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Cheap, Beautiful, Ours -- Crimea Sold As Russian Holiday Paradise

Vox Pop: Complaints About Rising Prices In Crimea
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WATCH: Complaints About Rising Prices In Crimea

SIMFEROPOL/MYKOLAIVKA; Crimea -- Is it Russia's new holiday paradise, or a grubby tourist trap with spiraling inflation?

It depends on who you believe -- the flashy advertisements on Russian state television touting the newly annexed Crimean Peninsula as a prime destination, or the people who actually spend time there.

In an advert for Crimean tours, a three-generation family is portrayed discussing over tea where they should go this summer.

"I need to get my health in order and relax somewhere that isn't expensive!" pipes in an actor playing Grandpa.

Cue scenes of pristine hotel swimming pools and lush, sweeping woodlands.

Standing in front of a vegetable market in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, a dismayed resident paints a different picture. "Russians are shocked," she says of the visitors. "People who were here last year and came again this year are shocked. They have the same prices here as in Moscow."

"We must go to the sea!" actress Grandma says excitedly, as the ad turns to sweeping images of gorgeous beaches and breathtaking coastlines. "Where there are big cypress trees and sand! Where everything is ours!"

"Everything is the same as 24 years ago," a returning Russian holidaymaker says of the resort town of Mykolaivka, on Crimea's western Black Sea coast. "The same sun and the same sea, and even the buildings here are the same."

That is, the resident of Russia's Stavropol region admits, aside from one major change.

"Prices are wild. They've gone crazy," he says. "A taxi driver asks for 1,200 rubles [approximately $20] for a 20 kilometer trip. The prices aren't like this in Norilsk, nowhere else in Russia, including Sochi."

And what does dreamy-eyed actress Mom want? "I want a fairy-tale."

"Palaces," she says over aerial images of a towering palace flying the Russian tricolor.

"Parks, gardens," she adds, as the screen shows off the grounds of a medieval castle.

"Something interesting to see," she continues to views of a luxury resort with a seemingly endless swimming pool.

"Good food to eat!" she concludes, as the camera zooms in on a romantic seaside dinner scene of lobster and other delicacies.

Putting it all together, actor Dad suggests: "Basically, let's go to Crimea?!"

In the 16 months since Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula, Crimea has been pushed as a top destination for Russian holidaymakers in a bid to prop up its primary industry -- tourism.

And as the Russian ruble has fallen precipitously amid sanctions and falling oil prices, foreign travel has become more costly for Russians, making travel in the ruble zone more enticing.

But the annexation has also brought steep inflation, as the local economy has adjusted to Russian prices and also grappled with its new pariah status as a disputed territory.

As a result, many Ukrainians who prior to the annexation would have thought nothing of cooling off on the peninsula's beaches have stopped going there.

And of those who do return, many tell the Crimean Desk of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that they have noticed stark contrasts to the way things were before.

In Mykolaivka, a Ukrainian teacher from Kyiv-controlled Luhansk Oblast in eastern Ukraine said she traveled this year to Crimea to moonlight during school vacation.

The woman, who voted for ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010 and is against the current authorities in Kyiv, said working in Crimea has grown considerably harder because she is Ukrainian.

She also complains that her accommodation is lousy, and that the peninsula is generally run down.

"Along the road there is grass that no one cuts, you can often see trash that no one takes away -- it's dirty here for this kind of place. You get the feeling no one is in charge."

Written by Tom Balmforth in Moscow, based on reporting in Mykolaivka by Viktor Vorobyov, and other correspondents from the Crimean Desk of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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