Crimea on bumpy road to becoming a Russian province

Crimea on bumpy road to becoming a Russian province
A woman poses with a Ukrainian (L) and a Russian passport outside an office of the Russian Federal Migration Service, where she received a Russian passport, in the Crimean city of Simferopol in this April 7, 2014 file photo.

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea - Natalia Rudenko's ears were still ringing from being shouted at by a father demanding that the Ukrainian-language school she has run for 17 years in Crimea's capital now teach in Russian when local officials turned up at her office to dismiss her.

Their message: Rudenko and her school dedicated to sending students to Ukrainian universities no longer have a place in a society that voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia last month after Moscow deployed troops across the Black Sea peninsula.

As shocked staff and parents gathered in her office, bringing flowers, the matronly 62-year-old was overcome with emotion: "I built this school from the ground up," she said.

Rudenko's dismissal is part of a colossal reshuffling managed from the Kremlin in the wake of Crimea's annexation to hurriedly remake the Ukrainian region of some 2 million people into a Russian territory populated by Russians.

It's a baffling, monumental task pro-Russian leaders are rushing to complete during a "transition period" that lasts until January 1, 2015 - in many cases cutting corners and dispensing with niceties.

In one early step, they appropriated nearly all local Ukrainian state assets from energy firms to ports, museums and factories and made them nationalised Russian assets.

Since President Vladimir Putin formally annexed Crimea on March 21, confusion has reigned. Courts are paralysed, the banking network is in disarray as Ukrainian and Western banks pull out, and business ties with the mainland are sundered.

Russian police cars from far-off regions have begun patrolling the region's picturesque roads lined with flowering trees, but it is not clear under what jurisdiction.

"Ukrainian law no longer applies but Russian law has not yet come into force," said Sergei Fominykh, a partner at a local law firm whose court cases have all been suspended pending clarity about the new judicial system.

One enterprising Russian firm is advertising its services to help firms adapt to doing business in Russia on a TV screen in Crimea's capital Simferopol.

Rudenko's school is the largest of only six teaching in Ukrainian in Crimea. Natasha Melnichuk is one of many parents who want it to switch to a Russian curriculum as they look to Moscow rather than Kiev for their children's future.

"We didn't have a choice but now things are as they are," said the 39-year-old mother of two boys who had been against the region's secession. "There is no point in them continuing studies in Ukrainian if they will go to university in Russia."

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