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In Crimea, Those Who Refuse To Vote Are Making Dumplings

Varenyky are Ukrainian dumplings stuffed with fruit or potatoes and topped with sour cream. Today, they became a symbol of political protest.

While tens of thousands of Crimeans went to the polls on Sunday to vote — the result is almost certain to separate their peninsula from Ukraine and join Russia — others expressed their dissent by staying home to cook this most Ukrainian of foods and posting photos and videos of their dumplings to Youtube and Facebook.

"This is a varenyky flash-mob" explains Lilya Abibulayeva in a YouTube video. It shows her mother and aunt filling square pieces of dough with what looks like cheese. A Ukrainian flag hangs on the wall and the Ukrainian national anthem plays in the background.

Ilona Simonenko, a 36-year-old photographer in Simferopol, made two batches of varenyky, one with cherries and another with potatoes. Her 11-year-old daughter and her husband also helped. "It's better for me to do this than participate in such a farce [of a referendum]," she said by phone.

One complaint she and others have with Sunday's referendum is that it only offers two choices: Either join Crimea to Russia, or remain in Ukraine, but with far greater autonomy. There's no third option: to keep things as they are.

Pro-Ukrainian activists called for a boycott of the vote. An initial plan to hang Ukrainian flags from their windows and balconies was rejected as too risky. Supporters of Ukraine have been beaten up and even kidnapped from the streets in Crimea. Simonenko, the photographer, said that her husband feared to express his support for Ukraine on the streets patrolled by elite Russian forces, Russian cossacks and a pro-Russian Crimean defense league. So instead, activists decided on Saturday that everyone would cook dumplings.

Simonenko said that the act of making varenyky, pressing her thumbs into the dough to make tiny ripples, "is something calming, something relaxing."

"My grandmother taught me how to make them when I was little," she said. "I always love to make varenyky."

Simonenko worried that Russia and Ukraine will soon go to war. Making varenyky eased the feeling of helplessness that increases with the increasing number of armed troops in the streets.

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