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'We Will Be Slaves for Russia': Cypriots Warn

Photographer | Ee Sing

Andreas Pavlidis owns a small ice cream and frozen yogurt store just off Nicosia's main shopping street. He only opened the store a year ago, but said he is earning enough to make a living.

"Sales have dropped somewhat over the last few months because of the uncertainty around the economy," he said. "People may not be going on holidays or buying clothes, but at least they are still buying food. Our products only cost one to three euros, and people still want a little treat now and then, so we are doing fine."

Andreas's store is an exception though. In the city center of Nicosia, many stores are closed or rundown and store windows are plastered with "for sale" signs.

Teenagers are sitting in cafes, pensioners are huddled together playing backgammon, known as "Tavli." A few tourists are snapping pictures of old churches.

But footfall is slow, and few people are buying. The only luxury they seem to enjoy is their afternoon coffee in Starbucks or the local coffee store.

Reacting to Tuesday's overwhelming vote against the controversial deposit tax, Andreas said: "It is good. We sent a clear sign to Europe"

(Read More: EU 'Blackmailed' Cyprus: Ex-Cypriot Central Banker)

During the short visit to Andreas's store, he echoed a sentiment I have heard a number of times over the past few days, stressing twice that: "Cypriots are not like Greeks. We are hardworking. I work 60 hours a week. We want to rebuild the economy ourselves. We do not want help from (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel."

He added: "We much prefer Russia to be involved than Germany's Merkel, who has been bluffing all along. The Germans will do whatever they want with us."

(Read More: Russia Talks 'Looking Beyond' Loan Extension: Cyprus)

George, a university dropout, disagrees: "If Russia makes a bigger investment in Cyprus, we will be like slaves." Once Cyprus strikes a deal with Russia for a loan in exchange for gas reserves, he said, the country will have to give in to Russia's demands for years.

Andreas, the ice cream store owner, added: "Going back to the Cypriot lira may just be what we need. It may be difficult in the first three to four years, but it will certainly be better in the long run."

Efi, a graphic designer student, who is six months away from graduation, complained that the job market is extremely tough: "It is so difficult to find a job, with so many young people from other countries coming here and accepting lower pay."

(Read More: How Russia Could Take Revenge Over Cyprus Deal)

She said the government isn't doing enough to help the labor market. "The government has other problems—getting money from abroad. They don't care about us. Not even the university cares."

For now though, Efi plans on staying in Cyprus. "Where else should I go? I hope the situation will get better soon," she said.

Contact Europe: Economy

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