Crimea in the Post-Ukrainian Era

"WARNING: Currently [the] Crimea region of Ukraine is annexed by Russia. Most countries in the world do not recognize Crimea as a part of Russia. As a result, Crimea is considered a War Zone. There was a report of 1 Ukrainian soldier killed in Crimea by Russian soldiers, and currently, it is NOT recommended to visit Simferopol at this time until the situation is resolved. Access to Crimea has been made difficult by both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian forces. As the current heated situation in Crimea continues, many governments have warned travellers not to visit unless essential. If you must go, be sure to exercise extreme caution, as the situation could quickly escalate. DO NOT, in any, case wear clothing with EU, Ukrainian or US insignia."


Wikitravel - Article: Simferopol - Date of Access: September 14th, 2014

September, 2014 - Emergency Exits - Exit 12:  Crimea


There was no certainty on whether it was possible to enter Ukraine from Crimea or not. It had been only six months ever since the peninsula controversially became a part of the Russian Federation. But getting from Crimea to Ukraine seemed more realistic to me than to enter Crimea from Ukraine. So I took a flight from Moscow to Simferopol. After spending a night in a rest room at the train station, I would explore the capital of Crimea and gain my first impressions of the realities on the ground.

 

One of the first things that I noticed was a poster depicting a Crimean crowd that euphorically embraces to become a part of Russia again. One could argue that this is nothing but „deceiving Russian propaganda“. When you take a look around in Crimea, however, you learn very fast why the sources of such understatements themselves are often called "propaganda" as well. Even six months later, many Crimeans are not shy to show that they belong to the Russian Federation. People are standing on the streets, talking to each other about "Rossiya" in a good mood, laughing and joking. Others express their solidarity without needing to say anything, walking around with the colors of the Russian flag painted on their faces. And nobody seemed to be bothered by the fact that in all kinds of restaurants the prices in Ukrainian currency were scratched and replaced by prices in the Russian rubel. In this early stage of Crimea's post-Ukrainian era, there were still signs in the buses, announcing that from June onwards only the Russian rubel would be accepted. As I get off the bus, I take a look around. Like on any other day, the main streets are crowded with people who go shopping. If this was a „war zone“, as some sources really suggested at that time, it was perhaps the most peaceful war zone in the world and one could only wish that every war zone was like that.

 

Many Russians have come to visit their relatives to celebrate the return of Crimea to the Russian Federation. Simferopol was flooded with so many Russian travellers that on my last night I was not able to find any accomodation, giving me enough time to gain more impressions of the city. But while staying in Simferopol quickly gives you an idea on the people's stance regarding the fate of this peninsula, it is not known to be a city with many spectacular sights. For travellers it is much rather a transit place to reach the beaches of the historical city Sevastopol or the famous Yalta region. The latter was my next destination.

 

After a two hour bus ride, a two hour walk along the beautiful coast and a short visit to the 114 year old Alexander Nevski church, I arrived at the Lenin square, where the statue of the Russian national hero is still standing tall. Just like in Simferopol, at the Lenin square in Yalta I spotted another "McDonald's-ruin". The company had recently stopped doing business in Crimea, allegedly because of the unsafe situation in the region. If this was the case, one might wonder why in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where people are afraid that a war can break out any time, you will even find two operating McDonald's that are only two blocks away from each other, indicating that the step by the company was much rather taken under political pressure, because investing in Crimea today not only means to support the Crimean people, but to support the Russian government. 

 

This is not a big loss, if you consider that you can find a McDonald's almost everywhere else. Why not try Borsch or other local food in Crimea? For travellers who barely speak any Russian, however, a trip to Crimea can be challenging in some moments, as very few people speak anything other than Russian or Ukrainian. Although I understand only very few words in Russian, knowing the cyrillic letters turned out to be very helpful (especially with respect to using public transport). But if you only have a small Russian vocabulary, sometimes unconventional methods of communication are necessary, as was the case in a restaurant, where the only way to explain to the waitress that I want to eat anything without pork was to put my finger on the tip of the nose and pull it up while grunting and waving with another finger. At least I made her laugh.

 

Not far from this restaurant and near the bus station is a monument that is dedicated to the Tatar muslims, who by order of Joseph Stalin were deported from Crimea during World War II, leading to mass starvation and disease that cost half of the Tatars' lives. Bearing in mind their history under Russian rule, it is not hard to guess that the Crimean minority still feels a certain mistrust towards the Russian Federation. Hence, they did not celebrate the inclusion into Russia that enthusiastically, much rather many of them opposed the return of Crimea to the Russian Federation. But what made them more or less accept to live with the new developments was the establishment of the Tatar language as a third official language, which was obviously a much wiser step than the attempts of the interim government in Ukraine at that time to forbid the Russian language in the Ukraine. 

Swallow's Nest & Ai-Petri

One of the most famous places in Crimea is arguably the neogothic castle Swallow's nest. With its romantic location on a cliff, it is not surprising that in 2013 the castle was included into National Geographic's top twenty of "must-see sights". It is unquestionably one of the most outstanding highlights in this region. But there is another place that is not less impressive, yet widely unknown. A few years ago I saw a breathtaking picture of a mountainous area with a cross on one of its peaks. The location was not mentioned and I never got to figure out where it was, until I almost completed my plans for the trip to Crimea. I saw the picture again. This time, somebody was able to name me the location: Ai-Petri - In the Crimean mountains. 

 

Already before arriving at Ai-Petri, the driver takes us to several fotogenic spots in the mountains, among them a small lake that perfectly reflects its green surroundings and a wooden hut. As we arrive on top of the mountain, we take a break in a restaurant, where the locals present us different sorts of local vine. After trying 9 different sorts of vine and a very strong shot liqor that was enough to make us feel a little bit tipsy, we make our way to the canyon, from where we enjoy a great view on Yalta and the black sea.

 

The peak with the wooden cross - combined with the moving clouds - contributes to a unique atmosphere. As I stand in front of the abyss, I imagine the hanging bridge that used to connect the mountain and the peak with the cross in 1200 meters height, hanging in what is known to be one of the windiest places in Crimea. It is most likely that this bridge was removed for security reasons. In some moments we are standing within the clouds, unable to see anything, and whenever we do, the depth of the abyss tempts us to look down. 

 

The peak of Ai-Petri reflected the peak of my trip in Crimea. Initially there were no plans to visit the peninsula. But there had been concrete plans on visiting both Russia and Ukraine even before the crisis in Ukraine had started. After following the news on Ukraine in the first months of 2014, it only made sense to include Crimea into the trip to learn more about what is happening in that region, and visiting Crimea only made more sense after I learnt that the unknown location that fascinated me year before was located in Crimea.

 

Contrary to many depictions, the peninsula turned out to be very safe, but the more complicated part of this trip was still ahead of me. Soon I would reach the Ukrainian border. In St. Petersburg, Moscow and Crimea I learnt much about the Russian view regarding the Ukrainian crisis. Now it was time to listen to what the Ukrainians had to say. 



Travel Projects

I.    Around the World (2010)

II.   Stairway to Heaven (2011)

III.  Travelution (2012)

IV.  Era of Epicness (2013)

V.   Emergency Exits (2014)

VI.  Venture Capital Plan (2015)

VII. Age of Turbulence (2016)

VIII. Against All Odds (2017)

IX.  Evasive Maneuvers (2018)

 X.  ??? (2019)



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