mikhail, organizer of bus tours Kiev-Simferopol.

Russian border guards have recently forced those traveling with Ukrainian passports and Crimean residence to fill in migration cards. But they laugh off that soon they will not accept such documents.

Therefore, residents of Crimea are trying to travel to Ukraine on time to paste the photo in the Ukrainian passport or obtain it if it was  lost or destroyed after obtaining the Russian one.

International passports and visa

A lot of Crimean people travel to Ukraine to apply for visa. Neither the EU nor the United States and any other civilized country in the world recognized Crimea as part of Russia, respectively, its residents can not apply for a visa with the Russian-Crimean passport.

At the end of 2014 Russian passports started to be issued in Crimea. The point was just that the place of issue was listed as Krasnodar region. Thus, the Russian authorities want to make the most legitimate and suitable documents for submission to the foreign consulates. But this trick fails, because you must submit an internal passport and other documents together with the passport for a visa.

Today Crimeans with the Russian international passports can travel freely only to a number of countries, with which Russia has concluded a visa-free regime (Azerbaijan, Abkhazia, Hong Kong, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cuba, Morocco, etc.).

Accordingly, Crimeans wishing to travel around Europe have to go to the mainland of Ukraine to obtain a visa. At the same time, they face a number of difficulties, since it is difficult to submit the required documents to the consulate: a certificate of employment or bank statement. To do this, there are special agencies both in Crimea and Ukraine, which "solve" these problems for some fee. The main thing is to have a valid Ukrainian passport.

"Many Crimeans were fools and tore Ukrainian passport on a wave of euphoria of reunification with Russia. Today, they shed crocodile tears. Everyone wants to go abroad, even on vacation, especially young people want to do it. How can they do it without a passport? So, they go to hated Ukraine, get a passport and then visa. Taking into consideration information about a possible visa-free regime with the EU, youth kick themselves in the balls and try to go and get biometric passports. Patriotism evaporates quickly when it comes to practical things," - says Crimean resident Nikolay to OstroV.

Indeed, when information that Ukraine may soon get a visa-free regime with the EU countries appeared, the number of Crimean residents traveling to the mainland for biometric passports has increased significantly. This information was confirmed by Crimean travel agencies and firms that are engaged in providing passenger transportation between the peninsula and Ukraine.

"They go in order to get passports. Sometimes they book some minibuses for groups of colleagues or families, we bring them to Kherson straight to places that issue or extend Ukrainian international passports. The number of such people has increased for six months. They say that it is better to have a back-up plan. They dream to travel without a visa, perhaps," - says Alexander, one of the organizers of these trips.

At the same time, a number of Crimea tourist and visa agencies offer local residents a trip to Europe with the Crimean passport.

"For Crimean citizens it is possible to get a visa to Spain! But only with the provision of long-term registration on the Russian mainland, preferably not less than 6 months at the time of submission of documents for Spanish visa. Getting a Spanish visa isn’t difficult with the correct filing of documents," - says an ad of one of these agencies.

Thus, it is possible to get a visa only if you have a residence permit or a temporary registration on the Russian mainland. Even so, nobody will guarantee 100% successful result.

But the first thing that you will be offered is to get a visa "through Ukraine". So, it will be easier, faster and cheaper.

"Not long ago I went to a travel agency in Simferopol to buy a tour to France and get a Schengen visa. The ads all over the city said that residents of Crimea with the local residence permit had no problems in obtaining a visa. They only forgot to clarify that it was possible to do it in Ukraine and with Ukrainian passport. Everything costs 300 euros. It was enough to make a false certificate of employment, bank statements and everything else. I had only to come to Kiev to give fingerprints and go away. There is no another option," - said resident of Simferopol Andrey.

But some agencies still offer alternatives. They claim that a number of European countries (Italy, Spain, Greece, Spain) are more or less loyal to Russia and can open a visa for the Crimean travel document. OstroV contacted the representative of one of these firms which said: "We do not guarantee that you will get a visa, but we promise to do everything possible so that you get it. We have some cases where the visa was issued. In general, the chances are about 50 to 50. In any case, we strongly recommend you either to apply for a visa on your own in Ukraine or to obtain a residence permit on the mainland of Russia and then you will more chances to get a visa."

OstroV failed to find specific and confirmed cases of opening the EU or US visa for residents of Crimea with Russian international passports. Locals tend not to take risks and still go to "hated for them Ukraine" for documents.

It should be noted that to obtain a Schengen or US visa in Ukraine with Crimean residence permit is not difficult and is not a separate procedure. In this regard, the international community strictly "adheres to" understanding that Crimea is Ukraine.

Food, clothing and medical tourism

OstroV has repeatedly carried out a study of prices in annexed Crimea and the Ukrainian capital, showing that prices are several times higher on the peninsula than in Kiev.

This is the main factor that makes Crimeans travel to mainland of Ukraine for cheaper products. Another important reason is that range of products significantly reduced in Crimea during last two years due to sanctions and logistical difficulties.

The so-called "food tourism" began in 2014 immediately after Russia's annexation of Crimea. Then residents of the peninsula traveled to Ukraine for medicines, household appliances, clothes, food, and even building materials. But since 2015 the situation has become more complicated due to the transport and food blockade of Crimea. As a result, the peninsula ceased to be supplied with Ukrainian products, at least legally. Going to the mainland of Ukraine has become extremely difficult and expensive.

"It was still bearable while Ukrainian products were supplied to Crimea. Most locals are accustomed to the Ukrainian goods and prices were reasonable. It has become very hard since the beginning of the blockade. Local products are scarce, everything is basically supplied from Russia. Taking into consideration the way of delivery, prices are raised. Therefore, people coming from Moscow to Crimea are surprised to find that the prices in the Russian capital are lower than here. For example, queue for cheap local milk starts early in the morning in Crimea, pensioners are the most active, grabbing it from the shelves. Only Russian goods at high prices can be found in large supermarkets," - says local resident Yekaterina from Sevastopol.

Despite the food blockade, Ukrainian goods are still found on the Crimean markets. The main thing to know when and where to look for. Sausage and cheese products, pasta, salt, sugar, vegetables, fruits and so on are still supplied from Ukraine. These products are in great demand among Crimeans due to value for money. For example, a small package of Chumak ketchup costs 60 rubles on Sevastopol market (about 23 UAH) while in Kiev supermarkets it is about 10 UAH. But it is, in any case, cheaper than Russian products, the price on which starts from 80 rubles per pack of ketchup. It is simple maths which makes the locals look for Ukrainian goods that are imported and sold illegally.

But not everyone can afford the market margins for Ukrainian goods and many choose a different way. They, for example, go once a month to Ukraine by car and buy products for weeks in advance. But it was like that only until recently. Today transportation of products to the territory of Crimea is strictly prohibited. According to eyewitnesses, Ukrainian border guards carefully inspect all bags and make people even throw away "personal food, chocolate bars and a couple of apples."

"When we are asked what products can be imported to Crimea, we honestly answer: "Nothing," - says Alexander, the organizer of trips through the Crimean border.

Therefore, Crimeans began to travel to the Russian mainland in search of more affordable products. Popular destinations are Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don. Despite transport costs, it turns out to be much more beneficial.

"We have recently decided to start renovation of our apartment in Simferopol. We went to all the local shops and came to the conclusion that it was cheaper to go to Krasnodar, buy all the necessary materials and order delivery. Prices are inappropriate and what is more there is no range. The only thing we regret that we didn’t buy that all in Ukraine when it was still possible,"- said resident of Simferopol Mikhail.

The so-called "head of government" of Crimea has recently confirmed that there is a shortage of building materials on the peninsula.

"There is shortage of sand, gravel, cement and skilled workers in the region. All these problems must be under constant control of the executive authorities," – he said at the parliamentary session on June 22nd.

But only local residents, who are forced to seek their own way out of the deficit on the peninsula and high prices, face these and other problems.

There is a slightly different situation with medication which is not found in Crimea, but can be brought through the "border" with Ukraine. Some doctors were not able to give up Ukrainian medicine and find full Russian counterparts. Therefore, they continued to prescribe medication to patients which cannot be legally found in Crimea.

Some Crimean doctors told OstroV that it was possible to get Ukrainian or other foreign medication (which is forbidden in Russia, for example). The main thing is to know who to call and order in advance.

"A number of doctors could not find decent analogues for certain medication, therefore, they bring it from Ukraine. I even know a couple of pharmacies, where medication from Ukraine is sold to "trusted people". People shouldn’t die because of politics, should they?" - confessed one of the Crimean doctors to OstroV.

There is a tendency in Crimea to go to Ukraine or Russia for treatment. It is believed that it is cheaper, easier and more reliable.

How Ukraine made Crimean non-residents of the country

"Those (Crimeans - OstroV) who live and work on the territory of Ukraine should enjoy full rights of Ukrainian citizens," - said Poroshenko at the end of 2014.

The President’s message has not been heard and brought to life yet. Residents of Crimea are equated to non-residents in Ukraine in accordance with the Resolution of NBU No. 699 "On the application of certain provisions of currency legislation during the regime of temporary occupation on the territory of Crimea free economic zone".

Since November 2014 the ordinary banking operations have become unavailable for Crimean people. For example, they cannot buy or sell currencies in the bank, take loans or even make bank transfers. To do this, you must at least provide certificate of internally displaced persons or other evidence that Crimeans live in Ukraine (for example, certificate of employment).

"This is a direct violation of my constitutional rights. I am a citizen of Ukraine, Crimea is part of Ukraine, that’s why my registration in the passport does not make me a traitor and a non-resident. I have been living, working, earning and paying  taxes in Kiev, but 2 years ago Ukraine made me a non-resident. I have to ask my friends for help to buy foreign currency. Is it better for Ukraine? I am not a displaced person since I had moved to Kiev before the annexation of Crimea, so I do not consider it necessary to go and register as a forced migrant. I hope very much that in the near future this improper mess will be over and common sense will prevail," - says Denis, Crimean resident who has been living in Kiev for 5 years.

The Cabinet has recently made life for forced migrants even harder, including those from Crimea, by adopting Resolution No. 365 "Some issues of paying social benefits to internally displaced persons."

Now, forced migrants will go through a mandatory inspection by representatives of the Ministry of Social Policy every six months to restore or get social benefits. State inspectors will come to place of residence of forced migrants and check the accuracy of the information specified in the application of the place of residence. At the same time, they will file an act of the material and living conditions of the family. Based on these documents, the special commission will decide to appoint (to restore) the payment or not.

Thus, Ukraine, on the one hand, promotes the idea that Crimea is an integral part of Ukrainian territory, and, on the other, "builds a fence of barbed wire" and calls them non-residents. Crimeans have long recognized that nothing good happens on the peninsula, they try to travel to Russia and Ukraine if possible. But they are strangers there.

Andrey Andreyev, OstroV