I looked at this question in depth in 2016 (see “Trump Is Factually Right on Crimea“).
TLDR: Yes, the did, and overwhelmingly so.
In a VCIOM poll this March marking the 5 year anniversary, some 93% of Crimeans said they have a positive view on joining Russia, and 89% said they would vote to join Russia if the referendum was to be run again.
The sole post-unification/annexation [cross out as per ideological preferences] “poll” to show ambiguity on the question is from the Russian President’s Human Rights Council. However, this was not a poll, as I pointed out at the time, but the personal opinion of a single member of the Council, Yevgeny Bobrov, who based his assessment on conversations with a couple dozen unnamed “activists.”
Incidentally, I was amused to see that Yevgeny Bobrov was put on Ukraine’s Myrotvorets blacklist either way, as commenter E commented – despite the minor propaganda he generated for them.
Speaking of commenter E, he also had a much lengthier treatment of internal political discussions between top Maidan politicians during the Crimean Crisis, in which they acknowledged the vast majority of Crimeans backed the transfer:
The host site of that document, rnbo.gov.ua, is the homepage of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, currently led by the same Turchinov who was Acting President of Ukraine back then. That’s pretty convincing as proof that it’s legitimate.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a fully transcribed version, much less a translation into English. I’m not great at reading Ukrainian myself. I did find that most (but not quite all) of the text in the PDF can be copied+pasted into Google Translate.
Anyway, here are some of my own translations of relevant sections concerning the Ukraine elite’s beliefs about public opinion in Crimea (I mostly translated the Ukrainian into Russian, then that into English, manually fixing any mistakes along the way):
The 2nd paragraph of pg. 6 is where Valentin Nalivaychenko admits that the idea of joining Russia enjoys mass support in Crimea:
The fourth point concerning the situation in the Crimea is the mass support of the population for the actions of the Russian Federation.
2nd paragraph, pg. 8: Nalivaychenko:
Our military and security forces are demoralized. many of them do not recognize the new government and are not ready to carry out orders, or have already betrayed their oath. The situation in the Navy of Ukraine is especially difficult. There are signed letters of resignation, including by the Commander of the Naval Forces of Ukraine. The moral and psychological climate of the leadership is extremely low, if not entirely treasonous.
p.9 paragraphs 2&3, Avakov (Minister of Internal Affairs):
Separately, I’ll say that the majority of the population of Crimea takes a pro-Russian, anti-Ukrainian position. This is the risk we need to take into account. We are establishing communications with employees who have not betrayed us, but among the police these are very few.
p.12, Tenyukh (Ukraine’s Minister of Defense) replying to Turchinov (acting President of Ukraine), who is asking how many of Ukraine’s 15,000 nominal forces in the region would be willing to fight:
Difficult to answer. Most of the military are local contract soldiers. For them, service is money. You know the mood of the population in Crimea. There are also young people, conscripts who are unlikely to fight. Those who are ready to execute the order to use weapons will be 1.5-2 thousand maximum.
p. 16, Nalivaychenko:
Dear colleagues, I propose to invite to Kiev the leaders of Crimea’s Prosecutor’s Office, SBU and Police, because the vast majority of them are traitors. We need to know who is on our side now and who is not!
p.16-17, Vitaliy Yarema (General Prosecutor of Ukraine):
During the preparation of these preliminary steps, we discovered the dominant opinion of the civilian population. Since the premises of state institutions begin to be seized, they say, “If it’s fine to do it in Kiev, why we can’t we capture them in Crimea?”. Therefore, today I would like to address the Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council Andriy Parubiy to vacate today the premises seized by the Samooborona [Self-defence forces of Maidan], as much as possible, in order to show that we have law and order…
(this suggestion was not discussed any further in the meeting, and no resolution was taken to implement it)
The only sort-of dissenting voice at the meeting was Acting President Turchinov (he also seems to admit that the Crimean public and elites are against Ukraine, but believes that their opinion is not very deeply-held and can be changed. He also, unlike the others, does not accept that the opinions of the Crimean “street” played a crucial role in the Maidan government’s quick loss of power in Crimea in the days preceding the referendum, believing that it was 100% due to the Russian troops. Turchinov’s view became the mainstream one among Western analysts), p.23-24:
The emphasis on the mass media is correct.
It’s very important that we appeal to the residents of the Crimean peninsula. They must understand that the Ukrainian government is not their enemy, that we are ready to solve their local problems. We need to dispel this myth that the Crimeans raised a rebellion against Ukraine. These are not Crimeans. It’s solely a military operation against a sovereign country. That’s why we need to inform them that these are not activists of any party or public structures, but the Russian military who are not even hiding their identity any more. It is very important to recite and to propagate this objective view of these events to Ukraine and all the world.
Andrei Vilenovich [Senchenko, head of Batkivshchyna party in Crimea], let’s have a few words concerning working with the Crimean elites. How can we drag the Crimean elite onto the side of Ukraine, and not the separatists?
I think this is the first time that any of this text has been translated into English… if anybody wants to use it, be my guest.
The Logic of Western Sanctions
One interesting aspect about the Western sanctions on Russia is that they affected Crimeans more so than Russians. Siemens has been fined for selling gas turbines that ended up in Crimea, gamers were barred from Steam, etc.
But if the Crimean referendum was rigged and illegitimate, as Kiev and the West have repeatedly argued, on what grounds are ordinary Crimeans getting punished for what is in fact Russian aggression?
The Crimean referendum accurately reflected the will of the Crimean people. In that case, the US and EU sanctions on Crimea – already getting expressed in the forms of Crimean residents losing access to the services of Western companies and even getting their money confiscated – are, in effect, to punish them for voting the wrong way. In other words, it is economic blackmail by any other name.
Consequently, the only logical, self-consistent explanation is that these sanctions – the ones above those imposed on Russia as a whole – are a way to punish Crimeans for voting to join Russia. Whose main point is a warning.