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In Crimea: 'I feel unsure about what will be tomorrow'

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
updated 7:33 AM EST, Wed March 5, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Crimean resident has observed gas, food price increases
  • He said downtown Simferopol streets were closed Thursday to Sunday
  • In Yalta, resident reports no sightings of troops

(CNN) -- Yuriy Krocha's three children have a lot of questions about the situation in Ukraine. His youngest daughter, 8, pointed to a world map a couple of days ago and asked, "Papa, Russia is so big. Why does it need our small peninsula?"

Krocha, 42, and his family live in Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea, Ukraine. Soldiers without national insignias -- but whom everyone presumes to be Russian -- started showing up on Thursday, he said.

That day, Krocha said he got a call from his children's school to take them, because teachers were afraid to let them go on their own, and they had to stay at home Friday. The downtown was blocked by police from Thursday until Sunday, Krocha said.

It felt surreal, he said. "I was afraid, but I prayed to God."

Russian forces have surrounded 10 Ukrainian military bases -- 16,000 troops in the past week, according to Ukrainian officials. No fighting or loss of life has been reported, but Crimean citizens such as Krocha are nervous about what will happen next.

Many ethnic Russians live in Crimea, where support for Russia is strong. Part of Russia's navy -- the Russian Black Sea Fleet -- has a base in Crimea's city of Sevastopol that has been there for 230 years.

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READ: An eerie mood on the ground in Crimea

Krocha is a Russian-speaking Ukrainian and his wife is Russian. This week their children are back in school, and the streets are open again. In that respect, life has returned to normal, but having Russian troops present is "not OK," Krocha said.

Not far from the parliament, soldiers are stationed in and outside of armored cars on one side of the street, Krocha said. He sees no reason for them and it's unclear to him what the troops are protecting.

Meanwhile, Krocha has noticed gas prices rise some 25% over the last 10 days, and many foods have become more expensive too. A local market was out of two kinds of rice, canned meat and other products yesterday, he said.

"There was panic and people tried to buy much more than they usually buy," he said.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting Monday that his country's aims were preserving democracy, protecting millions of Russians in Ukraine and stopping radical extremists. He said ousted President Viktor Yanukovych remains Ukraine's elected leader and has asked Russia to send troops. Other diplomats at the meeting asked for the withdrawal of Russian troops and called for a mediation to resolve the crisis.

Ukraine crisis: Russia stands firm despite rebukes, threats of sanctions

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday his military isn't planning to seize the Crimean peninsula. Any action would "only be to protect local people," he said.

Ukraine looks for 'sign of hope' from Russia over Crimea

In the coastal Ukrainian city of Yalta, Alex Shiroki hasn't seen any firsthand evidence of a Russian invasion, but remains "gloomy" about the uncertain situation.

Alex Shiroki, 35, is nervous about the situation in Crimea, where he lives.
Alex Shiroki, 35, is nervous about the situation in Crimea, where he lives.

Shiroki has seen no Russian troops, protests, or other abnormal sightings in connection with the situation this week. When Yanukovych fled on February 22, supermarket shelves were sparse for two or three days, but they were currently stocked, and prices did not appear to be rising, he said

His friends tell him that in Sevastopol, about a 52-mile drive away on the peninsula, there are soldiers standing around doing nothing.

Shiroki can only speculate about what that means.

"For me, it seems like big talks are going (on) behind our backs," he said. "That's why the troops are doing nothing, because they have no order. They don't want to start a war themselves maybe. I don't know. Maybe everyone's waiting for talks to end, for some decision to be made."

He worries about being cut off from gas, electricity or Internet. More philosophically, he said he doesn't want to live in a Russian region under Russian power.

"The worst feeling is that I feel unsure about what will be tomorrow," he said. "My thoughts are: This won't end fast. This invasion, this Russian position, won't be resolved in a month. Not even in two months I think."

Shiroki, 35, was born in Crimea, while Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. The region is mostly Russian-speaking, with people preferring Russian movies and news, he said.

"Here in Crimea it's hard to identify your nationality," he said.

Shiroki's family, also living in Yalta, is divided. His aging father says he isn't afraid of anything. One sister tells Shiroki they should think about how to get out if the situation becomes deadly. The other sister completely supports Russia.

"I can't even talk to her because she turns very aggressive if I criticize Russian ways," Shiroki said.

Most people he knows over 30 seem to support Russia, while younger people do not, he said. Regardless of opinion, lots of people are talking about the situation most of the day, he said.

If living in Yalta becomes dangerous, Shiroki said he will try to find a way out, and perhaps go to Poland.

Krocha doesn't want to leave Simferopol, where he is a minister in a church. He feels responsible for staying and helping people there. He might reconsider if war breaks out, but for now, he says, "It's my calling to be here."

But his children want to know: If Crimea becomes part of Russia, will we move? What if there is war?

Krocha told his daughter that Russia has not taken Crimea yet, and hopes it will not happen.

"We hope that it will stay in Ukraine, and we will not have to move from this place where we all were born," he said.

READ: Opinion: A divided Ukraine? Think again

CNN's Laura Smith-Spark. Diana Magnay, Phil Black, Thom Patterson, Ben Wedeman, Tom Watkins, Catherine E. Shoichet, Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Susanna Capelouto contributed to this report.

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