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“A wave of repression is sweeping over us; people are terrified.” Voices of Crimea after 10 years of occupation

On March 18, 2014, shortly after the onset of military occupation, the “Treaty on the Accession of the Republic of Crimea to the Russian Federation” was signed. Before the illegitimate “referendum” of March 16, there appeared to be roughly equal numbers of supporters and opponents of annexation rallying in Crimea's squares. Then mass repression targeting activists and Crimean Tatars (some of whom were later found dead with signs of torture), coupled with active Kremlin censorship and propaganda, crushed resistance efforts. The Insider interviewed multiple residents of Crimea. While some speak of their seemingly comfortable lives on 30,000 rubles ($325) per month and file complaints with the police against neighbors singing Ukrainian songs, others confess to hoping for Ukraine's return and describe an atmosphere of pervasive fear.

Content
  • “What saved me was that I stopped watching TV. Russian propaganda operates at an unreachable level”

  • “We all thought we'd be safe with Russia — now that sounds silly”

  • “We're pulling in up to 30,000 here, and although prices are on the rise, life is just fantastic!”

  • “Previously, we were afraid of the siren, but now no one reacts to it droning on and on”

  • “If you speak Ukrainian, you'll be reported”

“What saved me was that I stopped watching TV. Russian propaganda operates at an unreachable level”

Stanislav, 40, an entrepreneur

I've been in Crimea since birth. First in Simferopol, then in Sevastopol. My wife is from there. My father is from Kyiv, and my mother is from Crimea. Perhaps that's why my affinity for Ukraine is stronger than that of many of my acquaintances. It has long been our custom to see ourselves as an autonomous republic. Crimean residents were fixated on this idea, and ultimately, we see where it led: we finally 'autonomized' ourselves from Ukraine, so to speak.

In 2014, it seemed to me that only 30% of the people supported Russia. Now I think it was 50%, and among the remaining 50% (who supported Ukraine), about 30% were skeptical — those who were not happy, or not entirely happy, with Ukraine but didn't want to 'part ways' with it. However, after a series of negative actions by Ukraine, including cutting off water and electricity, the percentage of skeptics shifted in favor of Russia, and the rest simply left.

I have a fairly large circle of acquaintances, but only two people remain who support Ukraine. They are not ready for any actions. They are afraid to correspond, to talk on the phone. The pro-Russian mood was also fueled by the actions of the international community and the imposed sanctions: a huge number of international companies did not cooperate with Crimeans. It was impossible to use bank cards — Visa and Mastercard did not work. The sanctions affected not Putin but ordinary Crimeans, so people gave up on resistance and began to support Russia.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

The sanctions affected not Putin but ordinary Crimeans, so people gave up on resistance and began to support Russia

At first, things were different. Prior to the referendum, my acquaintances and friends were opposed to Crimea becoming part of Russia. We assumed only grandmothers who wanted to speak Russian and representatives of the Black Sea Fleet would vote “in favor.” However, when we cast our votes against it and saw the results the next day, with over 90% in favor, we realized the entire referendum was a farce. We felt hopeless, expecting Ukraine to recognize the blatant falsification and take action, but nothing happened. Russia acted with impunity, leaving those opposed to it feeling isolated — it turned out over 90% wanted to align with Russia, with the dissenters in the minority. What could we do? Attend protests amidst the presence of “little green men” armed with machine guns?

During the rally, 90% of the protesters were Tatars and roughly 10% were Russian speakers. There were as many supporters of Russia as there were of us, yet after the protest they started looking for the buses that had brought them in. It was evident that everything had been orchestrated: Russia brought in people from Sevastopol, while Ukraine failed to provide any assistance to its supporters. The following morning, access to the Supreme Council building was blocked — the perimeter secured by those “little green men.”

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

  • The confrontation between supporters of Ukrainian unity and pro-Russian activists outside the Crimean Supreme Council building in Simferopol, Ukraine, on February 26, 2014.
  • Crimean Tatars outside the Crimean Supreme Council, February 26, 2014.
  •  Pro-Russian activists outside the Crimean Supreme Council, February 26, 2014.

Russia was proactive. Roadblocks were promptly erected, patrols established, and television channels fervently engaged in propaganda. My friends in Kyiv begged me to leave, but I couldn't fathom abandoning my home to the occupiers. If we all departed, only Russia's loyalists would remain, leaving Ukraine with no one to return Crimea to.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

If we all departed, only Russia's loyalists would remain, leaving Ukraine with no one to return Crimea to

We were only saved from Russian propaganda by the fact that in the first days after the vote, we stopped watching television. I observed many people who initially supported Ukraine and saw how they gradually switched allegiance, influenced by Russian news — propaganda in Russia operates at an amazingly high level.

In the initial weeks following the referendum, we found ourselves without cash, as everything we had was tied up in goods. We ran a grocery store, with the remainder of our funds held in a Ukrainian bank account. When Ukraine severed its ties with our payment systems, we were unable to withdraw money from the bank. Additionally, we suffered significant losses in currency exchange due to the unstable exchange rate, which was manipulated at will.

Then came the challenges of obtaining a birth certificate for our second son. It took us several years to travel to Ukrainian territory and navigate the courts to prove our child's birth in Crimea. We wished to remain aligned with Ukraine, but the endeavor was fraught with risk. Every trip to Ukrainian territory brought interrogation by Russian military personnel. If they discovered your purpose was document-related, immediate detainment followed. Repression was constant, and venturing beyond the territory was a daunting prospect.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

Every trip to Ukrainian territory brought interrogation by Russian military personnel

Meanwhile, I held onto my Ukrainian license plates until the very end. It felt like I was the last one in the city to do so. Each time I was pulled over by the police, inspectors would inquire, “Why haven't you changed your plates? It's been three months since Crimea became part of Russia.” Eventually, they started threatening to seize my car.

The same dilemma applied to my passport: without it, I couldn't renew leases for my apartment and business or file tax returns, and I risked eviction. Many who wished to leave post-referendum couldn't because selling their property became impossible. Crimean notaries swiftly shifted to Russian laws. They continued their work without retraining, simply transitioning allegiance. Consequently, people found themselves trapped, needing a Russian passport to facilitate property transactions.

We resisted obtaining Russian passports until the eleventh hour, but they gradually tightened the screws. Our children remained in kindergarten even after annexation, until officials warned, “Renew your documents or your child will no longer be able to attend.” We hoped for a brief transition, thinking, “We'll comply for a month or two, then surely Ukraine will return.” But it didn't return.

When the water supply was cut, it crippled crop cultivation. Local produce vanished, prices skyrocketed as imports from Russia flooded in, yet the quality remained questionable. This undermined food security, stoking sentiments among Russia supporters, who rallied behind slogans like “Russia will support us, while Ukraine has abandoned us.”

Similarly, we faced challenges with electricity. At home we relied on LED lamps and batteries. I had a cable connected to a car battery, ensuring continuous power to illuminate our home. But none of this aided in the fight against Russia; instead, it fostered anti-Ukrainian sentiments.

Occasionally, there were rallies. Personally, I took part in two. One aimed to support entrepreneurs, as Russia had abruptly closed numerous trading platforms in Crimea. Entrepreneurs, viewed as a threat by Putin, possess incomes and the freedom to travel and understand the reality of Putin's Russia, hence his active opposition against them. This crackdown impacted us directly — our shop was among those shuttered.

The second rally was much smaller — attended by about 10 people. It was a silent protest, promoted by Navalny. We quietly walked in Nakhimov Square. Each of us was approached by a cop, photographed, and warned that attending such events again would change our lives for the worse. It was alarming; merely strolling in the city's main square exposed us to immediate threats. You hardly took a step in the wrong direction, and a cop was already approaching. It seemed that even contemplating protest put us in the crosshairs.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

The cop warned us that attending such events again would change our lives for the worse

I found myself facing a judge several months after the annexation. However, it wasn't due to a protest but because my wife and I missed filing a tax declaration. In Russia, the tax system still resembles that of the Soviet Union: everything must be filled out by hand, using specific ink, and following strict rules, which we didn't fully understand. As I sat in court next to the defendant's enclosure, I was immediately warned: “Next time, you'll be on the other side.”

Recently, I was fined for crossing a dividing line on a highway that wasn't there. But I suspect it's because of my Ukrainian driver's license, the only document I didn't change, despite being stopped and questioned numerous times. Even though I presented the judge with photos showing the dashed line, she insisted that the documents indicated a solid line, rendering the photos irrelevant. I believe they did it to confiscate my car, which they could do in the case of such an offense. They'll come up with anything to pressure you, especially if you still have something Ukrainian, forcing you to either proclaim your love for Putin or keep a low profile.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

You either proclaim your love for Putin or keep a low profile

And when the war began, fear set in. On February 24th, my sister from Kyiv called, startled awake by explosions. Here in Sevastopol, just steps from the naval fleet headquarters, one realizes that when a projectile is launched from here, her place is being bombarded. It's a chilling connection — witnessing something that could harm your sister, grandmother, or brother.

Stepping outside, I encountered a procession of cars adorned with Russian flags — all honking, celebrating the onset of war, as if they were bombing my sister right then. What's more, these were vehicles from other regions — the 50th, the 197th [indicating that they were registered in Moscow and its surrounding region – The Insider] — all converging on Crimea during this period. I erupted in curses on the road, but my wife cautioned, “Keep quiet, or they'll come for us next.”

Currently, Crimea is gripped by a wave of repression. My acquaintances live in fear, they are terrified of making a misstep. They are haunted by the prospect of their messaging apps being monitored, with every word scrutinized. A friend of mine, still without a Russian passport and struggling to make ends meet, expressed a desire to disconnect his home internet entirely. He can no longer access any website, fearing that visiting the wrong one could have dire consequences.

“We all thought we'd be safe with Russia — now that sounds silly”

Alice, 27, works in PR

I'm from Sevastopol, and frankly, Sevastopol residents had positive sentiments toward Russia even before 2014. Our anthem even sings, “Sevastopol! Sevastopol! City of Russian sailors!” After 2014, Sevastopol residents became even more loyal, even more patriotic than Moscow. Of course, there were some protests against Crimea joining Russia in the city, but I don't remember them being talked about actively. My circle was either neutral or positive.

Moreover, there was a vigorous advertising campaign by Russia, which also influenced perceptions. Weird posters were everywhere, depicting Crimea in tricolor, supposedly happy, and Crimea behind bars, with the question, “Which one do you choose?”

There was much talk that Ukrainians would abolish the Russian language, and for us Sevastopol residents, that would have been a catastrophic step, as practically everyone in the city speaks Russian. Partly because of this, many people viewed Russia's actions positively. Besides, Maidan was presented as death and horror. We all thought we'd be safe with Russia, that Russia would protect us — now that sounds silly.

Those who opposed the annexation fled to Ukraine. However, some Ukrainians harbored positive sentiments and moved to Crimea, while others had already held favorable views regardless of the situation. After so many years, the peninsula is primarily inhabited by those with a positive attitude towards the authorities. The events of 2015, when Ukraine cut off Crimea's electricity and water supply, forcing everyone to rely on generators, also had a profound influence on this sentiment.

I don't think anyone believes we were unlawfully annexed. Many think that we're with Russia because Ukraine abandoned us. Similarly, most people don't believe it was Russia who started the war, which has made us suffer from constant air raids in Sevastopol. Now there's the stance: Ukraine is aiming rockets at us, and we're defending ourselves — what else can we do?”

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

A billboard in Crimea before the referendum reads “On March 16 we choose [this] or [this]”
A billboard in Crimea before the referendum reads “On March 16 we choose [this] or [this]”

Furthermore, Russia has invested a lot of money in the development of Crimea. People saw that the peninsula was in a deplorable state — bays overgrown with grass. And then Russia built everything up, improved parks, and these improvements now influence people's everyday perception of the war.

There are no people more apolitical than Crimeans now. We don't worry about the future, we live day by day because we understand that politics is constantly right before our eyes. There are explosions in the sky all the time, sirens blare every day. We don't discuss the war. Sometimes I call a friend, she opens the window, and you can hear the sirens, but she doesn't even pay attention to it — we just keep talking.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

Sometimes I call a friend, she opens the window, and you can hear the sirens, but she doesn't even pay attention to it — we just keep talking

When the siren sounds in Sevastopol, people continue to walk leisurely to where they were going. Public transport, however, stops, and people must immediately head to a shelter, but often they just sit in the buses and don't go anywhere. I had a friend who worked in the city center when the sirens sounded several times a day, so she and her colleagues would grab coffee and watch the smoke screen over the bay.

In the summer, there were constant explosions, and I developed mild PTSD because of them. I left for Moscow and for a long time couldn't react normally to fireworks. But those who live in Sevastopol without leaving have become fully accustomed to it.

“We're pulling in up to 30,000 here, and although prices are on the rise, life is just fantastic!”

Anna, 33, on maternity leave

I hail from Crimea, Yalta to be precise. The events of 2014 are etched vividly in my memory; I even participated in the defense of Lenin monuments back then. The elation was immense, colossal. I never identified as Ukrainian and never considered us part of Ukraine. We always felt we belonged to the Russian Federation, so the annexation of Crimea was an incredibly moving moment for us — joyous. We welcomed it with tears of relief, as if exhaling after enduring difficult events.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

We always felt we belonged to the Russian Federation, so the annexation of Crimea was an incredibly moving moment for us — joyous. We welcomed it with tears of relief

Life then and now is nothing short of fantastic. Sure, there are some hurdles: for instance, the inconvenience of our local isolation and such, but overall, it doesn't hinder us much, and the pace of life has actually improved. Technically, there are sanctions, but it's as if they don't exist.

The main thing is that cities are developing, infrastructure is improving. Let me share an example: garbage bins were nonexistent along the Yalta promenade. We had glass-fronted shops, and behind them stood three colossal bins, perennially overflowing, leaking, emitting a foul stench. This was in the heart of the promenade, where ships docked. However, with Russia's arrival, in the very first year, they installed a garbage bin next to each pillar, and the promenade became pristine.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

With Russia's arrival, in the very first year, they installed a garbage bin next to each pillar, and the promenade became pristine

Previously, it was unheard of for beaches to be fully prepped for the summer season by May. I reside in Yalta's outskirts. We have several city beaches, and before Russia's arrival, they were perpetually unkempt — fences unpainted, litter strewn about, clean-up efforts only beginning around mid-June. Now it's March, and the beaches are spotless — everything freshly painted. And this cleanliness persists throughout the summer season, and even afterward, it's acceptable. Such minor details have had a profound impact. Life has become better.

I recall Ukrainian media claiming we were lacking food, while our shelves were brimming with it. Take your pick, and prices are reasonable. Yalta may be pricier, but high prices have always been synonymous with Yalta. They're still considerably higher than in Sevastopol or Simferopol, but they're more or less manageable. Groceries are abundant; it has never been the case that shelves were bare.

When issues with water and electricity supply arose, people reacted with understanding. My friends and I started to get together more often because there was no internet. Serious difficulties were scarce. People knew they just had to wait a bit, and everything would be sorted out. We didn't notice any significant water problems; if water flowed, that was already a blessing.

Salaries are modest — that's undeniable — but it's heartening that with Russia's arrival, they've become “legitimate,” and for most companies, their operations have become legal. Previously, we paid taxes, paid the employer for having employed us, but the employer didn't pay any taxes, so nothing went to Crimea's development. The employers just pocketed the money. Now, all funds are channeled toward development.

Previously, we never saw municipal services such as yard cleaning or garbage collection functioning properly in Yalta. Now, all bushes and branches are pruned, everything is orderly. And even though it's done seasonally — spring cleaning by May 9th, summer cleanup by the end of August, and preparation for winter — these tasks are carried out, and can we really say it's undesirable? For instance, the turns in the road that were once obscured by bushes are now visible to drivers.

To give you some context, under Ukraine, I never witnessed road workers in Crimea trimming bushes or branches. We handled it ourselves. In the private sector, you had to maintain a three to four meter strip in front of your house independently, but now, road workers take care of it all. Additionally, roads are being repaired — true, in certain cases it could have been done better or faster, but at least it's being done.

On average, we pull in up to 30,000 rubles ($325) a month, but people still manage to save for a rainy day. Yes, prices are increasing, gasoline is becoming costlier, and there are no consumer benefits, despite being an oil-producing nation, none to speak of. Nevertheless, our expectations from Russia's arrival have been met, and even surpassed.

Regarding military actions, from a purely human standpoint, none of us desire it, but it's a necessary measure. We're being coerced into making a tough decision, and we have to confront it.

People understand that it's high time to assert authority, so freeloaders don't thrive. There are very few of those who oppose military action in Ukraine. If someone starts to express dissent in that regard, it's jarring. Mostly it's entrepreneurs who did business under Ukraine. They say: “We used to rake in money, but now a substantial portion goes toward taxes.” But those who grasp that taxes contribute to the country's and Crimea's development correctly assess the situation.

There are still those who occasionally listen to Ukrainian songs — my neighbor, for instance. No matter how many times we reported him to the authorities, it didn't help. However, with the commencement of military actions in Ukraine, people have become more cautious about what they say and do. Before, everything was allowed. I could voice any opinion without consequence, but now people are held accountable for their words.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

My neighbor listens to Ukrainian songs, and no matter how many times we reported him to the authorities, it didn't help

Overall, people are reacting quite calmly to what's happening. We're currently in Sevastopol, and literally a few minutes ago the siren went off, but it doesn't scare anyone — people continue going about their business. I don't feel afraid. I know my child and I are safe. Being in the military, my husband is accustomed to these kinds of changes, and everyone else is adapting too. Sanctions were imposed on us, but we found ways around them, as we do with everything. As the journalist [Tucker ] Carlson remarked while entering a store: “And where are these sanctions? iPhones, Snickers, Nuts, and Bounty are all here — everything is available.”

In the ten years since, there has been far more good than bad. The downsides are low salaries and lack of child benefits. I can only get benefits for a child up to eighteen months old — for anything else, my income is too large due to my husband's salary, though this issue plagues the entire country. Corruption also persists, but people have become more afraid of losing their jobs to someone else, so they take less bribes; the situation has improved by about 50% in this regard.

Our pensions are also quite meager, although some grandmothers in Crimea managed to buy things we couldn't afford. Before my maternity leave, I worked in a store, and while we couldn't buy certain sausages and cheeses, they could purchase them. Accessing medicines is problematic too; you need to buy it yourself. Somewhere, there may be benefits that refund part of the cost, but not in Yalta. I know Sevastopol has a program to help young families with housing and cars, but Yalta lacks such assistance. Of course, it would be desirable to have more opportunities for young families in need.

Otherwise, everything is fine, and I'm glad we are part of Russia. I am Crimean, my husband is Crimean. I even say “Crimeans,” not “Ukrainians,” because we have never been Ukrainian.

I remember when I received my first passport and it said “Hanna.” It really annoyed me. I didn't show that passport to anyone, and when I changed it in 2014, I was so happy to finally have my proper name — my own name, without distortion.

“Previously, we were afraid of the siren, but now no one reacts to it droning on and on”

Anna, 24, works in medicine

I've lived in Crimea for eight years now. Although I missed the events of 2014, many of my friends were born and raised here, and they're all glad Crimea became part of Russia. Under Ukrainian rule, Crimea lacked in many areas, but now it has become more developed, and the level of corruption has decreased.

Speaking of the condition of cities, it has improved significantly, with infrastructure developments. Even compared to 2016 when I first arrived, the difference is substantial. Places like Simferopol, Alushta, and Yalta have transformed considerably: many new buildings constructed, much redevelopment, and new playgrounds, kindergartens, and centers appeared. The recently opened Semashko Hospital is an incredibly massive project.

The situation with orphanages has changed too, making them more or less acceptable. The road conditions have also improved. In 2016, they were much worse, but now everything is clean and repaired. Many buildings in city centers have been restored, as the authorities are trying to make the cities look pristine.

We finally have branches of Sberbank [Russia’s largest bank, which closed its Crimean operations in 2014, returned to the peninsula in 2023 — The Insider]: three in Simferopol, some in Sevastopol, and word is Sberbank will soon open in other cities too. This is very convenient, as transferring money was quite problematic when I first came to Crimea. Now there's no need to go anywhere for that.

There were some water supply issues, like water only being turned on at certain times, but I wouldn't say it severely impacted our quality of life. We always found ways to manage the situation, so neither I nor my friends experienced a colossal water shortage. The same applies to electricity.

In the medical field, no one complains about salaries; even pediatricians earn well. Many say medical salaries were low before Crimea rejoined Russia, and people took money from patients for their work. Even nurses took money to administer IV drips. Now this has stopped because treatment is covered by mandatory medical insurance, which is convenient for patients and staff. Plus, everyone got raises, and everyone around me is satisfied with their income. So the expectations of many regarding Crimea's reunification with Russia have definitely been met.

As for safety, neither I nor my acquaintances really react much to what's going on. If something happens, it's inevitable anyway. The main thing is everything is fine now, and we'll see what happens next. Like the air raid alerts in Sevastopol: at first, people worried and were afraid, but now it's perceived as routine; the siren drones on and on, and no one really reacts to it anymore. You could say that life hasn't changed significantly since then — we go to work and carry on with our usual activities just the same.

“If you speak Ukrainian, you'll be reported”

Ekaterina (name changed at the request of the interviewee), participates in the Yellow Ribbon resistance movement in the occupied territories of Ukraine

I used to come to Crimea before — both before and after the annexation. Since then, life on the peninsula has changed significantly. First and foremost, after 2014, many Russians arrived, and many people who supported Ukraine left due to reprisals.

My parents and I often discussed this, especially following the full-scale invasion. They said the actions Russians took in the Kherson or Zaporizhzhia regions mirrored what happened in Crimea back then, but in Crimea it was done in a lighter form. Russia heavily suppressed any pro-Ukrainian stance, including forcing people to record video apologies for saying “Glory to Ukraine!” The same is happening now. Apology videos are widespread. They use the same approach as a decade ago: immediately snuffing out any pro-Ukrainian expression.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

People were forced to record video apologies for expressing a pro-Ukrainian stance

The situation has worsened considerably over these ten years. While you could previously speak Ukrainian freely, now doing so is tantamount to a crime. Legally, Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar are all official languages on the peninsula. But try conversing in Ukrainian at, say, an auto repair shop, and you'll be reported or face searches. Oppression is constant.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

While you could previously speak Ukrainian freely, now doing so is tantamount to a crime

Many Russians have settled here over the years, as housing became cheaper, further swelling the pro-Russian population. Yet the political situation rarely gets discussed publicly. I have friends awaiting de-occupation, but even with me they are guarded, unsure of my activities. And for their safety and mine, it's better they don't know I'm with Yellow Ribbon. It’s akin to a death sentence.

Despite our friendship, we avoid political talk. I only discuss such matters within my family circle, as you never know who might betray you to the authorities. You must always be cautious about what you say and to whom, even while standing in a queue somewhere. It may seem no one's listening, but rumors can spread easily.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

Even with friends, we avoid political talk: you never know who might betray you to the authorities

Propaganda is working aggressively. In the Kherson region during the first months of the full-scale invasion, they also cut off all communication links with the Ukrainian side, completely depriving us of internet access. Russian news, newspapers, and brochures were the sole source of information.

In city squares and parks, they set up Gazelle vans with large screens. While the youth remained uninfluenced, older people accustomed to constantly watching TV absorbed it all. When the same thing is repeated to you three hundred times, you start to believe it. The situation is identical in Crimea: they restrict access to Ukrainian information sources and portray Ukraine solely negatively across all news, thereby suppressing any seeds of resistance against their authority.

Meanwhile, many in Crimea remain against the war. Let's be clear, the stance against war and the stance against annexation and allegiance to Ukraine are different positions. People oppose war because no one wants to live amid hostilities, with missiles potentially striking their home at any moment — not knowing where shrapnel will hit and when.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

The stance against war and the stance against annexation and allegiance to Ukraine are different positions

Far fewer people actively seek de-occupation and a return to Ukraine, but such voices do exist, and the Yellow Ribbon movement provides a platform for expressing this stance. Despite a decade of occupation, not everyone has accepted it. Even through seemingly small gestures, these people resist the pervasive propaganda. For many longing for Ukraine, Yellow Ribbon offers solace and a sense of solidarity, reassuring them that they are not isolated. You cannot openly discuss their sentiments, but when you walk the streets of Simferopol and see yellow ribbons or Yellow Ribbon graffiti, you are reminded that you are not alone, while people in territories under Ukrainian control see that their return — Ukraine's embrace — is anticipated.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

Written in Ukrainian: “Crimea is waiting for the Armed Forces of Ukraine” Photo: Yellow Ribbon
Written in Ukrainian: “Crimea is waiting for the Armed Forces of Ukraine” Photo: Yellow Ribbon

I joined Yellow Ribbon after coordinators devised the resistance symbol. One participant's mother, who was very skilled in embroidery, had many spools of yellow thread, and that settled the color.

This symbolic choice was strategic, allowing those under occupation to publicly yet safely demonstrate support for Ukraine and resistance to Russia. The idea rapidly spread, with all those rejecting occupation beginning to hang yellow ribbons — openly protesting with placards in occupied cities was too dangerous. Later we distributed patriotic postcards, made graffiti, burned the newspapers and leaflets that the Russians distributed among the older generation, along with flags and pro-Russian ribbons.

We've raised the Ukrainian flag in Crimea and Donetsk, passing over 30 flags to our activists during this time. The occupation authorities, of course, try to counteract this. Once in Crimea, an activist hiked into the mountains and drew graffiti on one of the peaks. Some time later, they dispatched a so-called mobile group to paint over this graffiti. The same happened with posters and small stickers hung around the city. If they didn't view this as a threat, why would they bother removing it?

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

Photo: Yellow Ribbon
Photo: Yellow Ribbon

They even create entire groups that scour the city searching for images to paint over, so it seems our activity is making an impact.

A Ukrainian resistance movement active in all parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine, including in Crimea.

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