CNN team in Crimea: This is a McMoment to remember

Updated 3:17 AM EDT, Sun March 16, 2014
A CNN crew's got to eat, right? Turns out you learn a little something about a country's crisis at McDonald's.
Alex Felton/CNN
A CNN crew's got to eat, right? Turns out you learn a little something about a country's crisis at McDonald's.

Story highlights

CNN's Alex Felton and a crew have been in port city of Sevastopol

They find a crisis can't stop the lure of McDonald's, which is doing a thriving business

From the looks of it, the residents of Crimea are happy the Russian bear has awoken

Editor’s Note: CNN Producer Alex Felton has been with Anna Coren and cameraman Clayton Nagel in Crimea for the past two weeks from when the first Russian troops started moving in.

Sevastopol, Crimea CNN —  

As I wait in line, staring down at the notes in my iPhone to remember the exact order for two Quarter Pounder with Cheese meals for our engineer and cameraman, I could well be in any McDonald’s in the world.

The golden arches, the familiar red signs with Ronald McDonald staring straight at me and the menu remain the same wherever you go in the world, such is the long arm of American corporate globalization. This restaurant is certainly a testament to that.

However, this isn’t New York. Nor is it London.

It is Crimea.

With a couple of Mercedes sports cars parked on the curb, facing the town’s Apple store, this particular McDonald’s is doing a roaring trade this Friday lunchtime.

Russians reported in Ukraine outside Crimea

It’s only two days before the region’s people will go to the ballot boxes and vote on whether to stay part of the Ukraine or join Russia. The referendum will be held on Sunday.

From what we have seen here, this will be largely symbolic. From what we can see, the majority of Crimeans would rather look toward Moscow than Kiev and the white, blue and red of the Russian flag is already flying through these streets.

Our team was asked to come down here to the port of Sevastopol after having spent a week in the heart of the Crimean capital, Simferopol, dodging cossacks with their whips, men with more than a whiff of vodka on their breath and Russian soldiers sporting trendy balaclavas and AK47s.

Nestled on the Black Sea, Sevastopol is a party town, prettier than the capital.

Luxury yachts are in the port side by side with Russian destroyers. There are many nightclubs and bars. Indeed, the main square has had a concert on every night for the past seven days to celebrate returning back to the “motherland.”

Contrary to what the European foreign ministers say on their official Twitter accounts and what the State Department may read out during their briefings in Washington, the majority of the people we have spoken with here are glad the Russian bear has woken up. And they are happy to roar with it.

I mean, in their eyes with the amount of propaganda from billboards with swastikas over the map of Ukraine and rumors of terrorists in Kiev, who wouldn’t want to be Russian? In their eyes, it’s either that or being a Nazi.

The main square here fills up each lunchtime with cossacks, Russian flags and the local pro-Russian militias with their red armbands dressed all in black.

The music reminds me of old Soviet propaganda films and these men in their gangs of militias remind me of my history lessons learning about the so-called “brownshirts” of Adolf Hitler’s SA during the 1930s.

The irony not lost that these men who chant “Putin, Putin, Putin” and call those who protested in Maidan square fascists look very similar to those real fascists pictured in my old history books.

Any dissent here has now been stamped out.

We have been in this town for over a week now, and I haven’t seen one Ukrainian flag apart from the two on the Ukrainian warships blockaded in the port. It is far too dangerous for any pro-Ukranian voices to speak out.

News of abductions and kidnapping are daily here, and as we enjoyed a meal last night, we were asked to give our details to the Ukrainian police officers who detained us there for just under an hour. They are carefully watched over by their new Russian boss.

A plainclothed FSB (Russian secret police) officer making sure that the local police now start to monitor the movements of Western journalists properly. An apologetic “sorry” was uttered in English after they had finished taking our passport details.

No matter how the older generation here roar and chant the Russian President’s name, there is a bubble under the surface. The majority of young people here have grown up as Ukrainian, never under the watchful eye of Moscow, and they aren’t too pleased.

Every time you ask them what they think, you just get a sigh as they say “What can we do?” and talk of perhaps one day leaving to Kiev.

And so the result of the referendum on Sunday will go one way. There may be two questions posed on the ballot paper, but there is already only one answer. That answer being written in Cyrillic.

Yet Monday, before we leave Crimea and take our flights back to London, via Moscow as all other flights to and from other destinations have been canceled, I may well pop in and grab a bite for the road.

I am sure that I will still look around in that full restaurant and see the same Ukrainian faces, paying for their meals with Ukrainian currency with a Big Mac in one hand and a Russian flag in the other.

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