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Half-Year After Takeover, Russia Controls Crimea

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Out of Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in March. This week Russia's Central Bank reportedly released two coins commemorating the takeover, with images of Crimea, inscribed with the phrase Russian Federation. The U.S. and most other countries still consider Crimea part of Ukraine, but it doesn't feel that way on the ground.

Our colleague from MORNING EDITION, David Greene, has spent the last week reporting in Crimea. He joins us now from Lenin Square in Simferopol.

David, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: No problem, Scott. It's good to be here.

SIMON: What's it look and feel like on the ground there?

GREENE: The backdrop in the city is totally different. There are Russian flags everywhere, including above the government building I'm looking at over there. There was a ceremony in this square recently for young Crimeans who are training to be in the Russian FSB - which is the modern-day KGB - and you know, a lot of people here are sort of digesting this. Many feel happy to be part of Russia. They say they have higher pensions, they like the sense of order that Moscow brings.

But you also, you know, hear people more quietly, you know, often in bars, restaurants, later at night keeping a low profile. But they're kind of shocked by this and they don't know what it's going to be like, you know, to have a future as Russian citizens, potentially.

SIMON: Are Crimean Tatars especially anxious?

GREENE: Really anxious. I mean, that's a community - they're Sunni Muslims, an ethnic minority, Scott. They've been through so much. I mean, they lived in Crimea - Stalin, during World War II time deported them to Central Asia and many of them died on that trip. In the 1980s, they fought to come back here to Crimea. Now another Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, is threatening them. Just in the last couple weeks, a number of young Tatar men have been kidnapped. We don't know by whom. We went to the family of one. Their son's body, it was found. They said, my son is not involved in politics, we don't know why this is happening. But it does have the feel of some other parts of Russia where, you know, like Dagestan in the North Caucasus, where Muslim men are just rounded up often.

SIMON: Ukraine of course, does not accept what's happened, like most of the countries of the world don't. I wonder if Ukraine is able to register its disapproval in much of any an effective way now.

GREENE: They've had trouble doing that. I mean, besides countries like the U.S. saying that they don't accept this annexation, I mean, it's pretty much happened. There's not a whole lot they can do. I've got to say Scott, it was weird to see one of the world's newest borders. We went up there and the Russian Federation has built this border where there didn't used to be one and they were checking passports and everything. We were actually detained there for an hour or so. I mean, it's still pretty tense. They took our passports, asked us what we were doing, said we were breaking the law by doing reporting so close to a border. And our interpreter, who's Ukrainian, they actually gave her kind of a hard time and said, why don't you have your Russian passport yet? You should've gotten it by now.

SIMON: Is she required to get a Russian passport?

GREENE: Not required, but you know, to live life, it seems like that's the only choice because if you want to own a business, if you want to get you know, government benefits, if you want to register a car, it's either required or it's much easier for you if you get a Russian passport. And so that's a tough decision they have to make. We spoke to one couple who, they have a newborn baby and they were just desperate for him not to have a Russian birth certificate. They were thinking about going all the way to Kiev to try and get the baby a birth certificate from Ukraine. It turned out they just made it under the wire before they switched to giving out Russian birth certificates here in Crimea. They got him a Ukrainian one and they told me, Scott, they just said they are still holding out hope that, you know, this place will still be part of Ukraine one day and they did not want their son to be a Russian citizen.

SIMON: NPR's David Greene in Simferopol. Thanks so much for being with us.

GREENE: Thank you, Scott. It was a pleasure.

SIMON: And you can hear the rest of David's reporting from Crimea on MORNING EDITION the last week of October. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.