Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Catching up on last week: My trip to Crimea
On August 12, I decided to take a short break from Chernobyl research to experience a new part of Ukraine. (I had interviewed just about every liquidator in the hospital at that point, so I had no pangs of guilt about leaving for a few days.) So, Reid and I hopped aboard a Yak-42 airliner (one member of Donbassaero's impressive fleet of Antonovs and Yakolevs...) headed towards the Black Sea.
Crimea is an interesting place. It is far more "Russified" than Kyiv, which is understandable given the fact that a much higher percentage of its population is ethnically and culturally Russian. Everyone speaks Russian, all of the signs are in Russian, and there are still many Russian flags flying above Crimean cities. I honestly felt like I had left Ukraine for its neighbor to the east, without having to pay $100 for the visa.
In fact, it was a surprise to many when Crimea became a part of independent Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The event led to tensions between Russian and Ukraine, and since the entire Soviet Black Sea Fleet was still stationed on the peninsula, there were worries of armed skirmishes. Crimea went through a period of self-government in 1992, but eventually agreed to remain a part of Ukraine, provided the Kyiv government expand its already extensive autonomous status. Today, Crimea has the special status of "Autonomous Republic," operating as a parliamentary republic with no president.
Reid and I went to two different cities in Crimea: Yalta and Sevastopol. Yalta was a wonderful, bustling place chock full of Soviet kitsch.
The views were gorgeous. It's no wonder the tsars liked to take their vacations here. There aren't very many places on earth where you can be at the mountains and the sea at the same time.
At first glance, Sevastopol was less beautiful than Yalta. Set away from the Crimean mountains, it is a military town, home to both the Ukrainian and Russian Black Sea Fleets. However, once we started exploring, we found some amazing sights. The ruins of the ancient Greek city of Chersonesus were stunning:
And the nearby village of Balaklava offered some great views:
It also offered a once-top-secret Soviet submarine factory, which we were free to explore at a cost of 10 Hryvnas (=2 USD):
I wonder how many American spies would have given their lives to see this thing forty years ago?
Crimea was the most beautiful place I've ever seen, hands down. I'm so glad I went. It was a real adventure for me to travel through a vacation destination not for English-speakers, but for Russians. Dasvidaniya!