Kyiv, October 29, 2015. Only 4,500 out of 6,500 Crimean catering establishments registered before annexation are officially still operating on the peninsula. Thus, their number decreased by nearly a third. “This refers to only registered establishments. Some cafes were not registered,” said Taras Berezovets, the Free Crimea project leader, at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. He added that, according to Eugene Shchyglov, Head of the Crimean Restaurateurs Association, the approximate number of both legally and illegally operating restaurants and cafes used to be about twice as large. Statistics show 2,000 establishments disappearing but it is likely that many more have actually ceased their activities. Roman Ostapchuk, Free Crimea expert, said that while dozens of establishments were registered in Crimea last year, they mostly had to close after one season of work due to unprofitability.
The number of restaurants has reduced due to several reasons. One of the key reasons is that about 70 percent of Crimean restaurants’ staff were Ukrainians who came for seasonal work from mainland Ukraine. “On the one hand, citizens of Crimea refused to work for such wages, which they considered small; on the other hand, there was no training system. […] This practice still continues. The majority of staff in the restaurant and hotel business are still Ukrainians; mostly they are young people under 30.” After the annexation, Ukrainians have to apply to the Russian Federal Migration Service to obtain a work permit. As a result, the number of applicants has decreased dramatically, and some establishments lack staff. According to Berezovets, in connection with this problem Sergei Aksenov even appealed to the Russian federal government to simplify the procedure for issuing work permits for Ukrainians.
The second significant cause is connected with sanctions. “A lot of European cuisine restaurants, including Italian and French, had to close because there was no cheese, pasta, and sauce supplies,” said Berezovets. In addition, food prices are much higher in Crimea compared to Ukraine and Russia. According to the self-proclaimed Crimean government official statistics, since a self-organized blockade of the peninsula by civilians opposed to trade with the annexed region started, food prices have increased by 20-30%. “Despite the blockade, Ukraine’s mainland remains the largest exporter to Crimea. But these products reach Crimea by other means, through Russia. That is why goods cost even more” said Ostapchuk. Prices for fish have also risen, because not all owners of fishing vessels managed to re-register their businesses and meet Russian legislation requirements. Due to all these reasons, now when converted to hryvnia at the October exchange rate, lunch at a cafe for one person is from 113 to 188 hryvnia, lunch at a restaurant costs 338-586 UAH and dinner at a restaurant, including alcoholic beverages is from nearly 600 to more than 1000 hryvnia – all far higher than in the Ukrainian mainland.
Another reason is that Russian tourists who come to Crimea have their meals mainly in sanatoriums they stay at. The restaurant registration procedure is quite lengthy and complex, and the restaurants’ capacity utilization currently is, on average, only 20 percent. So experts predict a further reduction of the numbers of cafes and restaurants.