Confusion in Crimea sparks run on banks

Confusion in Crimea sparks run on banks
People queue at a bank office in Simferopol on March 13, 2014, three days before a referendum to join Russia. Losing Crimea could result in millions in banking losses for the mainland, Ukraine's central bank governor warned.

KIEV - Crowds in Crimea queued outside banks as the countdown to this weekend's referendum to break away from Ukraine and join Russia sowed panic, confusion and fear of a looming legal vacuum.

Local pro-Moscow officials have tried to reassure locals, saying there will be no problem with pensions or salaries and that the banks have sufficient cash for everyone.

But details on how the financial system will work if Crimea severs ties with mainland Ukraine were sketchy and officials said there were plans to use the Russian ruble alongside the Ukrainian hryvnia "for a period of time".

Rumours were spreading fast, including a report dismissed by the pro-Kremlin authorities as a "provocation" that all savings accounts were being frozen and withdrawals were being limited to just 300 hryvnia (S$39) per day.

"I couldn't get any money out in any of the cash machines of Oschadbank in Simferopol. They had no more cash. So I came here to their main branch," said one woman in a long queue outside the Ukrainian lender in the Crimean capital.

The limit on cash withdrawals in most banks in Crimea has been set at 1,500 hryvnia a day and some people have queued up day after day to take out as much money as possible in instalments.

Long queues also formed in Sevastopol, the historic port city that is home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet and where Ukrainian military bases are surrounded by Russian forces.

Signs outside branches of Morskoy bank said cash machines were out of order and employees said they were not receiving enough banknotes.

There have even been reports in the local press of locals quickly taking out large loans in the hope that they will not have to pay them back once Ukraine becomes a part of Russia.

Several bank press services contacted by AFP declined to speak on the record but an employee at one of Ukraine's biggest lenders, PrivatBank, in Simferopol said: "People are panicking because they want to keep their money at home." "When they see the cash, when they can touch it, they calm down. There are so many people coming now that we cannot cope with them all," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was concerned about losing her job.

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