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Crimea euphoria fades for some Russians

Reuters | Sunday, Jul 6, 2014

A woman carries water cans on the bank of a section of the North-Crimean Canal in northern Crimea. Moscow needs to secure Crimea's basic needs - chief among them, the water and power almost entirely supplied from Ukraine.

MOSCOW - When she was asked to give up a day's pay to help Crimea, Russian hospital therapist Tatyana could not hide her anger - why should she subsidise others when struggling to make ends meet herself?

Living in southern Russia close to the border with Ukraine, Tatyana was caught up in the euphoria that gripped the nation when Russia annexed Crimea in March and still welcomes "our"people back in the fold.

But more than three months on, she is worried that her wage of 9,000 roubles ($260) a month is not stretching as far as it used to, and fears she will be forced to take on extra work to cover the rising cost of food and utilities.

Patriotism spurred by President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea still runs deep in Russia, but the cold reality of paying for the Black Sea region is setting in and threatens to test an economy brought low by Western sanctions.

In Tatyana's hometown of Taganrog, the request for hospital workers to sacrifice a day's pay was taken up by only a few - by those people, she says, who wanted to impress their employers. "The bosses informed us of this in June in a tone which made clear they recommended it ... They distributed and asked us to fill out a form for the donation. People started complaining - why should they donate to Crimea?" said Tatyana, 52, who declined to give her surname for fear of retribution. "In our department, not one of us made the donation and our boss understood because she was of the same opinion," she said by telephone.

Initially people across Russia were keen to help Crimea, convinced by Russian media that the Russian-speaking region was under threat from fascists in the Ukrainian capital Kiev who, they were told, were behind the overthrow of a president sympathetic to Moscow in February.

Similar collections were set up in state enterprises and people were pressed to give "humanitarian aid".

Russians were also encouraged to visit Crimea - once the playground of the Soviet elite - and some state-controlled companies said they would ship their workers to the region's spas for group summer holidays.

Russia even started a new low-cost airline to Crimea, Dobrolyot (Good Flight), which made its maiden flight to the region's capital, Simferopol, last month.

But with the first wave of tourists back in Russia and complaining about bad service and amenities, the 'champagne effect' of feeling that Russia had outwitted the West over Crimea may have started to wear off.

Rising prices and stagnating wages may make hundreds more Russians think twice about the government's price tag of between 800 billion and 1 trillion roubles ($23-30 billion) for Crimea, and may come to pose the first real threat to Putin.

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