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Updated June 30th, 2020 at 12:42 IST

Crimea land evictions spark growing dissatisfaction

Voters in Crimea - seized by Russia from Ukraine six years ago - are divided on whether to back a series of constitutional amendments that could see President Vladimir Putin stay in power until 2036.

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Voters in Crimea - seized by Russia from Ukraine six years ago - are divided on whether to back a series of constitutional amendments that could see President Vladimir Putin stay in power until 2036.

Ivan Shiyan, an ex-Soviet soldier who was born and bred in Crimea, celebrated Russia's annexation of the peninsula and the instalment of a pro-Moscow government.

Now, however, he is among a growing number of people who are angered by the attitude to the region's new rulers.

Last year, he was informed that Russia's military had set eyes on his plot of land and had sued him in an attempt to expropriate it.

"They say part of my land belongs to them, and they want to retroactively annul my deed to this property that dates back to 1999 (when Crimea was) under Ukraine, more than 20 years ago," he told the AP.

Shiyan isn't the only one facing a problem like this. He says four of his neighbors have also been sued for their land. If they lose, they face being evicted without compensation.

"These 600 square meters don't mean anything to the military, but for me, they're my whole life," he says.

His story has helped spur activists to launch a political group seeking to challenge local officials and defend the interests of residents.

"We ran into the problem that the military was expropriating land from private landowners," explains Viktor Kisilyov, the young founder of the Sevastopol Alternative group, who plans to run for office locally.

"We had initially planned to run in the upcoming municipal elections, but not in the legislative assembly, but then people started to ask us to run."

Kisilyov and his colleague Vsevolod Radchenko told the AP that the demand for an alternative voice in Sevastopol is growing on the back of rising dissatisfaction.

In the weeks preceding the vote for constitutional amendments that will run until July 1, they say they conducted a survey to gauge support for the constitutional changes.

They say that among the 312 people that they surveyed - which they selected on the street to reflect the city's gender and age makeup - fewer than half said they support the amendments, and nearly a third said they were against them.

"If someone says Sevastopol is a patriotic bedrock, and that it will unquestionably support Putin, we are very happy that in fact there are thinking people in Sevastopol who have their own opinions," Kisilyov says.

Meanwhile, as the vote in Sevastopol proceeds this week, some locals report that they are being forced to participate by their employers - a pattern that is happening across Russia.

"Well they didn't obligate me, but they said I had to go vote," Yulia, a woman outside a voting precinct that declined to give her last name, told the AP.

She declined to say who had told her she had to vote but added that she would be voting against the constitutional amendments.

Most voters who spoke to the AP, however, said they supported the constitutional amendments, listing a change that would legally bar any discussions of Russia's territorial makeup as a major reason.

"The most important thing is that our country will be indivisible, nothing can be taken away from us," said Fyodr Ivantsov.

Other voters said they were voting for the amendments because they admired the president.

"I voted for Putin and for everything that he plans to do now. I agree with it," said Galina Alyukina, a 93-year-old voter.

When asked to clarify if she was voting for Putin or the constitutional changes, Alyukina said the latter.

"Yes, for the constitutional changes, but they're his accomplishment, after all, and his plan for the future," she said.

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Published June 30th, 2020 at 12:42 IST

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