‘I’m here to make small difference’: Four Americans travel to Crimea to go beyond MSM headlines

Four Americans have visited Crimea, taking on the roles of citizen diplomats and trying to go beyond the mainstream narrative being spread in the West.

The quartet, representing the Center for Citizen Initiatives (CCI), an NGO established back in the 1980s to try to reduce tensions between the two superpowers, went to Crimea on a private visit. The CCI had previously sent a similar group to the Russian region in 2016.

The Americans started their three-day tour by visiting an orphanage in Simferopol, Crimea’s regional capital. There they met with officials from Crimea's Parliament before going to Yalta and Sevastopol.

“My impression is that we’re not hearing a correct story, so when I learned we’re going to Crimea, I was happy,” Glenn Reynolds, a retired anesthetist, told Ruptly news agency.

“In my small, group, in my small town people don’t think much [about Crimea], they listen to what official media tell them to think,” he said, adding, “I’m here to make a small difference.”

“I’m following events in Crimea for a long time,” Sylvia Demarest, a Texas-based lawyer, told Russian media after meeting with Vladimir Konstantinov, speaker of the local parliament. “And I can say that I agree with what was happening there, and share Crimean people’s point of view.”

People living in the region, which broke away from Ukraine in 2014, will always welcome such trips, Konstantinov has said.

“Don’t praise or criticize us, tell everyone about how we live here and how we feel here. This is very important for Crimea people as we don’t understand why they imposed sanctions on us.”

READ MORE: Russia skeptical about US Crimea Declaration, says Washington fails to stick to commitments

The US and its allies imposed restrictions on Russia in 2014 after it reunified with Crimea on the back of a coup in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, which sent the country into a political crisis and civil war. Crimea, formerly a Ukrainian autonomous region, voted to rejoin Russia in March of the same year.

Earlier this year, the State Department said the US will never recognize Crimea as part of Russia. In a strongly worded statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to maintain “this policy until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored.”

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