Fear Spreads in Crimea

Drone strikes and unexplained explosions prompt Moscow-controlled administration to urge citizens to hunt for possible saboteurs.

Fear Spreads in Crimea

Drone strikes and unexplained explosions prompt Moscow-controlled administration to urge citizens to hunt for possible saboteurs.

In this handout photo released by the telegram channel of Sevastopol mayor Mikhail Razvozhaev on July 31, 2022, Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Vladimirovich Razvozhayev, center, stands at the scene of explosion at the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea.
In this handout photo released by the telegram channel of Sevastopol mayor Mikhail Razvozhaev on July 31, 2022, Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Vladimirovich Razvozhayev, center, stands at the scene of explosion at the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea.
Wednesday, 14 September, 2022

When the explosions began in occupied Crimea last spring, the de facto authorities remained noticeably silent.

On March 26, the Moscow-controlled administration in Sevastopol - the city where the Black Sea fleet of the Russian Federation is based - declined to comment when Russian air defence fired at an unknown target, presumably a drone, near Cossack Bay.

The following month, after explosions were again reported in other parts of Crimea, including near the Kherson region, the de facto authorities began to issue somewhat implausible explanations.

On May 22, they reassured locals that explosions heard in the village of Rozdolne and in the city of Krasnoperekopsk were due to the routine neutralisation of explosive devices.

On June 10, de facto governor Mikhail Razvozhayev said that a missile launch by Russian frigate Admiral Essen from Sevastopol Bay had been an air defence training, even though such exercises are never carried out within city limits.

Five days later, Oleh Kryuchkov, an aide to the so-called governor of Crimea, wrote on Facebook that numerous explosions heard in the capital Simferopol - as well as the Bakhchysarai district and the town of Chornomorske – had been the noise of a plane breaking the sound barrier.

It was only in August when a drone fired an explosive device at the of the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the centre of Sevastopol, injuring six Russian servicemen, that official recognition came.

The level of alert was raised to medium and Razvozhayev announced that “due to the attack on the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, the city should now be considered front-line”.

Then, on August 9, devastating explosions at the Novofedorivka military airfield destroyed most of the Russian aircraft, ammunition and fuel held there.

A week later, after a military base near the villages of Mayske and Azovske in Dzhankoi district was hit, a senior Ukrainian official told The New York Times that an elite military unit operating behind enemy lines was responsible.

By the end of August, drone attacks had become an almost daily event. They were shot down the area of the Belbek military airfield near Sevastopol and in Kerch; a drone strike again damaged the Black Sea fleet headquarters.

The explosions have also heightened tensions among many of the city’s 500,000 residents.

Lyudmila, a pensioner who lives only 100 metres from a Black Sea fleet unit said that she was worried about being hit by debris in the event of another attack.

“I'm thinking about staying at my sister's cottage until this is over,” she said.

On August 29, Russian authorities extended the official level of danger in Sevastopol to “high” for 15 days. Growing fears prompted the authorities to urge citizens to hunt for possible saboteurs in their midst. Then the Russian authorities of the city extended the yellow danger level in Sevastopol until September 28.

The de facto government created an online portal called Defence of Sevastopol for reporting suspicious events.

"We have launched a chatbot for your messages about alleged danger, suspicious individuals, about everything that somehow now affects our security," Razvozhayev announced.

For the first time, normal life is also being affected.

Vadym, who owns a guest house in the seaside village of Lyubymivka, said that the strikes had badly damaged business.

"Almost all rooms were booked for August, but after the explosions in Novofedorivka approximately 25 per cent of my clients left ahead of schedule, and the same amount of reservations were cancelled,” he said.  “When explosions thundered in Belbek ten days later, there was real panic in the village.”

Yehor and his wife Maryna have been trying to sell their two-room, newly refurbished apartment in a prime area of Sevastopol.

“Last year this apartment would have sold like hot cakes," Yehor said. “And now demand fell drastically. We already reduced the price twice, but there are no buyers. Of course, if reduced by 20 per cent it will be taken, but we are not yet ready for this option."

"We want to move to my parents in Simferopol, there is a suitable job for both of us,” added Maryna. “But now we have to wait a bit with moving.”

Others still have faith in the superiority of Russian weaponry.

“All targets after all are brought down and there is nothing to fear,” said taxi driver Volodymyr. “A drone falling on the roof of the headquarters is a normal thing for combat operations."

As for the explosions at the airfield in Novofedorivka and the military base near Dzhankoi, “control needs to be tightened at such facilities, and everything will be fine,” he concluded.

Serhii, a retired army officer, was indignant, arguing that this could never have happened in the Soviet era.

“Back then, Sevastopol was an impregnable fortress!” he exclaimed. “A fly could not have flown [in], the border and the sky were locked.”

But he had no explanation for the series of explosions in Crimea. According to the reports he saw on Russian TV, all Ukrainian planes and rocket installations had been destroyed at the beginning of the war.

The author is a journalist from Sevastopol.

This publication was prepared under the “Ukraine Voices Project" implemented with the financial support of the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO).

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