In June 1995 I had the opportunity to travel
from Kiev to the Crimea on a local tour bus. The experience
gave me ample opportunity to view the Ukrainian countryside and test my
endurance. The follow narrative presents some of my experiences.
I had never been to Eastern Europe let alone the former Soviet
Union. Thus, I had not formed an image of the region in my mind’s
eye. As I boarded the jet in Copenhagen all of my usual fears
of flying flooded into my mind—the inevitable plane crash with a
long, slow fall into the abyss…..In addition, I felt just a tad of anxiety
about my destination due lack of familiarity. This was an odd feeling
for me. I had traveled quite a lot without ever having felt anxious
about a destination. Something about the Soviet Union no doubt.
Having grown up in Cold War-era America, with the air raid drills and the
near-constant threat of nuclear annihilation. Here I was traveling
to what was until very recently an enemy country.
Security at the Copenhagen airport was a breeze; Heathrow it was not.
As much as I respect tight security, I was glad that in this particular
case it was just a bit laid back. I was with a large group of boisterous
and somewhat disorganized students, and it took quite some time for all
of us to get through ticketing and the baggage check. At the suggestion
of a helpful ticket agent, we spread our luggage and gear among the various
people in the group. We discovered that passengers on flights originating
from within the European Community are allowed a maximum of 60 kilograms
of luggage per person. Extra baggage is subject to an nasty (and
expensive) surcharge. Fortunately, the baggage people were sympathetic
and more than willing to assist in distributing our baggage to avoid extra
charges. At Heathrow, the boarding process would have taken a lot
longer due to their very tight security. Everyone gets to visit the
walk through scanner. Most people are examined with a hand
scanner and many are searched. Since most of the members of our group
had been awake for more than 20 hours, I was thankful that our business
in the airport didn’t take very long.
I had ingested a few tranquilizers along with a beer, so by the time
I sat down on the plane a drug-induced calm had set in. The plane
was small; a Folke Wolfe of some type. I thought it amazing
that a company involved in the manufacture of high performance fighter
planes, not to mention the first combat jet fighters, for the Luftwaffe
in World War II more than 50 years ago would still be in the aircraft business.
In fact, the same company had manufactured triplanes for Germany planes
during World War I; Baron von Richetoffen had flown a Folke-Wolfe triplane.
Ever the capitalists those Germans!
I found my seat without a problem--only a single aisle in a Folke-Wolfe--and
stowed my carry-on bag. I then sat down to wait for the inevitable
"liftoff." The flight attendants gave us the usual talk about safety.
Like a good passenger I listened and promised myself I wouldn’t panic when
the plane burst into flames. I leaned back and tried to relax as
the jet flew off towards the east.
My seating companion was a distinguished-looking Austrian gentleman
perhaps in his early 60s. He told me spoke seven languages fluently.
How many did I speak? I told him, almost apologetically, that
I only spoke English well, a little broken German and some Spanish.
He looked at me ruefully and shook his head. I had heard that Austrian
were snobs and I wondered if this fellow was typical. We didn’t speak
again for the next two and half hours. Fortunately, the flight was
over rather quickly. SAS served us a light meal consisting of beverages,
pastries, and excellent Danish cheese. After the meal, the pilot
announced our approach into Kiev air space. Since I had never taken
my seat belt off it didn’t require much effort on my part to prepare for
a landing. I leaned back and sort of tensed waiting for the loss
of power to occur and the inevitable nose dive into the ground. As
always, the plane landed without incident. We taxied to the terminal
Shevchenko Airport, named after a man who many Ukrainians consider to
be the father of Ukrainian nationalism, Taras Shevchenko (1814 - 1861),
was not what I expected. But then I really didn’t know what to expect,
so that statement is really non sequiter. Kiev is the capital of
the Ukraine. I figured Shevchenko Airport would be commensurate with
the city’s importance to the country. In spite of the dilapidated
condition of the main and only terminal, this statement proved to be quite
accurate relative to other Ukrainian airports. The Ukraine is an
economically backward country and Shevchenko Airport is the best that they
have. Compared to western European standards it is a pretty shabby
place indeed. It reminded me a bit of Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv
or perhaps the airport in Athens, except that Shevchenko is even more run
down. There were no umbilicals enabling passengers to enter the terminal
without walking on the tarmac. We walked down a set of moveable stairs
and waited on the runway for a tram to take us to the terminal. There
were a lot of people in our group and it took two trips for the tram to
carry us off the tarmac. At least it wasn’t hot or raining.
Once in the terminal, the situation rapidly deteriorated into what can
best be described as a melee. People were everywhere and chaos reigned
supreme. I made sure I positioned myself very close to the location
where our baggage would be brought into the terminal. There were
no fancy conveyor belts or luggage carousels, and security seemed non-existent.
In fact, security was non-existent. On our return flight to Copenhagen,
airport security did not have a scanner large enough to X-ray my freight
boxes. They didn’t inspect either crate; rather they let them go
on board without an inspection. From the look of things, this was
probably typical. A tram carried our luggage from the plane and dumped
it unceremoniously onto the floor of a large cargo bay attached to the
main terminal. Passengers were responsible for sorting though the
pile and collecting what was theirs. Although the group’s baggage
represented quite a large pile almost everyone found their belongings in
due time. At least one student, a women from North Dakota, "lost"
her luggage. She filed a lost baggage claim with SAS and that was
all that could be done. She waited more than four weeks for her bags
to follow her to our destination.
I pulled my gear from the main pile and walked to the customs queue.
While we were waiting for what I expected to be an unpleasant confrontation
with the customs people, I had an opportunity to look around and take in
the scene. The terminal small and very run down. The tile floor
hadn’t been cleaned or polished in quite some time; some of the tiles were
broken or missing. The walls were a drab light brown or perhaps a
faded beige and numerous water stains were present. The ceiling was
composed of acoustic squares that were sagging and water stained.
Obviously, the roof leaked and no one had bothered to fix the problem or
replace the damaged squares. The furniture was Spartan, with too
few seats to accommodate a full terminal of people. In spite of its
run down condition, the terminal was clean.
While we were waiting at customs, an attractive young lady (to be truthful
and accurate she was and still is beautiful) who was to become a
friend, told me that she had had some recent experiences in Russia and
the Ukraine. I was cautioned to guard with my life ANY piece of paper,
however small and insignificant it may seem, given to me by ANY government
official. We were met in the terminal by a representative of the
bus line that was to provide our ground transportation. This fellow
was well dressed and apparently knew his way around. He herded groups
of students to separate customs queues. In that I had a large amount
of gear and would probably have the most difficulty clearing customs, I
was to go first. Great, I thought, a guinea pig!
I tried my best to act humble and polite. The customs area was
undoubtedly designed to be both intimidating and dehumanizing. It
consisted of a series of six small, faded green plywood compartments, each
inhabited by one male uniformed customs agent. The agents were separated
from the passengers by a small window on which metal bars had been installed.
There was an opening at the bottom of the bars through which the agent
and passenger might exchange documents. The bars looked ridiculous:
plywood walls and metal bars? What was the point???? Each agent
was dressed in a dark green uniform--almost military, I thought.
On his shoulders were red ribbons; each man wore a green hat. These
men were efficient but completely humorless. None of them spoke a
word of English. Fortunately, we did have a few interpreters and
our local representative.
I gave the agent my passport. He looked it over and decided the
document was acceptable. Then he asked about luggage. The representative
explained my "situation" and showed him the immense pile of gear.
The agent looked at the gear and then at me; he was not smiling.
I pulled out my Carne’, thinking that it might help. The agent looked
at the Carne’ and asked me to wait. He disappeared for perhaps ten
minutes; it seemed like an eternity. When he returned a supervisor
was in toe. The supervisor acted as if he knew all about Carne’s
, like he’d seen them many times. He gave me a small form to complete--a
list of all of my equipment and belongings not shown on the Carne’.
He ordered the agent to copy the Carne’ and attach it to the small form
I had just filled out. He then stamped both the carne’
and the little form and gave them back to me. Remembering what my
new friend had said about "official documents", I placed the small paper
with my most precious valuables. The agent never inspected any of
the boxes. He stamped my passport and told me to move along.
The entire process took perhaps a half hour. I later learned that
just about everyone had a similar experience.
Once through customs, I located what appeared to be an ad hoc money
exchange. I obtained $10.00 in Ukrainian coupons. The exchange
rate was 62,000 coupons per dollar. To say the least, $10.00 American
got me a lot of coupons! I bought a luke warm been and a candy bar
and sat down to wait for the rest of the group.
I was though customs and officially in the Ukraine. How about
the rest of the group? To clear forty Americans though Ukrainian
customs took approximately two hours. By the time we were all ready
to say goodbye to this dreary place it was after 6:00 PM. We walked
out into the parking lot. Frankly, I was glad to get into the fresh
air. The terminal was not only dismal but it smelled of mildew; altogether
a dreadful place I thought. We gathered our group in the parking
lot. It was warm and extremely humid; then it started to rain
slightly. I felt pretty wretched. Unfortunately, the worse
was yet to come but I didn’t know it!
We looked around for our bus. With some forty people and several
tons of equipment for the expedition I expected to see a large bus on the
order of a Greyhound type and perhaps a small truck. Instead, I saw
a dilapidated red and silver bus about half the size of a typical tour
bus. We had an interesting and insurmountable problem or so I thought:
how to squeeze a group of forty people, plus a bus driver and his family
of four, and all of our gear, into a bus meant for 36 people and very little
luggage. One thing I learned about Ukrainians: they are up
to almost any challenge! I was however, very dubious that this vehicle
would hold all of us and our gear let alone get us to our destination in
The Crimea some 500 miles away. <link to map of
The people associated with the tour bus company were not at all phased
by the situation. The bus driver opened up the baggage compartments,
which were, as usual, located below the seating area and accessed though
large doors on the outside of the vehicle. We loaded up my gear first
and proceeded to pack in whatever else would fit. The compartment
didn’t hold much. All of my gear nearly filled up one compartment.
The situation was pretty comical. There we were….In an airport parking
lot, in the rain, with nightfall approaching; 44 people, 36 seats, a huge
pile of luggage, and no more storage space. As I learned, things
are pretty well unregulated in the Ukrainian. We began loading luggage.
First we stacked it on to the floor of the bus. We put down one row
of large bags front to back. Then we laid down a second row of smaller
bags. We continued stacking bags until the top row was level
with the tops of the arm rests of the seats. We still had a lot more
gear to load. We piled luggage on the back seat to within a few feet
of the ceiling of the bus. We filled up the rear door stairwell.
We stored small bags in a narrow overhead above the seats. Bags were
stuffed under seats. Much to my astonishment, we managed to fit all
of our gear onto the bus. We had a row of people sitting on top of
the luggage in the rear of the bus. Individuals took their seats
by crawling over luggage in the aisle. Two people sat on a small
jump seat that pulled down from the wall of the front stairwell.
The drivers family simply sat on the floor in front of the stick shift.
My God I thought, what if the bus didn’t have enough power to move?
I didn’t even want to think what would happen if we had to get off the
bus in an emergency.
We were all seated--sort of. The driver climbed in behind the
wheel and fired up the engine. The bus actually started up on the
first key turn. The driver engaged the clutch and we were off.
I took three tranquilizers, drank some water, and thought it was going
to be a very uncomfortable next 15 hours! It was still light out
and since there were no reading lights I thought I’d read a bit.
I took out a book and tried to focus but found myself far more interested
the Ukrainian countryside. We were just a few minutes from the airport
and already in the middle of farmland with no city in sight. I wondered
where Kiev was located. I never saw it on this trip. As long
as it was light I was perfectly content to watch the countryside.
Unfortunately, it grew dark all too soon. I stowed my book and leaned
back in my seat. The seat itself was not uncomfortable. It
did recline slightly. It had a headrest and it was soft. I
found myself dozing.
I thought the scenery we had just passed through didn’t
look much different than the American Midwest. The central Ukraine
is known as the black soil zone. Except for a colder climate,
the region is an awful lot like Iowa, Kansas, and the Dakotas. It
is flat and full of grain fields. It didn’t take a rocket scientist
to conclude that this is wonderful agricultural land. Those fields
not full of crops exhibited a very black dirt, and this the Black Dirt
Zone was once the breadbasket of the entire Soviet Union.
Ukrainian History Section-Black Dirt Zone
As it grew later, I became aware of the dark. There were very
few cars on the road and no street lamps.; houses were few and far between
and stores and roadside facilities were completely non-existent as far
as I could see. I was sitting next to an attractive and friendly
middle aged women who was obviously not a student. She was a public
relations professional who had been retained by the university to make
a video of the trip. She was from Minneapolis and I had a lot of
fun talking with her. She had been to Russia recently and was
an experienced traveler. She talked about a train trip she had taken
two years previous between St. Petersburg and Moscow. Across the
aisle was a female graduate student in religious studies (specializing
in biblical archaeology) from an Ivy League university. She spoke
with an obviously contrived refined speech. She was raised in Fairfield
County, Connecticut and her father was a surgeon. I spoke
with her for perhaps ten minutes and decided that she was vacuous and snobbish.
Given her social background, I was not surprised by the latter. Her
general lack of knowledge on the subject of her graduate studies
was, to say the least, shocking.
I was having a hard time staying awake. Not that one could really
sleep in the bus--it was both hot, damp, crowded, and noisy. Several
of the project directors who were lounging on the baggage heap in the back
of the bus had broken out a couple of bottles of Arak, a Middle Eastern
alcoholic beverage that tastes something like anise. Arak is very
potent I understand. They we singing and generally carrying on with
gusto. I pushed my seat back as far as it would go, which was not
very far, put in my ear plugs, pulled my hat down over my eyes and dozed
off. My sleep lasted perhaps an hour.
I woke up around 9:30 P.M. just as the bus began to slow down.
I open my eyes in time to see our vehicle pull off of the road into what
appeared to be a sort of roadside rest. No Golden Arches here
however! There were the remains of a small building, some trees,
and what appeared to be a small portable convenience store. These
were, I was to learn a little later, kiosks. Not at all like a 7-11
mind you. It was more like a large lemonade stand. People began
to crawl out of the bus. I was the last one off. I inquired
what it is we were doing. One of the directors told me we were going
to eat dinner. I was astonished. I looked around and asked
where we were going to do that? The bus driver proceed to unload
bags of food, including vegetables, what appeared to be sausage, cheese,
and bread. None of it looked especially appetizing to me in my present
state. I wandered over to the "lemonade stand." The little
portable store was run by two women and a man. They spoke no English
and I spoke no Russian or Ukraine. Nevertheless, we had no problems
communicating. I bought a chocolate bar and two bottles of
what appeared to be locally brewed beer. The chocolate cost maybe
$0.25 and the beer was perhaps $0.12 for a 20 oz. bottle. I opened
the beer and walked back over to where people were eating. The beer
was pretty potent and in spite of the fact that it was warm it was
pleasant to the taste. Sweet and very full-bodied. The food
being distributed by the bus driver still looked unappealing. Many
of the people wondered where I found the beer. Most folks hadn’t
seen the lemonade stand. Some of our group walked over and bought
beers or soda, candy, and whatever else was for sale. Little did
any of us know that the lemonade stand would be the last place we would
be able to buy anything for more than twenty hours. I climbed
back into the bus and found my bag with its large food stash. I grabbed
some dried fruit, beef jerky, peanuts and almonds. I took some bread
and fresh vegetables from the bus driver as well as some fruit and settled
down to eat dinner. It was a simple meal yet satisfying and very
filling. Our stop lasted an hour. We left abruptly as we
The next leg of our journey proved to be akin to the drive from
hell. In, 1980 I traveled from San Francisco to Miami on a Greyhound
Bus. The trip took four days and was one of the most boring and tiring
experiences of my life. I was so exhausted by the time I arrived
in Miami that I slept for nearly twenty hours and still was not fully recovered
after the long sleep. I thought of the poor students in my group.
I had three restful days in Copenhagen before I met them. The students
had flown directly from the United States to Denmark (with a change of
jets in London); they immediately boarded a jet for Kiev. Their total
flight time was nearly 25 hours. They has at least two more
hours in the airport at Kiev and another three hours on the bus.
These people had been awake for almost thirty hours. In reality,
I had little to complain about. I took a few more of my happy pills
and settled down for a nice long nap. I slept for several hours.
Around 2:00 AM I woke up to several jarring bumps. It felt like we
were driving on a dirt road.
I sat up and looked outside and sure enough we were on a dirt road in
the middle of a field. There wasn’t a paved road in sight but I did
see a darkened farm house. Obviously the people were asleep.
I wondered what they thought if they woke up and looked outside?
I never did figure out why we were driving on a dirt road. Amazing
I thought. We bounced around for about an hour and made a U-turn
in some farmers yard. I was thankful that we didn’t break an
axle with the load we were carrying. After a few nasty bounces and
one very large hole that nearly swallowed the bus up to the axles
we made it back to what appeared to be a main road--in the Ukraine it is
always difficult to tell main from back roads. There are no freeways,
except, as I was to learn later, around the major cities like Kiev and
Kharkov. All roads were two lane; the main ones had vehicular traffic
the back roads did not. Once back on pavement, the excitement subsided
and I dozed off again. Again, I was struck by the apparent desolation
of the countryside. There was no traffic and for the most part
no lights to be seen anywhere.
I awoke once more, this time with the rising sun. We were still
heading south. The driver found a wide spot on the side of the road
and pulled off. The directors suggested that folks stretch
their legs and go to the toilet. There was no toilet but the bushes
served the purpose. I washed my face with some precious drinking
water and brushed my teeth. I found a clean shirt and put it on.
Then I went for a short walk to more fully wake up. The countryside
was very much like many parts of rural America in the late spring.
The air was slightly cool, fragrant, and rather pleasant. The road
was bordered by a row of trees no doubt planted as a windbreak.
Beyond the trees on either side of the road were recently plowed fields
with the ubiquitous dark soil. I saw no farm houses or people
and it was both quiet and still. I tried to imagine where I could
travel in the United States to achieve this kind of solitude
in so domestic a setting. Here I was surrounded by fields on
a paved road and except for birds chirping and the low murmur of the people
in my group there was complete silence. It was probably like this
in the Great Plains in the 1930s or maybe the
San Joaquin Valley in the 1950s or 1960s (before Los Angeles
and the Bay Area spilled over the mountains).
The people in our group lined up haphazardly along the sides of the
road and did whatever it was they needed to do; there wasn’t much privacy
but then no one complain; everyone was exhausted. I had a bite
to eat, drank some water, and enjoyed being outdoors. By now, word
had passed around the group that I had food and I soon a had several
requests for sustenance. There was no great quantity of potable water
available, so everyone simply shared what they had. I was very glad
that I grabbed those two liters of water in Denmark and a third at
the airport in Kiev.
After a quick mental reconnoiter, I figured we hadn’t reached the Black
Sea; in fact, we had a ways to go yet. Time for a few pills.
The drive continued….I wondered if the bus would ever run out of gas.
We had traveled more than 15 hours nearly non-stop. I estimated we
had traveled maybe 400 miles. We never stopped for gas.
I later leaned that the bus driver carried five gallon gas cans mounted
on the front and back of the bus. Great, I thought, we were a rolling
Back on the bus! The trek continued without let up, hour after
hour after hour…..At this point, the entire affair began to get surreal.
Most everyone was completely exhausted, hot, and dirty. The bus smelled
like forty dirty, sweaty people. Around 12:00 PM, we intersected
with a main road heading more or less east-west. I figured this to
be the road to Odessa, which was located to the west. There were
no road signs anywhere. We turned east and continued onward.
We soon crossed over the Bug River (pronounced Boog) and entered
a fairly large city I later learned was Nikolayev. The bridge over
the Bug was a simple two lane causeway more than a mile long. A railroad
bridge paralleled the vehicle bridge on the north. I don’t remember
much of Nikolayev. I guess I must have fallen asleep. After
more than twenty hours on the road we finally arrived in a city; the first
developed locale since we left the Kiev airport—the lemonade stand not
withstanding—and I fell asleep. I guess Nikolayev wasn’t much to
look at….Not long after leaving Nikolayev, perhaps a half hour, we crossed
the Dneipr River. We were now very close to the Black Sea,
near the mouth of the Dneipr; the river was over a mile and half wide here.
The Dneipr River bridge was another mundane two lane causeway. Both
the Bug and the Dneipr showed evidence of commercial use. While
I saw no ships or boats, I did see factories, warehouses, and docking facilities
a ways upstream. Both bridges were over 100 feet above the river;
sufficiently high t o allow fairly large ships to pass underneath.
The height of the bridges was due, in part, to the fact that the rivers
had eroded into the alluvial plain. I noticed steep banks along both
rivers. These banks decreased in height to the north (upstream).
Once across the Dneipr, we entered the city of Kherson. Kherson,
I knew from my maps, was close to the narrow isthmus of land that
connects the Crimea with the mainland. The Crimea was our general
destination. We didn’t stop at Kherson, driving right through the
city without slowing down. After leaving this berg, the road curved
south and came down close to the Black Sea. My first view of the
Black Sea and all I can remember is that the inside of the bus was
hot and humid; nearly sickening.
The peninsula that connects the mainland of Europe to the Crimea is
very narrow; it is bordered on the east by a wide expanse of marshland
and a shallow body of water called the Sea of Azov. In antiquity,
Azov was called Sea of Maeotis. On the west is the open expanse of
the Euxine or Black Sea. Euxine is a euphemistic term meaning "friendly
to travelers." The Black Sea is a body of water that must be seen
to appreciated. Most people have heard about the beauty of the azure-colored
Aegean Sea, the turquoise blue of the Caribbean Sea, or the deep azure
blue of the Coral Sea. Few people in the west have heard of the Black
Sea let alone seen it. The Black Sea is aptly named. From a
distance the water appears dark. It is a large body of water nearly
a 1,000 miles long and 600 miles wide. It is also fairly deep in
some areas nearly 4,000 feet. It is landlocked with a narrow opening
to the Mediterranean Sea at the well known Bosporus Strait.
Much of the time, the Black Sea is calm, but it can be treacherous just
like any other large body of open water. At the time of my first
observation, the water gave the appearance of a sheet of black glass.
The clean and refreshing smell of salt was in the air. The visible
shoreline was undeveloped, and scattered saltwater mash lands were
present. I saw no beaches; rather the shoreline was a wave-cut terrace.
Smelling salt water so far from the open ocean was odd. The
Black Sea, however, is really an extension of the world’s oceans and
it is salty.
Ukrainian History Section—Black Sea Region Geographic
We were still, however, a long way from Chersonesus….and unfortunately
the bus was still hot and I was just about out of water Further,
the air vent that had been providing me with a little fresh air had broken
(it now piped in hot exhaust and had to be shut off completely).
Since the windows could be lowered but a few inches the heat was becoming
stifling. At least we were on the Crimean Peninsula heading south
to the main city of Simpheropol, which I estimated was about two hours
away. I sat back and watched the countryside roll by. Farmland
steppe for the most part. The Crimean interior reminded me of Oklahoma
or the Texas Panhandle. The region was flat and, for the most part,
featureless. There were few trees and very few people. We passed
a few building and occasionally an elderly women selling fruit and/or vegetables.
Mercifully, the bus pulled off the road at a place were several people
were selling food. The most common items were tomatoes, melons
(similar to Crenshaws), and apples. I also saw cucumbers and squash.
One person was selling candy and soda. Another had a few luke
warm locally brewed bottles of beer. Obviously, the people
selling the goods were farmers. Everyone as dressed similarly in
overalls or work dresses, loose fitting shirts, or smocks. No one
I engaged spoke English and I rather think they were surprised to see such
a large group of English speaking people so far off the tourist trail.
Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful. After a 30 minute respite,
we reboarded the bus and were on our way south.
The scenery hardly changed for the more than two hours it took for us
to get to Simpheropol. It was approximately 3:00 PM when we
arrived in the administrative center of the Crimea. It seemed like
a pleasant enough place with wide, tree-lined boulevards and neat.
Well-maintained houses and buildings. It wasn’t a large city and
it had no large buildings that I could see. Further, although I had
read that the Scythian capital of Neapolis Scythia was located in Simpheropol,
the city did not seem old.
Ukrainian History Section--Simpheropol Region
We drove a few miles into Simpheropol and then stopped at what appeared
to be a hotel/resort. The parking lot was empty. All of us
piled out of the bus and mobbed the lobby of the main building.
It was difficult to imagine what the people working at this establishment
thought of us. For all I knew, were we the first Americans they had
ever seen. It was quite a scene! It seemed like we were a million
miles from home, in a very strange and exotic land, surrounded by people
who did not speak English and had, so we thought, little knowledge of our
customs. Our group broke into three subgroups. One band
headed for the bathrooms and drinking fountain. Another went
to the desk to exchange money. A third group, including myself, headed
for a glass counter containing various food items. Behind the counter
was a glass door refrigeration unit with cold soda and beer. After
obtaining some refreshment I sought out was a money exchange, which was
the main desk. They were not equipped to deal with large scale exchanges.
I was only able to change a $10.00 bill and our group pretty much cleaned
them out of Ukrainian coupons. I took my cash and my food and drink
and exited the building. I enjoyed being outside of the wretched
bus. The air was sweet smelling and clean; not at all hot.
The grounds of the hotel were covered with various types of leafy trees.
Some looked like palm trees. After a thirty minute respite we reboarded
the bus. I felt like a galley slave forced to return to his oars.
Like obedient slaves, we climbed aboard. The seat I was in was wet
from sweat and had a odious smell. We had perhaps two hours before
we arrived in Sebastopol.
The road between Simpheropol and Sebastopol is bumpy but the view is
interesting and constantly changing. We left the flat steppes behind
just north of Simpheropol. Just to the south of the city, we entered
a highly eroded, hilly country with many trees along the road and on the
hillsides. Vehicular traffic had increased significantly. About
an hour out of Simpheropol we came to an inspection station. We were
informed by one of the project directors that we were about to enter the
Sevastopol Federal Area, a sort of federally-run enclave within the Crimean
Autonomous Region of the Ukraine. The inspection station was run
by more unfriendly men in green uniforms, and there was a line of vehicles
waiting to pass through into the restricted region. The bus pulled
off to the right and we piled out. The immediate vicinity was barren;
the soil was whitish with sparse vegetation, low and scrubby. It
was hotter here than in Simpheropol and there wasn’t any shade in sight.
Every passenger on the bus gave his/her passport to the project director
in charge of administrative matters. With our passports were special
visas: one to get us into the Crimea and the other into Sevastopol.
These documents, we were informed, would be very carefully matched against
a list of guests approved by the Ukrainian ambassador in New York.
Prior to 1996, a person needed an official invitation to get into Sevastopol.
The list of approved guests was on official letterhead. I figured
that even with official documents, entry would be neither quick or easy
and I was correct in both assessments. Fortunately, we did have a
number of people with us who spoke Russian; in fact, one of our party was
a bona fide Ukrainian citizen from the city of Zaporozhye.
She was apparently able to translate various requests and provide adequate
responses because in about an hour we were piling back on the bus.
It appeared that all of our documents checked out and we were all permitted
to enter the restricted area.
Ukrainian History Section--Sevastopol/Crimean
The bus passed through the inspection station. I did not have
a map but with my eyes closed I easily recreated a virtual map of the region
in my mind. Off to the right and into the distance was a long channel
that led to the harbor. At the narrow end of the channel and
to the south were the Inkerman Hills. We were driving through the
very hills where the Russian and British armies had fought a bloody battle
some 150 years ago. The Inkerman Hills immediately reminded me of
the California Coast Range mountains. Like the Coast Ranges, the
Inkerman Hills were nearly devoid of vegetation except for grasses, burned
brown by the sun, and low, scrubby bushes on south-facing slope.
The hills were generally rounded with steep sides and deeply eroded, dry
arroyos; the deeper ravines some times contained a few low trees.
The main road into the city was two lanes wide and it followed the contours
of the hills in order to avoid creating unnecessarily steep road grades.
While the road grade was not steep, the road path was extremely winding.
The steep hills ended abruptly at the edge of the developed part of the
city. While Sevastopol was built on a series of hills, these were
low rounded elevations. The terrain of the city was considerably
less rolling then the terrain we had just left.
The city of Sevastopol was built on the edge of the Black Sea, at the
head of a magnificent harbor. The city is penetrated to its extreme
inland limits by a natural channel, wide at its mouth and tapering to nearly
a point at its end in the Inkerman Hills. This channel effectively
divides the city into two distinct parts. The central part of the
city is located to the south of the channel. The Russian navel base
is located along the southern side of the harbor with a few ships docked
on the north. Prior to the demise of the Soviet Union, the entire
Black Sea fleet was based in Sevastopol Harbor. After the break up,
the fleet was unevenly divided between Russia and the Ukraine. The
Russians more or less booted the Ukrainians out of the harbor; they relocated
to Balaclava Harbor about 20 miles to the southeast. Balaclava was
once the home of the Russian Black Sea submarine fleet. Over the
years urban sprawl has extended the city outward in all directions.
Originally, Sevastopol was built to the north of the ancient city of Chersonesus.
After more than one hundred and fifty years city completely surrounds the
ancient one. The Russian naval base is located immediately to the
north of the Chersonesus Preserve, which is under the jurisdiction of the
Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. The Preserve is surrounded by residential
areas and resorts for common working folk as well as the naval base.
The way from the outskirts of the city to the Preserve is extremely convoluted,
and I have never been able to figure out just how we drove through the
city on that late afternoon in June. It took perhaps an hour.
The roads were bumpy and mostly narrow and winding. Most of the city
we drove through appeared new--certainly post-World War II. There
were numerous unfinished buildings and many vacant lots with tall weeds.
Eventually, we came upon a large, open square lined on two sides with stores
and kiosks and occupied by hundreds of people and small vendor carts. I
noted one department store, a bakery, and a dry goods store. Just
off the square was a small theater. We made a right turn in the middle
of the square and drove down a very narrow, tree-lined road. This
street terminated at the resort we would call home for the next five weeks.
The bus pulled up to the entrance of the resort and with difficulty drove
through the front gate barely clearing the overpass. Everyone piled
out and began the task (some would call it an ordeal) of unloading our
and sorting gear. At the same time, one of the directors began assigning
rooms. There were maybe three or four female attendants to receive
us. There was also a uniformed security guard. The female
workers were dressed in all white uniforms and looked a lot like nurses.
None spoke English but our translators were able to arrange everything
without delay. Since my gear was loaded on the bus first, it was
last off. After just about everyone headed to their rooms, I finally
collected my equipment and with the assistance of some of the group
settled into my room on the second floor of the Sanitarium as we called
our temporary home. It was about 9:00 P.M. We had been
on the bus for 29 hours. I was dirty and sweaty but not tired and
the showers were closed. Not much to do but read and a take a good