The sun shone in Feodosia, Crimea. People were out for a Sunday stroll, taking photos of themselves in front of the silky blue sea, feeding the swans. Children bit into gigantic puffs of candyfloss; stray dogs ran around wagging friendly tails. The dogs don’t care what nationality you are, what country you live in. It looked like any other day, except for the Russian flags everyone was carrying.
Ukraine’s elite marine battalion hoisted the last Ukrainian flag to fly over a military installation in Crimea – like a kite, tied to a festive bunch of yellow and blue balloons. The last flag, and, they say, the last day it will fly.
We met a nurse from the marines and she told us about the last three weeks in her life, since the base was blockaded by Cossacks and Black Sea fleet forces. One word for each week. Obidno. Zhalko. Gorko. Galling. Pitiful. Bitter. It sounds better in Russian.
A strange man turned round and followed us onto the very end of a breakwall on the beach. “Are you local? In connection with recent events, I want to move here from Krasnodar and I’m looking for local contacts…” Of all the people walking near the sea, we were the two who were absolutely obviously not local. He tried to continue a surreal conversation, recording it not-very-surreptitiously on his mobile phone.
At the most expensive hotel in Feodosia, the girl on reception said the bill could not be paid by card. No banks in Crimea are working anymore. “I went to bed after the night shift on Friday morning and when I woke up late on Friday everyone told me I was already in different country,” she said, opening her pretty brown eyes very wide. Like Sleeping Beauty awaking into a different world. “I don’t quite know how that happened. No money. No cards. No flights. Maybe soon there’ll be no food and we’ll starve.” She laughed; I wasn’t sure if she was just being ditzy or if this was subdued panic.
In a nearby shop, a man told me with aggressive pride that he is Russian – “from Crimea, the centre of Russia. Are you foreign press? I think you are. Foreign press telling lies about us. Aren’t you afraid to be here?” “Why should she be afraid?” asked the girl behind the counter. She looked nervous, or maybe it was just that I was nervous.
I think there are a grand total of four guests staying in this huge hotel. The corridors are silent as expensively carpeted graves. Outside, beautiful huge stars glitter softly, not caring what country they shine down on.