Crimea: Fear and unease in Novo-Ozyorne

  • Published

Novo-Ozyorne is a small town of 7,000 in Crimea, where cats seem to outnumber people. The people are friendly, but these are painful times to be a Crimean, as the BBC's Patrick Jackson found out.

  • Ukrainian naval HQ


    Novo-Ozyorne is dominated by a Ukrainian regional naval headquarters on an inlet which leads down to the Black Sea coast.

  • Makeshift church


    For now, the townspeople worship in a makeshift church while construction work continues on a replacement at the top of the town.

  • Russian blockade of Ukranian arsenal


    A soldier, believed to be Russian, at a roadblock at the Ukrainian arsenal which is outside the town.

  • Russian flag in town centre


    Russian flags flutter from lamp posts all around Novo-Ozyorne.

  • War memorial


    A memorial to Soviet war heroes is a focal point in the town.

  • Entry point to the town


    The sign at the entrance to Novo-Ozyorne is written in Russian and Ukrainian. The town was only built in 1971 and has a population of 7,200.

In peacetime, having a regional naval headquarters up your street can be a boon when your livelihood otherwise depends on summer seaside visitors.

Right now the Ukrainian southern fleet HQ bristles with guns - there's even an armoured car parked inside the gate - and they are not offering interviews.

Just out of town, you begin to see why: Russian soldiers (everyone here knows the silent "little green men" are Russian) are digging trenches around the blockaded Ukrainian arsenal. In the town, Russian tricolours hang from lamp-posts.

Meanwhile, elderly residents like Maria Nikiforovna brave the spring chill to collect their meagre pensions. There are worries that Kiev may stop sending public money if Crimea votes to become part of Russia.

As someone who survived the siege of Sevastopol as a little girl, she has great fortitude, but this is hardly the retirement she or others in a town of pensioners had hoped for.

Media caption,
Novo-Ozyorne: Long-term resident Maria Nikiforovna

The big surprise, perhaps, is the real fear many people here have of reprisals by Ukrainian radicals, should they speak out, let alone side with Moscow before Sunday's referendum on joining Russia.

Ukrainian ultra-nationalists played an important role in the demonstrations in Kiev, and many ethnic Russians fear the influence of the far-right in the new government.

"Come back after Sunday, then we'll talk," is what you hear again and again, as you walk around the crumbling Soviet-era housing blocks.

One woman, who would only be interviewed on condition of anonymity, said: "We love Putin and are for Russia. And when this referendum is over, come back and it will be a pleasure for us to have our photographs taken. We are only for Russia. Why? Because we don't want fascists here."

Bar owner Sergei Reshetnik - a Ukrainian who would like Crimea to stay part of Ukraine but with more local powers - fears for the tourist trade. But he is confident the people of the town will still get along together.

Media caption,
Novo-Ozyorne: Bar owner Sergei Reshetnik

"In my opinion, Ukraine should have full autonomy so it can look after its own finances. There should be no pressure from the government. I favour independence," he says.

Over at the Church of the Holy Apostle St Andrew, the priest is happy to see any believer - Ukrainian or Russian - in the makeshift church where he serves.

Meanwhile, construction work continues on its glittering replacement at the top of the town - one of the few new buildings to appear in Novo-Ozyorne.

Media caption,
Novo-Ozyorne: The Priest

He is keen to highlight local cross-cultural harmony: "There is no question of even talking about the nationality of our parishioners because the Lord said that everyone should have equal access to the temple," he says .

But decisions being taken by politicians far away from this little town may put community relations sorely to the test.