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Many Crimea Students Oppose Splitting From Ukraine

Women with their mouths taped over attend a pro-Ukraine rally in Simferopol, March 13, 2014.

Women with their mouths taped over attend a pro-Ukraine rally in Simferopol, March 13, 2014.

Ahead of Sunday's referendum in Crimea over whether to join the Russian Federation, a split between young, educated Crimeans and those from older generations is becoming more obvious.

Many of the young here in Crimea's capital say they want to remain Ukrainian, arguing if they are forced to become Russians, their work and economic opportunities will suffer.

"Yes, I think it's very, very different opinions, because young people are more contemporary, modern and they have progressive thinking, and old generation just have memories of their living in Soviet Union," responded 21-year-old Katarina when asked by VOA during an international economy class at the Crimean Economic Institute, whether the young and old differ sharply over the referendum.

She's angry that the referendum is being rushed and is taking place while Russian forces are in the Crimea. She's not alone.

Seventeen-year-old Danaya, who is in her first year of computer programming studies at Tavrida National University, agreed with Ukraine's leaders in Kyiv that the referendum is illegal.

And, with Russian soldiers in the region and pro-Russian defense forces patrolling the streets, she said people feel scared and lost.

She said Russia will not help Crimea to develop economically and improve lifestyles and lift the standard of living on the peninsula, where an average monthly salary is just over $200. She fears Russia will turn its attention to other parts of Ukraine after Sunday's vote, and try to annex mainly Russian-speaking areas in eastern Ukraine.

But not all youngsters share her view about the referendum, which was announced quickly after Russian forces seized Crimea following the ousting last month of Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych.

Danaya's boyfriend Kirill wants Crimea to ditch Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.

The 20-year-old biology student said Crimea will be better off with Russia and thinks post-revolution Ukraine will prove unstable and may start fragmenting.

For Kirill, holding a referendum now is acceptable, although he harbors suspicions it will be conducted Soviet-style -- without much transparency.

The Crimean government has focused much of its pro-Russian marketing on the promise that if Crimea joins the Russian Federation, pensions will be higher.

In the run-up to the referendum, older people have made up the bulk of those in pro-Russian demonstrations. That is in marked contrast to the protests in Kyiv that led Yanukovych to flee into exile in neighboring Russia.