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Crimeans Putting On Brave Faces, But Frustration Mounting Over Blackout

Cars queue outside a petrol station in Yevpatoriya, Crimea, on November 25.
Cars queue outside a petrol station in Yevpatoriya, Crimea, on November 25.

As Russian authorities in Crimea scramble to restore power after a massive blackout over the weekend, residents are learning to live with thawing fridges, pitch-dark highways, and shuttered schools.

The outage, caused by attacks that brought down power transmission towers in Ukraine’s Kherson region, near the isthmus linking Crimea to the mainland, has plunged the annexed peninsula into darkness:

Despite the hum of generators filling the streets, most businesses have been forced to either shut down or dramatically scale back their operations due to power shortages.

"There are no more candles and batteries in shops. Everything has been bought up," laments Yekaterina, a resident of Dzhankoy in northern Crimea. "People travel from villages to the city's bakery. They buy huge bags of bread because it is not delivered to their villages."

Some 150 schools and preschools have been closed until further notice as part of state-of-emergency measures imposed by the de facto authorities that came to power when Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014.

The blackout has disrupted water supplies and automatic teller machines are out of service.

EXPLAINER: Why Ukraine Supplies Electricity To Crimea

Generators and power reserves are proving unable to adequately supply Crimea's hospitals.

"The situation could pose serious risks to people's lives," says Olga Skripnik, a Crimean human rights campaigner. "Many people also complain that due to the lack of mobile networks they are unable to call ambulances and fire departments."

Accustomed to upheaval after a turbulent period during which their homeland effectively changed hands after an occupation by Russian forces and a referendum denounced by more than 100 nations as illegal, many Crimeans are putting on brave faces.

"I think the problems will be resolved, everything will be alright," says a newspaper vendor in Simferopol, the regional capital.

"We are not worried about anything, not even the refrigerators," one woman in Simferopol tells RFE/RL defiantly. "It's OK. We'll get through it. We're used to it."

Damaged electricity pylons in Ukraine's Kherson region
Damaged electricity pylons in Ukraine's Kherson region

Elderly residents, recalling World War II and the shortages of the period before and after the Soviet breakup of 1991, appear to be taking the blackout in stride.

"What is there to say when there is no electricity?" says Valentina, an elderly woman sitting on a bench in Simferopol.

"No, wait, we have electricity today," she suddenly remembers.

"That was yesterday," one of her friends corrects from the next bench.

"Today we have no water," Valentina explains.

Some Crimean residents, however, are losing patience.

Frustration is mounting over the lingering disarray, particularly over the transportation problems brought on by the blackout -- trolleybuses no longer run, traffic lights are switched off, and the streets and highways are eerily dark.

Bread in Simferopol is in short supply.
Bread in Simferopol is in short supply.

Gas stations have been shutting down one after the other, creating long lines outside those still open for service.

"I don't understand, why isn't there any electricity?" asks a driver, queuing up to refuel at a petrol station in Simferopol. "We were told that Crimea is ready, that it has stations which can provide electricity to the whole of Crimea. Why aren't they doing it then. Have they vanished?"

So far, the majority of Crimeans appear to blame their woes on Ukrainian nationalists and Crimean Tatars, whose activists have been preventing engineers from repairing the damaged electricity pylons.

The activists in mainland Ukraine, which supplies 70 percent of Crimea's energy needs, said they would allow the repair work only if Russia released "political prisoners" -- a reference to a number of opponents of Russian annexation who have been jailed on charges supporters say are trumped-up -- and let Crimean Tatar leaders return to Crimea.

But inside Crimea, too, some fingers are pointing at local authorities.

Moscow has vowed to ship hundreds of emergency generators and has started laying undersea cables to connect Crimea to its power grid. The switch, however, will take years to complete.

In the meantime, Crimeans are bracing for weeks of disruptions and shortages.

The senior official among the Russian authorities who control Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said it might take his government an entire month to restore electricity to the peninsula.

"If you seize a territory," Dmitry, a resident of the southern port city of Feodosia, tells RFE/RL, "then please be kind enough to supply electricity."

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

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