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Published: Wednesday March 19, 2014 MYT 1:55:02 AM
Updated: Wednesday March 19, 2014 MYT 1:55:57 AM

Joy and hope for many Crimeans as Putin signs treaty

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) - When news reached Crimea that President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty making the Black Sea peninsula part of Russia, two doormen at a Simferopol hotel could barely conceal their glee.

"We are all Russians here, we feel Russian, and I am fed up with this Ukrainian nationalism. Now it'll be over," said one of the doormen, Sergey Tarasov, 48.

"I remember when the Soviet Union was falling apart, that was awful, suddenly all this talk of being Ukrainians came about. Now things will be back to what they should be," said the ethnic Belarussian who first came to Crimea for his military service years ago and has a Ukrainian passport.

In his speech to the Russian lawmakers in Moscow, Putin also referred to the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union in portraying the move to make Crimea part of Russia as restoration of historic justice.

Natalia, a saleswoman in a kiosk in central Simferopol was ecstatic.

"Putin's done what our hearts were longing for. That finally brings things back to what they should be after all those years. For me, for my family, there can be no bigger joy, for us this is sacred."

The Putin speech has also reassured Feride Kurtbedinova, an ethnic Tatar and member of the Crimean minority that has been largely loyal to Kiev and wary of Moscow having suffered repressions under the Soviet Union.

She said Putin's meeting with Tatar leaders was a sign of respect and a promise of security, noting how much room the Russian president dedicated to the group in his remarks on Tuesday.

"Crimea will be better with Russia just because it is a stronger state than Ukraine. Ukraine didn't even stand up for us. Most importantly, we are now united with Russia and that came without any wars or violence," said the high school student.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS

But the initial positive reaction had no immediate effect on lengthy queues by cash machines in central Simferopol where banks have introduced low daily limits on payouts, triggering fear among many residents that they may not be able to access their funds.

Alla Sergeyeva, an ethnic Moldovan who has lived in Crimea since the early 1980s after marrying a local, said she hoped her pension of 1,000 hryvnias would now be raised to match those in Russia.

"I don't have any trust in the authorities in Kiev anymore, I'm tired of them, they've done nothing good over the decades," the retired nurse said as she was waiting to get money from a Privatbank cash machine. "They sell away everything only to enrich themselves and flee abroad."

"I hope we'll be better off as part of Russia, that my two adult sons will have better lives."

Others have echoed the hope for higher living standards and more social spending - requests Moscow will now have to take into account and, possibly, assign resources from increasingly strained state coffers.

"It cannot be any worse than it has been so far, I voted in the referendum for Russia, we have suffered under Kiev for 23 years and again they have raised the communal fees lately, lowering living standards for people. That is just not right, this must stop," said Sergey Kotov, a 24-year-old student.

Only a few in Simferopol expressed worry.

"This is more than awful. Judging by Putin rhetoric, this won't stop with Crimea, with Ukraine. He is saying it straight that he is bringing the former Soviet Union together," said Anton Romanov, a local theatre director.

(Editing by Anna Willard) nL6N0MF47H

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