SIMFEROPOL, Crimea – With Russia’s takeover of Crimea now all but official and international condemnation growing by the day, there has been intensification of pro-Russian, anti-western fervor. Consequently, there has been a sharp uptick here in incidents of foreigners’ being harassed, threatened, accused of being spies and even attacked by pro-Russian gangs.
This is not one of those stories. But it’s with all that in mind that the ABC News team ventured out into the otherwise calm and friendly downtown Simferopol Tuesday night for dinner and drinks.
Soon after sitting down in a restaurant in the Crimean capital with a colleague from another U.S. television network, a table in the corner burst into chants of “Ross-i-ya! Ross-i-ya!” the Russian equivalent of U-S-A, U-S-A. It was clearly aimed at the very obvious group of foreigners, not aggressively, and clearly fueled by the bottle(s?) of vodka on their table.
There were a few more rounds of this over the course of the next hour or so, all harmless bar fun but something to keep an eye on, given the current climate. Then the head of their group, Alyosha (who was an actual Russian from Moscow), decided that we should be more involved in their growing profession of love for Russia.
They ambled over to our table, ordered a bottle of chilled vodka (Russian, of course) and had the bar blast the Russian national anthem. Which, as far as anthems go, is pretty rousing and even more so after a few shots of vodka. We were never asked where we were from (only two of the seven were American), who we worked for, but nor did we offer it after one of the guys twice said “America,” and drew his thumb across his throat (among other more crude ideas he had for America).
They had taken a shining to our group because they’d heard our Serbian producer speaking Serbian to her son on the phone (Serbs are liked here), even taking the phone to tell her son to come to Crimea to find a Russian wife.
There is no violent climax to this story, everything was friendly. But we left soon after the singing ended, not really eager to spend much more time in town the later it got. We were sent on our way with a gift of three bottles of sweet, red, sparkling Crimean wine.
“This is from my soul,” Alyosha told us. “We are Russians, we do everything from our soul.”