Photographer Dan Kitwood recalls joining election staff to collect votes from the elderly residents of Bakhchysarai, 30km south west of Crimea’s Capital.

On 16th March I joined election/referendum staff to collect votes from the elderly and infirm residents of a housing estate in Bakhchysarai, about 30km south west of Simferopol, the Capital of Crimea.

Bakhchysarai is predominantly a region of Muslim Tatar, who account for around 12 percent of the population as a whole within the Crimean peninsula. The community is very much opposed to Russian annexation, and largely boycotted the March 16th referendum.  Within that community though there are still many older generation Russians living peacefully with their Muslim neighbors.

We were to visit around 20 residents spread out over several of the six story blocks of flats. Accompanying us were two election officials and a police officer to monitor proceedings.

As we winded our way through the courtyards and alleyways, children played in pot holes in the road, elderly residents shuffled through rubbish skips looking for anything useful. Fireworks exploded setting off the car alarms and stray cats ran through the alleyways between the blocks or sat lazily in the winter sunshine.

A man beat the dust from a carpet as it hung over a wall, while trees burst to life with blossom adding a much needed splash of colour to an otherwise dreary scene.
This was a place at odds with itself. A change was in the air, but a quiet sadness hung over.
In 1991, Ukraine declared its independence from the USSR, and the Crimea became an autonomous Republic within Ukraine. Many of the older generation within Crimea clearly saw the end of this unity with ‘Mother’ Russia as a tragedy. 
As we moved from house to house meeting the different residents, I was taken by both the sadness and hardship these people clearly felt they had endured, since dissolution of the USSR, and the longing they had for a return to what in their view were the good old days of Soviet rule.
The years had not been kind to some of the people, many in the twilight years of their life. As they cast their votes, I sensed that they felt like it would be the last meaningful thing they would ever do, and it was very emotional for them but also me.
This wasn’t a time for politics or a time to judge, but to witness another chapter of history unfold.
I just hope the people I met found their peace.
Join the conversation. Leave a comment below or Tweet with #gettyinfocus
comments powered by Disqus