SEVASTOPOL, Crimea — Tatiana Kiryusha has spent the past two days dismantling the tiny apartment she and her husband, Maxim, thought would be the first home of the baby boy they are expecting in two weeks.
Their clothing is jammed into four giant plastic trash bags in an armoire, near a small suitcase packed for the hospital. Outside, they have taped an ad to a light post asking $100 for their sofa. Kiryusha, 24, is still watering the plants that she fears will not fit in the car when they and other Ukrainian military families leave Crimea, a peninsula that is now effectively part of Russia.
“It’s so sad,” Kiryusha said, as she and her visiting mother-in-law carried empty boxes to pack the cooking utensils from their one-room home in a building outside the air base. “We had many plans for here. Now they’re just dead plans.”
Ukraine is preparing to withdraw its 25,000 military troops from the Crimean bases that systematically are being taken over by Russian army regulars and the pro-Russia militias they work with. Many Ukrainian service members have lived their entire lives in Crimea, and now Crimea is offering to incorporate anyone who decides to stay and take Russian citizenship into the newly created Crimean armed forces. Those who remain in the Ukrainian military must go.
Leonid Polyakov, Ukraine’s deputy of minister of defense, said Thursday in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, that planning to evacuate military families is well underway and that the public is contributing to a fund to help them resettle. But Polyakov declined to elaborate on what orders, if any, were being prepared for the troops and what will happen Friday when a temporary truce with Russia’s military expires.
“Unfortunately, you are not alone in your curiosity about orders,” he said, referring obliquely to Russia.
In Moscow, the official annexation of Crimea is progressing at breakneck speed. The State Duma, or lower house of the Russian parliament, voted 443 to 1 on Thursday to admit Crimea and the city of Sevastopol into the Russian federation. The bill is scheduled to be taken up Friday by the upper house, the Federation Council.
Like everything about Russia’s takeover of Crimea, the Ukrainian military departure is expected to be swift. Despite the ambiguity from Kiev, many troops and their relatives say they expect to be gone within days.
Col. Yuli Mamchur has lived for two years with his wife, Larisa, in a three-story apartment building just outside the Belbek base on the outskirts of Sevastopol, one of the few Ukrainian bases in Crimea that remains mostly under Ukrainian control.
In the initial days of the Russian intervention, Mamchur, the commander of the tactical aviation brigade at Belbek, led his men — unarmed, lifting the Ukrainian flag and singing the Ukrainian national anthem — toward a phalanx of heavily armed pro-Russia troops. That confrontation ended quietly, but a week ago he made a YouTube video appealing to Kiev for directions, without which he said they would be forced to fire at intruders and make a stand “to the end.”
On Thursday, Mamchur said the base is making preparations to vacate calmly. He predicted that half the men in his command will choose to stay, mainly because they are Crimea natives who have no ties to the Ukrainian mainland. Mamchur is among those who will, as he put it, “relocate,” a word he stressed he considers more apt than “surrender.”
“I’m going to go where the motherland is,” said Mamchur, who already has sent his daughter and granddaughter to mainland Ukraine. “I’m a military man. Every military man is ready to make these changes.”
Larisa Mamchur’s dark eyes grew sad as she described watching her neighbors vacate the yellow stucco apartment building. A serviceman was working on the rooftop Thursday morning, detaching electrical wires from satellite dishes and window air-conditioning units that are rapidly being boxed up and carted away.
“A woman left this morning crying,” she said, speaking Russian as fluently as her husband. “A month ago, we had different plans for life. We wanted to go on vacation, and enroll our granddaughter in dance classes. We didn’t decide to leave. ‘Uncle Putin’ decided this.”
It has been surprisingly disheartening to prepare to leave a city where many Ukrainians say they have been treated shabbily as local fervor to join Russia swelled. Larisa Mamchur said some salespeople have refused to serve Ukrainians. They have been kicked off public buses. Residents have come to the base gate calling the Ukranians inside fascists, Nazis and various Russian curse words.
“Before all the propaganda from Russia, we had very good relations with people here,” she said. “Sooner or later, people will understand what has happened. But by then, we will have lost everything.”
On a normal sunny spring Thursday, young children would be using the swings and seesaw in the small playground next to the apartment building. But these are not normal days, and the sound of children’s laughter is gone as wives and children have been sent away to wait for the men to join them.
A young airman named Oleg, 24, said his wife and daughter went to live with his in-laws in Ukraine earlier this month, when tensions started boiling over.
“I miss them very much,” he said. “Today my daughter turns one and a half, and I’d like to be with her. I had hoped we would live here for a long time. If I have to leave, I just pray God doesn’t allow war, and the rest will be okay.”
Kiryusha’s mother-in-law, Valentina Trukhan, came to Crimea from northern Ukraine a week ago to help the young couple after she detected a new note of seriousness in her son’s voice. She came by train, talking to no one lest they detect her Ukrainian accent.
Kiryusha, a teacher, is bilingual in Russian and Ukrainian, and until recently did not feel estranged during her 2 1 / 2 years living in Crimea. But she said politics have made life, and their move, infinitely more complicated.
She wanted to buy a stroller and crib to take with them, but prices have risen since the Ukrainian hryvnia has fallen in value. Few stores accept credit cards anymore, and ATMs aren’t stocked with enough cash for such a major outlay, anyway. A local moving company that operated throughout Ukraine closed shop five days ago, so Kiryusha has to find friends with a large car to help move their belongings.
She has abandoned the idea of asking friends in Sevastopol to be godparents, because soon they will be living in two different countries. And she doesn’t know when she will spend time with the twins who are her own godchildren, because their Ukrainian mother is staying in Crimea for the time being. She worries about going into labor while she and her husband are en route to the Ukrainian town of Chernigov, where they will move back in with her parents or her in-laws.
It’s all exhausting, and she is ready to move forward to a vague and unsettled future.
“We’ve had good lives here,” she said. “At first, I was a little shocked that we would have to leave. But now I’m ready. We’re both ready to be out of here.”
Kathy Lally in Kiev and Will Englund in Moscow contributed to this report.