Crimea’s One-Woman Resistance to Russian Occupation

by    /  January 6, 2015  / No comments

Daria Karpenko. Photo via Facebook.

This article is part of an extensive RuNet Echo study of Russian-language blogosphere in Eastern Ukraine. Explore the complete interview series on the Eastern Ukraine Unfiltered page.

Officially, the March 16 referendums in Sevastopol and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea showed that the peninsula’s inhabitants favor—almost unanimously—joining the Russian Federation. Over 95% of the population allegedly voted in favor of “reunification,” with turnouts of 83.1% in the Autonomous Republic and 86.1% in Sevastopol, home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

Some in the West greeted these figures with disbelief, not least when a report from Russia’s own Human Rights Council seemed to indicate the real turnout was much lower (around 30%-50%) and support for annexation a much more lukewarm 50-60 percent. Russia’s media have been keen to portray Crimea’s “return” to Russia as not only the undoing of a grave historical injustice, but as the result of the unanimous democratic choice of the region’s inhabitants.

Whatever the veracity of the March referendums, it’s impossible to deny that Crimean bloggers have generally supported their incorporation into the Russian Federation, citing a mixture of affinity for Russia and its culture, the economic benefits of joining Ukraine’s far wealthier neighbor, and fear of what many view as a hostile ethno-nationalist junta in Kyiv. Against this background, Daria Karpenko, who blogs on LiveJournal as Kelpai and also manages a Facebook page, stands out as a Crimean blogger deeply opposed to the annexation. Karpenko, who’s been writing online for almost 10 years, became a star of the blogosphere for her posts from Simferopol when Russian soldiers seized the peninsula in the guise of ”polite people.”

My blog was always personal. I wrote about my (relatively ordinary) life, about funny or sad situations. It seemed like a lot of people read me. Even back in January, “a lot of people” meant 30. Now I have over 100 times more subscribers on LiveJournal alone… I decided to write every day, summing up news and rumors, just to put forward an alternative voice… gradually I found my own format and began writing regularly about developments in the situation in Crimea.

arpenko describes her main aim in writing as “voicing the point of view of Crimeans who aren’t happy that Russia suddenly came to our door.” When asked if she had received any messages of support from her fellow Crimeans, Karpenko replies that

People often write to me on my blog or on facebook, that they’re happy to read what I write, as it seemed to them that they were absolutely alone in their own love for Ukraine. There are many such people.

Karpenko adds that she also gets messages of support from Ukrainians outside Crimea.

Other Ukrainians often write to me as well, those who are pleased to see that not all of their former compatriots are traitors and “suffered 23 years under the Ukrainian yoke.” My blog helps remind them that Crimea is a mass of differing opinions and people, none of whom deserve to be judged collectively or hated.

Not everyone is so supportive of her actions. Karpenko also receives a large amount of abuse and trolling. She says “paid trolls who live off payments from the Russian government” are her most active haters. Karpenko also has to deal with concerns about breaking the Russian Federation’s restrictive new laws on blogging.

I regularly receive threats. I try not to provoke excessively, as the fate of political activists in Russia isn’t enviable. I’m currently trying to follow the (absurd) laws on behavior on the Internet, which the Russian Duma introduced at the beginning of the summer.

Karpenko is now a dissenting voice in a country where dissent is more and more considered synonymous with treason, where the president openly makes references to a “fifth column” and “national traitors,” and where “online extremism” carries the threat of imprisonment. When asked if she has any plans to leave Crimea, Karpenko admits she hasn’t yet been able to decide. She says she is determined to stay in Crimea and report the realities of life on the ground, but some of those realities are deeply unpalatable to her personally.

I love Crimea and Ukraine madly. I want to help them blossom and develop. But I’m bringing up a small daughter. I’m very afraid that when she goes to kindergarten and school, she’ll end up in the Russian propaganda machine.

Written by Daniel Alan Kennedy

This article was originally published by Global Voices on August 13, 2014.

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