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VOA: Promised Prosperity Never Arrived in Russian-held Crimea, Locals Say
19:15, 26 August 2016
VOA: Promised Prosperity Never Arrived in Russian-held Crimea, Locals Say

Voice of America shows the life of a sleepy Crimean town near the newly-established border with Ukraine - Armyansk

19:15, 26 August 2016

Reuters

More than two years after Russia annexed Crimea and promised its 2 million people a better life, residents say prices have soared, wages and pensions have stagnated and tourists have fled.

The sunny and mountainous Black Sea peninsula is back in the news, with Russian President Vladimir Putin accusing Kyiv of sending infiltrators across the border to wreck its industry.

But locals say the damage has already been done by Moscow's neglect.

Related: Sajdik: Minsk peace talks scheduled on September 7

"We joined Russia and they stopped giving a damn about us," Yevgeny, a worker at a titanium plant in the town of Armyansk told Reuters. "People are naive. They thought that if we were part of Russia, everything would be Russian. Prices have now jumped to the Russian level, but wages have stayed the same. That's the main problem."

Fearing reprisals from his boss, Yevgeny declined to give his surname, as did other workers who spoke to Reuters.

Armyansk, a sleepy Crimean town near the newly-established border with Ukraine, is not far from where Russia says it fought armed clashes with Ukrainian infiltrators last week. Kyiv says the clashes never took place and Moscow fabricated the incident as a possible pretext for new military action against Ukraine.

Related: Pentagon is concerned about the approach of Russian army to Ukrainian borders

The alleged plot has dominated headlines in Crimea, distracting attention away from the region's own problems. But according to some residents of Armyansk, a long way from Crimea's Tsarist-era palaces and its picturesque mountainous sea coast, those problems urgently need addressing.

Chemical Plant

Armyansk has never been prosperous. A quarter of the town's 20,000 people work at the Crimea Titanium chemical plant, riding in dozens of identical green passenger buses to the factory from the town each morning, and back again in the afternoon.

When Crimea was controlled by Ukraine, goods and services were affordable, and the plant's workers were able to treat themselves now and then, they say. But after Kyiv blocked freight supplies last year prices soared.

"I can only buy food and it's hard to buy clothes," said Pavel, a technician, who said he was paid 17,000 rubles ($265) a month.

That is only around half the average monthly income in Russia.

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"It would be enough in Ukraine because prices were lower," Pavel added. "I'm shocked. My wage is stuck and everything grows in price."

Three other workers who spoke to Reuters described monthly salaries ranging from just 10,000 rubles for a laboratory assistant to 21,000 for a man who runs an engineering department.

The Crimea Titanium plant is controlled by Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash. His spokesman and the plant's management did not reply to for requests for comment.

Russia is building a bridge to link Crimea to southern Russia it hopes will establish a new supply route and reduce consumer prices. However the first trucks are not expected to be able to use it until 2018 at the earliest.

'We Have No Money'

Moscow is aware of Armyansk's woes. It put it on a list of more than 300 Russian towns identified as needing state-backed investment to diversify their economies. When contacted by Reuters, Crimea's economy ministry said no projects in the town had yet been developed.

Russia announced plans to invest 680 billion rubles (around $10 bln) in Crimea between now and 2020. That is on top of the billions of roubles it spends each month on pensions and payments to teachers, doctors and government employees.

Related: Putin's convoys take Donbas facilities equipment to Russia

Pensioners, state employees and people working in the tourist industry were expected to enjoy a significant financial uplift after annexation. Instead, the ruble has lost about half of its value against the dollar since 2014 due to lower oil prices and Western sanctions.

In May, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was filmed during a visit to Crimea being confronted by a woman who complained about low living standards for Crimea's half million pensioners.

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"It's impossible to get by on a pension in Crimea," she said. "Prices are crazy ... What is 8,000 [rubles]? It's a paltry sum."

Medvedev's reply went viral online: "We simply have no money ... Bear up."

Read the full story here.

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