Crimea through the eyes of the Far East
In the end, I decided to get to the western part of the country. It should be said that for the majority of residents of the Far East, due to the remoteness and high cost of travel, this is an extraordinary event. Before that, despite the possibility of a free flight, I had spent more than ten years on vacation either on the coast of the Sea of Japan, or on the Far Eastern mountain rivers, where I diverted my soul by hunting and fishing. Frankly, the rest in the central part of Russia, most of the Far East is not too attractive, for less money you can have a great time in Primorsky Krai, in southern China, in Thailand or Vietnam. If it were not for the events of the beginning of 2014 of the year, which led to the return of the Crimea to Russia, then, most likely, my vacation would have once again been spent in a small homeland. But the choice is made, tickets are bought and go. The whole road took about a day, of which 8 hours on the train to Khabarovsk, about the same took a flight on Aeroflot Boeing 777 to Sheremetyevo and another 2 hour on A320 to Simferopol. In the Simferopol airport I was met by summer! It was warm in summer, the newcomers were caressed by a warm, friendly breeze. But when I got on the train in the evening, there was only + 8 degrees behind the “board”, and this despite the fact that a significant part of the Far East is practically at the same latitude as the Crimea! But as we say about the Far Eastern climate: “The latitude is Crimean, but the longitude is Kolyma”.
It should be said that in the Republic of Crimea they are very sensitive to their stories, on the peninsula there is a huge number of monuments and memorials, reminiscent of the exploits of Russian and Soviet soldiers. However, in addition to perpetuating the military glory of their ancestors, great efforts are being made on the peninsula to preserve the cultural heritage of the peoples who left their mark in the Crimea, maintaining numerous museums, historical and natural monuments in proper form. By the way, most place names on the peninsula of Greek or Tatar origin.
And the nature in Crimea is really unique, where else in our country in a relatively small area you will see such a variety of landscapes and vegetation? There are mountains covered with relict forests with deep canyons and waterfalls, steppe waterless plains and salt lakes, bays with sheer cliffs and cozy sandy or pebble beaches. Ecosystems on the coast, in the mountains and in the steppe part of the Crimea are so different that they do not even believe that they are so close to each other. All this, together with the sun rays, the gentle sea, the hospitality of the Crimeans, the abundance of fruits and seafood creates a unique warm atmosphere.
During the three weeks of my stay on the peninsula I was able to visit different parts of it, to visit the coastal and central regions. The first thing that caught my eye - this road. Compared to the killed roads of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, we can say that the Crimean are in perfect condition. Of course, secondary destinations, especially in the steppe areas, are not perfect in places, but on the whole Crimeans can only be envied, and even though local drivers are not delighted with the roads. Once again, I am convinced that everything in this world is relative and is learned in comparison. Crimean gasoline and diesel prices do not differ from prices in the Khabarovsk Territory, but fuel and lubricants on the peninsula are completely imported, and in the Far East there are several own refineries and pipelines through which oil comes from Sakhalin. The car park in the Crimea is far more diverse than the Far Eastern region: along with numerous new foreign cars, there are quite a few products of the Soviet automobile industry, whose age has already passed for 30 years. In the Crimea, mainly European brands and relatively fresh models of VAZ predominate. But cars of American, Korean and Japanese production are not rare. There are even some right-hand drive “Japanese women” who are rare in the European part of Russia, but constitute an absolute majority in the Primorsky and Khabarovsk Territories.
Regular passenger traffic in the Crimea is mainly bus: "Mercedes", "Gazelle" and Ukrainian orange "Bogdana", which creak terribly when braking. They were surprised by unusually long trolleybus routes and low fare in public transport. So, getting from Balaclava to the center of Sevastopol costs only 15 rubles per person, moreover, it is about 25 km in one direction. For comparison, the fare on a bus in Khabarovsk is at least 23 ruble at much shorter distances. During the day, the interval of movement for most minibus numbers in Sevastopol is approximately 5 minutes. Also unusually cheap are tickets for boats and ferries, which in Sevastopol are the same public transport as trolley buses and minibuses.
Like the Crimean roads, local drivers deserve special mention. At first, I was greatly strained by a high-speed ride on mountain serpentines, and then at what distance cars drive on narrow mountain roads. In a couple of days I got used to it, although, probably, not completely. On the roads, there are unusually few GAI officers, for all the time traveling around the Crimea, I have never noticed a traffic police inspectors hiding in the bushes. At the same time, despite the often reckless driving style of the Crimean motorists, I didn’t see many serious car accidents. According to local residents, car inspectors are quite tolerant of minor violations that do not threaten traffic safety, but they are merciless for serious ones. Perhaps the fact is that the traffic police inspectors of the Republic of Crimea are not faced with the task of replenishing the budget at the expense of motorists and good roads for safe traffic are more important than punitive measures? In general, the police on the streets of the Crimean cities a bit, but everywhere is clean and tidy.
The first few days of my stay in the Crimea did not leave the feeling that I returned to the Soviet Union. In this respect, these reserves are cheap catering establishments - real “sovdepovskie” public catering facilities with cracked trays, cut glasses, sometimes broken plates, bent tubular chairs, not too stable tables and corresponding interiors. But fed them surprisingly tasty and inexpensive. However, for demanding tourists who are not burdened with financial constraints, there is an abundance of various snack bars and restaurants, but, unfortunately, the level of service in them and the quality of the dishes on offer do not always correspond to prices.
As for prices, they are about the same for certain foodstuffs as in the Far East. Vegetables and fruits are very cheap by Far Eastern standards, pork is cheaper by about 30%, poultry meat does not differ in value. According to local residents, the “golden time” was the first six months after joining Russia. When prices were still Ukrainian, and salaries and pensions became Russian. For more than two years, the price tags in stores and on the market, of course, have grown strongly, which, of course, does not cause delight among Crimeans. Many hope that after the construction of the Kerch bridge, transport costs will decrease, and with them the prices.
Russia after the annexation of the Crimea is under sanctions. Sometimes this phenomenon takes comical forms. For example, in the Crimea it is impossible to install some applications and download programs without tricks. The position of many Russian cellular operators and banks that refuse to work in the Crimea is also incomprehensible. For example, in 2014, the Sberbank branch was no longer operating on the peninsula, other large Russian banks also do not work, and mobile operators Megafon and Beeline provide only international roaming, as if I am not in Russia. In this regard, a natural question arises: are they all Russian companies or not, and whose interests do they represent?
However, all the locals with whom I had the opportunity to communicate, uniquely connect their future with Russia. In some moments, the people living in Crimea are even more patriotic than some people in the central regions of the country. So, arriving a girl, after reading the Ukrainian name of a stop in Google Maps and asking where she should go with fellow travelers in a minibus, she deserved a lot of sidelong glances. An elderly aunt with a characteristic Ukrainian talk made her a remark: “Shou is the name of Uhrayinski in the Russian city”? In general, Crimeans, as probably the Crimean authorities, are still full of enthusiasm and even revolutionary romance. Apparently, local officials have not yet become so brazen as in the rest of Russia and are not yet infected with the virus of corruption. However, in some moments, frustration began to appear. Most people support the president, but sincerely wonder why he needs such an environment? Why do prices rise in stores and wages fall? Why do promises disagree with business? Moreover, most uncomfortable questions are not shy to ask out loud, without fear that they will be accused of “extremism” and “rocking the boat”.
In general, changes for the better in the Crimea are noticeable, although they do not occur as quickly as we would like. After returning to their historic homeland, the agricultural and resort-tourist sectors began to actively develop. It is noted that every year the flow of Russian tourists from all regions of the country is growing. However, the infrastructure of the Crimea needs serious investments, and one cannot do without the help of the center. After all, over the years, as part of Ukraine, the Soviet legacy has been eaten away, the Ukrainian authorities did not care about the territory inhabited mainly by the Russian-speaking population. This is especially noticeable when traveling on the peninsula by the Armyansk-Feodosiya train. Most of the enterprises built during the Soviet era, destroyed or in decline. But at the same time, it should be noted that local authorities are making considerable efforts to improve streets and courtyards, repair existing and build new roads. There are no debris and dirt in the courtyards of high-rise buildings; in this regard, the utility services of Komsomolsk-on-Amur should be learned from the public utilities of Crimea. We have the same municipalities and management companies usually justify their inaction by the lack of financial resources. It was also pleasantly surprised that the garbage in the Crimea is not being dumped in a common pile. Plastic, cardboard, paper and other waste are thrown into different containers, after which secondary resources are sent for recycling.
I will separately dwell on the difficulties that have arisen after the popular referendum and accession to Russia. In the Ukrainian and Western media in the past have repeatedly reported that the shelves in the Crimea are empty, the population feels a lack of water and electricity. We all remember that the current Ukrainian authorities have made considerable efforts to make it so. But, as an eyewitness, I can say that there are no special problems with the supply of food, water and electricity in the republic. The Crimean ports function smoothly, in the shortest possible time new power transmission lines were built, which eliminated the energy dependence on the Ukrainian power grids, and the power system of Crimea was connected to the UES of Russia. Part of the power shortage was eliminated by gas turbine, wind and solar power plants. Prior to 2014, in the Crimea, the Austrian company Activ Solar built six solar power plants. The creditors of the project were Sberbank of Russia, Prominvestbank, VTB Capital and Oschadbank. After joining Russia, solar and wind power plants were re-registered, became Russian companies and paid taxes to the federal and local budgets, which ultimately resolved the issue with loans.
In April, 2014, Ukraine stopped supplying water to the peninsula along the North-Crimean Canal. On average, about 1,2 billion cubic meters of Dnieper water was supplied to Crimea annually, which accounted for 85% of the total water consumption in Crimea. But despite the aspirations of the Kiev authorities, who were trying to strangle the republic economically, in two years the Crimea did not lose agricultural production without Dnieper water. For agriculture in the steppe areas of the Crimea, it takes about 80% of all consumed water. The problem of water supply of the population was solved by artesian wells and local reservoirs, while the Russian military helped with the laying of pipelines, and the agricultural industry began to switch to drought-resistant crops, as well as drip irrigation from local sources. At the moment, water through the North-Crimean Canal comes from reservoirs and underground sources. For almost three weeks of my stay in different parts of the Crimean peninsula, I did not notice any difficulties with the supply of electricity and drinking water to the population.
I would also like to dwell on the strengthening of the Russian defense potential in the Republic of Crimea. In the past, despite the concluded interstate agreements, Ukraine has actively pursued a policy of squeezing the Russian military out of Crimea. At present, our military presence on the peninsula has been fully restored. Ka-52, Mi-28N, Mi-35, Mi-8AMSh of the 39th helicopter regiment take off from the Dzhankoy airfield almost daily. Until July 13, the 2014rd Sevastopol Red Banner of the Order of Kutuzov was located at the Gvardeyskoye airfield, 43 km north of Simferopol, a separate naval assault aviation regiment, where, until recently, Su-24 front-line bombers were operated. This aviation unit was the last in the Russian armed forces, where the "twenty-fours" without the "letter M", built in the late 70s, were still taking off. Until recently, the Ukrainian authorities prevented the rearmament of the only Russian air regiment in Crimea with more modern technology. In July 2014, the 43rd Aviation Regiment was relocated to the Saki airfield and re-equipped with the Su-24M and Su-30SM. In Gvardeyskoye, Su-24MR reconnaissance aircraft and Su-25 attack aircraft are currently deployed, and the S-2014PM anti-aircraft missile battalion was deployed here in March 300 to provide anti-aircraft cover for a group of Russian troops. The air defense of Crimea is also provided by the Su-27P, Su-27SM and Su-30M2 fighters based at Belbek and Kacha airfields. Certain positive changes have occurred with the Black Sea fleet. Since March 18, 2014, the main base of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol passed under the jurisdiction of Russia, and the Kharkov agreements, according to which the Black Sea Fleet was based in Crimea on a rental basis, were denounced. Beginning in the spring of 2014, warships began to go to sea much more often; the fleet is being strengthened with diesel submarines and corvettes. Whether someone likes it or not, after the restoration of historical justice, Crimea and Sevastopol exist and will remain part of Russia for the foreseeable future, and the Russian armed forces are the key to this.
At the end of the publication, I would like to separately express my deep appreciation for the hospitality and help in traveling around the Crimea to a person of the heroic profession - in the past, a fireman and a rescuer, and now a pensioner, warrant officer EMERCOM Vladimir Glazunov. Without his transport and informational support, I would not be able to visit so many interesting and picturesque places and communicate with many wonderful people.
- Linnik Sergey