Uncertainly looms as Crimea creeps closer to secession

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Carol Hills: No common vision, that’s how Russia’s foreign minister summed up his talks today with Secretary of State John Kerry on the crisis in Ukraine. Kerry was more direct. He said the US and the west would not recognize the outcome of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea. But despite US efforts to delay it the vote on whether Crimea should succeed from Ukraine and join Russia is expected to happen. The CBC’s Derek Stoffel is in the Crimea port of Sevastopol. He says that while Russia supporters are out there waving flags, those who support staying in Ukraine are keeping a low profile.

Derek Stoffel: It is harder to see the pro-Ukrainians, they are out there, it’s hard to gauge them. But the pro-Russian messages are all over the place. But the Ukrainians, they don’t have the same organization, and they don’t have the same money, and also they just don’t want to go out because they’ve been roughed up when they’ve had rallies. So, the pro-Ukrainian side exists, they are there, they support Ukraine but they aren’t doing it nearly as vocally.

Hills: When you talk to people there how are they expecting the referendum to go on Sunday?

Stoffel: Everyone expects that the vote will be for Russia. On the Ukrainian side there’s a lot of people who think that the vote will be rigged. Talking to several Ukrainian supporters who say what can we do, they are going to win this referendum. And that’s the big question, then becomes what do we do next. That is the big question in terms of the uncertainty here. The people I’ve been speaking to, I went to a bar the other night, met with some young Ukrainians supporting the Ukrainian side, one of the guys told me that he thinks he’s going to have to move back to Ukraine, another woman, she has a good job in Simferopol, she wasn’t sure. So, there’s a lot of uncertainty on the pro-Ukrainian side. On the other side, those who back Russia, they’re excited. I just met a woman, an older woman, she said she’s been waiting to cast her ballot for Russia for more than twenty years now, and she’s very excited about all of this.

Hills: It’s interesting you mentioned the pro-Ukrainian person you said back to Ukraine, but of course Crimea is still technically part of Ukraine. But anyway we’ve been hearing stories about an influx of Russian troops and materials into Sevastopol brought over by Russian war ships. Are you seeing any of that?

Stoffel: Absolutely, I can’t say for certain that it was Russian vehicles but leaving Simferopol this morning, there must have been, I think I counted about 18 vehicles, big army trucks, the transport trucks, and couldn’t exactly tell if there was troops in the back. But, the main highway between Sevastopol and Simferopol, we saw this huge convoy and we’re hearing reports that Russian ships brought more troops and supplies today here at this port. So, we know they’re here. In all we have been told there are about 30,000 Russian troops here and that’s quite a lot more than the 6,000 that were based here before all this broke out about three weeks ago, now.

Hills: Now one of the key things about Sevastopol is the Russia and Ukraine share a naval base, is that sharing still going on or is basically Russia taken over the naval base?

Stoffel: They’ve taken it over and what they’ve done is they’ve basically here in Sevastopol, they’ve forced the Ukrainians into their quarters. They’re not allowed to leave, the ships aren’t allowed to leave. And I just want to tell a quick story. I spent the day on board another big Ukrainian navy ship. This ship is being blocked, the Russians have actually sunk three of their own vessels at the entrance to the inlet. And so the ships can’t get out. They’ve prevented that and that’s meant these hundreds of sailors are now on their boat humiliated, they’re not able to leave. And, they are faced with this choice what happens if Crimea becomes Russian, do they go to Ukraine or do they join the Russian navy and all the sailors I spoke to the other day said that’s not even a choice, they’re going to stick with their navy. They’ve sworn an oath and they’re going to stick with Ukraine.

Hills: So Derek you say people there are really expecting the referendum to pass on Sunday. If it does, what do you expect is next for Crimea?

Stoffel: The biggest thing is the uncertainty and we’re seeing that in small waves. The bank machine just outside the hotel where I am now ten, fifteen people waiting at that bank machine to take out money because they don’t know if they’ll be able to do that after the referendum.

Hills: The CBC’s Derek Stoffel, he’s been speaking to us from Sevastopol the largest city in Crimea. Thanks so much Derek.