SEVASTOPOL, Crimea (AP) — Crimea, promised Russian President Vladimir Putin, "will be a home to all the peoples living there."
Yet 10 months since the Kremlin tore up the map of Europe and seized the strategic Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine, many of Crimea's 2.2 million inhabitants face a future rife with uncertainty and present-day hardships far different from the instant prosperity they imagined that union with Russia would bring.
As of Jan. 1, Crimea is supposed to be fully integrated legally and administratively into the rest of the Russian Federation. But in many ways, it seems more like a distant island, linked to Russia only by airplane and by the ferries that ply the Kerch Strait.
The sun-blessed region's main industry, tourism, is in virtual free fall, with the European Union adding to its troubles by recently banning the sale of Crimea-bound travel packages as well as stops by EU-flagged cruise ships at Yalta, Sevastopol and other ports.
Since Crimea's annexation by Russia in March, prices for foodstuffs have risen steeply, and the local economy has been hit with the double whammy of Western sanctions and Moscow's slowness to inject the large amounts of capital that was promised to rebuild Crimea's aging Soviet-era infrastructure. Ukraine has also throttled Crimean agriculture by turning off the faucet to a major irrigation canal.
Despite the many problems that accompanied the overnight change in nationality, many residents still support Crimea's fusion with Russia — including in Sevastopol, home port to Russia's Black Sea Fleet.
Others in a diverse local population that includes Russians, Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and Armenians remain wary — or even hostile. Thousands of people have spurned the opportunity to live under Russian rule by leaving Crimea.
Some minority groups, including Crimean Tatars and the pro-Kiev branch of the Orthodox Church, have accused the pro-Russian authorities now in charge in Crimea of an organized campaign of harassment or brutality against them.