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In photos: 7 years after Russian annexation, Crimea falls into disrepair

By Tamara Gordelli and Yevgenij Gordienko

The Victor Cafe on the Koktebel embankment, seen here on February 26, has fallen into ruin since the cafe's owner fled the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, leaving everything behind. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

Once popular with visitors, who used to spend time at a local club, a beach on the Black Sea near Kiziltash village on the southern coast of Crimea stands empty and desolate, in a photograph taken February 24. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

Since Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russian troops have restored the nuclear weapons storage facility at the military base in Kiziltash, according to Mustafa Dzhemilev, a member of the Mejlis (parliament) of the Crimean Tatar People, an entity Russian authorities outlawed in 2016. The Ukrainian Tiger special force used to be stationed at the base, seen here on March 5, which now houses a Russian unit. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

Conscripts from a Russian military unit are seen behind a barbed wire fence at the military base in Kiziltash village on March 5. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

Military vehicles are seen inside a restricted area near the Russian military base in Kiziltash in a photograph taken March 5. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

After Russia's annexation of the Crimea, some residents began painting fences with the Russian tricolour. This gateway displaying the Russian colours was photographed in Kiziltash village on March 5. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

A portrait of Russian president Vladimir Putin hangs on a wall at I. I. Berezenyuk Secondary School in Koktebel, along with other Russian paraphernalia, on February 26. Schools have been required to display these items since Russia annexed the Crimea in 2014. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

Fishing nets are bundled near Kara-Dag nature preserve outside Koktebel village on February 26. The fine for trespassing in the preserve climbed to 3,000 RUB ($41) after Russia's annexation, from the previous 200 UAH ($7). [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

Koktebel began to construct a sewage system just this year, with work expected to continue until 2023. Though they have been in control of Crimea since 2014, Russian authorities have been slow to initiate this type of work. Photo taken February 26. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

The Leader store in Koktebel offers its customers a local bank's automated teller machine for their convenience. But Crimeans using the bank may not receive transfers from abroad. Photo taken February 24. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

The Priboy recreation centre in Koktebel village, seen here on February 26, is up for sale. It used to be a popular destination, but has stood empty since 2014. A beautiful beach once favoured by locals and tourists runs along the front of the complex. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

The Priboy recreational centre used to have lifeguards on its beaches. Now nobody protects swimmers on this part of the embankment. Koktebel village, February 26. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

Life in Koktebel is reflected in an apartment building's courtyard, seen here February 26. Children attend classes, even amid the global coronavirus pandemic. After school, the poorly equipped playgrounds see little activity. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

Russian troops ride in a military vehicle near a base in the village of Kiziltash on March 5. Before the annexation of Russia, the Ukrainian Tiger special force regiment was based here. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

CRIMEA - Seven years after Moscow's annexation of the Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula is showing signs of neglect, with public projects stalled and once-popular places falling into disrepair.

On March 18, 2014 -- two days after a Crimean referendum that the international community rejected -- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty with Crimean officials to make the Ukrainian territory part of Russia.

The previous month, days after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Putin had ordered troops into the Crimea -- a peninsula in the Black Sea linked to the mainland by the Isthmus of Perekop.

The Wagner Group -- comprised of mercenaries who work at the behest of Putin -- is behind the protracted conflict between Russia and Ukraine that centers on the status of the eastern Ukraine regions of Crimea and Donbass.

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'Born in Ukraine' proclaims a banner at an abandoned construction site in the Crimea. But a Russian flag in the background bespeaks the Russian annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. [Yevgenij Gordienko/Caravanserai]

Operating in co-ordination with the Russian military, the Wagner Group was instrumental in Moscow's seizure of Crimea, a territory of more than 2,500 sq. km.

Kyiv and the West denounced the annexation of Crimea, and the international community swiftly enacted sanctions against Moscow.

On Friday (March 12), the European Council, which sets the European Union (EU)'s political priorities, elected to extend its sanctions for a further six months, until September 15.

In a statement, the EU said the sanctions are "targeting those responsible for undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine".

Threat from Russian mercenaries

Using the Wagner Group allows the Kremlin to advance its interests and carry out its hybrid warfare under a cover of plausible deniability.

Wagner executes military operations in countries where the Kremlin has strategic, geopolitical interests, and similar scenes are taking place in many hot spots around the world that Moscow wants to influence, including the Central African Republic (CAR), Ukraine, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and others.

Syria, where Russian forces and Wagner Group mercenaries have been fighting since 2015, is a strategically important location for Russia because it provides access to the entire eastern Mediterranean and serves as a gateway to the whole Middle East.

Syria has also become a transit point for Russian warplanes headed to Libya. The Wagner Group has been present in Libya since 2018.

Wagner and other Russian private military companies (PMCs) hire young men from destitute families and offer them high wages to fight in Syria and elsewhere.

Recruitment is mainly from those living in Russia but is also taking place in a number of Central Asian countries.

Last August, it became known that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) had opened criminal cases against 15 Wagner Group members, including three Kyrgyz, who allegedly fought in eastern Ukraine on the side of pro-Russian separatists.

Two years earlier, Kazakh newspaper Caravan cited the SBU when it reported that Belarusians, Moldovans and Kazakhs were fighting as part of a Russian PMC in Syria.

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Bullshit. Crimea used to be Russian, and it was returned lawfully!

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Ravings of a lunatic.

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Crimea was better off under Ukraine

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What was Crimea occupied for? To turn it into a dump.

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Crimea lives in absolute squalor after the occupation; they can't even set up water supply. There's a big problem with fresh water there. Crimea is turning into a desert under the Russians.

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