(Crimean mountain lake)
We’ve all seen, heard, and read the news stories about Ukraine, Crimea and Russia. The headlines have been inescapable for months now to anyone who pays attention to the world. It’s unfortunate that for many Americans the first time they’ve ever taken notice of Ukraine and Crimea in particular is for the worst possible reason. Admittedly I have a much higher stake in events in this corner of the world than does the average American, since my wife, Irina, is Ukrainian. Through her and her family and friends, Ukraine is a country I’ve come to enjoy, admire, and appreciate deeply in my many visits there, both the land and its people.
(Black Sea coastline near Balaklava)
I’ve held off for the last month or so from writing this piece, waiting and hoping that the crisis in Crimea might somehow resolve itself in a way that I could view as positive. Sad to say, but I don’t see any indication of the situation reverting to the pre-invasion status quo. It’s a shame, really, indeed a tragedy for me to see Crimea, this lovely jewel of Ukraine, invaded by Putin’s jack-booted thugs and stolen in broad daylight for all the world to see. The only positive thing is that there has been no large-scale loss of life…so far. But that could change at any moment depending on the whims of Rootin-Tootin-Putin.
(Watch your step! The cave town of Eski-Kermen)
(On the grounds of Massandra Palace)
A recent joke making the rounds in Ukraine: A dog in eastern Ukraine can’t find anything to eat, his life is pretty bad overall and so he decides to cross the border and see if things are any better in Russia. He says goodbye to his dog friends and leaves.
A couple of weeks later he returns and all his friends ask him, “So what’s it like in Russia? Things there must be worse since you came back.”
The dog shrugs and says, “It’s about the same. There’s nothing to eat and life is pretty bad.”
“So why did you come back?” they ask him.
“At least in Ukraine, I can bark.”
Only a fool would believe the official Russian excuse for invading Crimea, that they are merely protecting the Russian speaking population from evil, fascist, pro-Western forces who want to oppress and persecute said Russian speakers. Unless, of course, the only “news” you receive is scripted, controlled, and operated by the Kremlin, which is still the case today as it has been historically for almost a century, and where if you bark against the official line, you will disappear.
(The ruins of Chembalo fortress above Balaklava)
(The town of Balaklava)
I have been to Ukraine six times in the last seven years and never seen or heard even one instance of Russian versus Ukrainian speaking violence happening. To my wife it is an absurdity to even entertain such a notion, the flimsiest of pretenses to try justifying a military incursion and takeover of Crimea. The two languages have always coexisted in Ukraine, for the most part interchangeably and peaceably. But now that this Pandora’s box has been prised open, I am afraid that this artifice of some ethnic/language division will become more and more of a reality, a wedge used by power-mad dictators and fanatics to drive the country apart and serve their own greedy self-interests, the sort of power play which will only further degrade the Ukrainian economy and drive the average Ukrainian citizen closer to poverty and desperation, which is when despots always thrive.
Well, I could rant all day long about the depressing political situation there, but what I really want to do here is an homage, as the title to this piece indicates, to the beautiful land of Crimea. Of all the many regions of Ukraine I have visited, Crimea is certainly my favorite, historically, geographically, and in its scenic beauty and diversity. From the rugged Black Sea coastline to the arid plateaus of the interior, the Crimean peninsula encompasses a wide variety of terrain: lakes and rivers, streams and waterfalls, deeply wooded canyons and hillsides, cliffs and caves, palaces and glitzy seaside resorts, humble fishing villages and a once top-secret, now decomissioned Soviet submarine base, world class vineyards and wineries. It is a special place, and for me all that much more poignant to watch the ongoing conflict there and realize, sadly, that I will probably never visit Crimea again as long as it remains under Russian control.
(The seaside promenade in Yalta)
(View from Ai-Petri mountain, Yalta in the distance)
(Alexander Nevsky church in Yalta)
(The Swallow’s Nest castle on Black Sea coast)
(The Swallow’s Nest)