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When Crimea plunged into darkness, new friendships emerged

By Anjali Ojha | PUBLISHED: 27, Oct 2016, 7:14 am IST | UPDATED: 27, Oct 2016, 8:03 am IST

When Crimea plunged into darkness, new friendships emerged In November 2014, when Crimea was annexed by Russia following a referendum, there was a blackout after power supply from the Ukraine was cut. According to reports, this was due to the transmission lines being cut by anti-Russia activists.

While Kiev denied responsibility for the sabotage and authorities rushed to manage power for critical establishments like hospitals, most of Crimea was in darkness.

For the locals however, it was also a time when they could help each other and form fresh bonds.

Our guide in Crimea, Ivan Kovalenko, said generators were soon provided by Russia and in around three months, a power line from the Russian mainland reached Crimea through the Black Sea.

The blackout months, however, saw much camaraderie. People with generators invited their neighbours in and arrangements were also made for journalists to tell the world about the situation.

"With not much to do, people started talking. They went for walks, talked to neighbours. Parents were also talking more with their children," Kovalenko said.

The bus service in Crimea runs on electricity and was hence shut during that period. "People with private vehicles would stop at bus stops and offer lifts to those going in same direction," he said.

"During that time, we realised there were so many nice people around. How good human relationships are without development and technology," he added.

Kovalenko recalled that during the referendum he, along with around 30 other Crimeans, was in Goa. They could not return to vote and wrote to the Crimean government requesting they be allowed to cast postal ballots, but that did not happen.

Kovalenko went back home only after the results were declared - and participated in the Victory Day parade on May 9. Victory Day commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

"When I came back, I saw a new energy," Kovalenko said.


Stories of the referendum

Two years on, locals in Crimea still weave stories around the referendum. Sergei, who owns a bus and was supporting Russia, said how he used it to carry senior citizens for voting. He had also decided to run away if the result was not in favour of Russia.

"I had my mind made up that if the referendum result is in favour of Ukraine, I will take the bus and run away," he said.

Sergei, now happy to be with Russia, proudly displays the Ribbon of Saint George -- with black and orange stripes -- used by civilians as a patriotic symbol and as a symbol of public support to the Russian government.

Alexander Mining, a popular blogger from Crimea, said he celebrated for 10 days after the results were declared.

Meanwhile, signs of Crimea's association with Ukraine are still evident everywhere. Even after two years, signage in the Ukrainian script can still be spotted. On the streets, and unlike in Moscow or St. Petersburg, one still sees cars dating to Soviet times.

What is not to be seen here is multinational chains like McDonald's or Coca Cola as these brands left once sanctions were put in place following the Russian annexation of the region.

Posters and banners with messages from Russian President Vladimir Putin are also visible along highways and in the countryside.

In Sevastopol, the city where Russia houses its Black Sea Fleet, brightly painted graffiti, made some time after the 2014 referendum, showed Putin dressed as a Navy officer. And standing in a wheat field was more evidence of support for Russia, with a banner reading: "We come back to our motherland."

# Anjali Ojha was in Crimea at the Crimean government's invitation organised by India-based Russian Information Centre.