2012 - Ukraine
This short visit formed part of our cruise on Discovery to the eastern
Mediterranean and Black Sea taking in 10 countries: Croatia, Slovenia,
Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Italy, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Russia, and
had visited before with Zoë
in 2006 including some days spent with her friend Larissa and husband Andre.
We also met Nathan and Keri in Kiev as part of that visit.
is Europe’s second largest country. It declared independence in 1918
but was conquered by Russia in 1921 and lost a third of its territory to
Poland. It suffered mass starvation and also mass executions between
the wars. It also suffered massive losses against Germany in the war.
After independence in 1991 there has been constant political instability.
Russia cut gas supplies but later agreed re-instatement after taking a 25
year lease of the Black Sea base of Sevastopol. A significant portion
of the population is Russian. The western part has closer links with
is in the Crimea and is surrounded by mountains.
It developed under Tsar Nicholas 1 and has many large houses dating
to that period. We took a coach
trip out of the city via a long winding hill past big houses and flats to
the Massandra Estate. This
French chateau building was originally started by a prince but he died
before it was completed in the 1880s and it was purchased by Tsar Alexander
111. It subsequently became a
dacha for Stalin. Interesting
rather than absolutely stunning.
next stop was the Livadia Palace where the Yalta Conference took place at
the end of the war. This had
been built for Tsar Nicholas
11 in the 19th century and is very ornate and sumptuous.
is a large hall near the entrance and this contains the table at which the
Allied leaders sat at the conference. It
was here that Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill signed the agreement for
settling the boundaries after the
had some light refreshments accompanied by music from a traditional folk
group. As our party was quite
large we were not able to see the group very well from our seated position
but Jill stood and took photos to aid our memories of this.
palace area enjoyed wonderful views over Yalta.
evening we watched another Folkloric Show put on by the Philippino crew.
As usual this was great fun and the performers seemed to get as much
pleasure from it as we did. Great!
Our next port of call was Sebastopol.
The weather was fine but for the first time we found it cold
especially first thing. We first
drove through the modern city. Sebastopol
was founded in 1783 as a navy base for Russia which it still is.
It contains many monuments and also has many grand Grecian style
public buildings. These are
built in the local limestone that goes cream or grey after a few years.
It currently has a population of around 400,000.
Inevitably there are the usual blocks of Soviet flats on the outskirt
although these are limited to 5-7 floors. The city was twice nearly totally
destroyed with 99% of buildings being flattened in World War ll.
Our destination was the 5th century BC Greek city of
Chersonesus. It is amazing that
this remained in occupation until the 13th century when it was
razed by the Tartars. I don’t
think we have seen such a large archaeological site and even
then some of it is now under the sea!
It contains the remains of Greek, Roman and Byzantine buildings.
This includes a Byzantine 6th century basilica built on
the site of a Greek temple. After
walking around the site we visited a modern church built on the site and
then the museum which contains many exhibits covering the whole period of
settlement of Chersonesus
We were particularly keen in our sightseeing (!) at Sebastopol as we had
arranged an afternoon trip as well as a morning.
Between these we had a quick packed lunch on the ship!
Our second tour involved a coach trip which took us through the Valley of
Balaclava where we could imagine a little of the military strategy of the
Crimean Wars as the wide valley was laid out before us from the top of the
hill where a memorial now stands.
We were heading for Inkerman and Uspensky Cave Monastery carved out of limestone caves. It dates to the 8th century and
comprised several churches but some no longer exist following damage by war
and earthquakes. The approach was up a long track and then a stone
staircase. A formidable guide
warned everyone about not taking photos.
Jill thought this meant within the church and so incurred his
considerable wrath for taking one across the valley from the staircase
outside the church. Fortunately
we lived to tell the tale – just!
On our return journey we visited the Khan’s Palace which dates to
1400-1700. The Khan was an area
ruler under the Sultan. The
palace had been neglected and was restored for a visit of Catherine the
Great. It is now a tourist site
and also a favourite backdrop for wedding photos.
It was rather strange to see outside a group of wedding guests
standing in their finery at the roadside enjoying the wedding breakfast
(presumably) from the boot of a Lada car!
Our guide was very informative and told us many things about the area.
Apparently, until 1996 no-one could enter Sebastopol without military
permission. This even applied to
friends of local people and it could take 1-2 months to be granted.
Crimea is now an autonomous region of Ukraine and has its own
government and flag. Its
population is 2 million of whom 75-80% are Russian.
This obviously makes politics interesting as the west of Ukraine
favours Europe but not surprisingly the east looks to Russia.
This area is Russian speaking, although a lot of Ukrainians’ come
here in the summer.
We were struck by the vast preponderance of Lada cars.
We were told that about 75% are Ladas of varying ages in the country
areas. Here there are also
ancient buses. The rural areas
also have small and poor single storey houses.
All of this is somewhat of a contrast to the city.
As regards health, medical help is officially free but in practice
private payments have to be made to medical staff and medicines have to be
paid for. An operation will
involve a private payment (backhander) of around $300.
In 1992 apparently 93% voted for independence from Ukraine – they feel
that Kiev does not give them enough money! We
were to see more of the politics on our return to the city as the square
beside the port was closed for what appeared to be a large pop concert.
It was in fact put on by the ruling party complete with speeches and
the release of balloons ahead of an election two days later.
We noticed that the speaker was dressed in military uniform.
Apparently the ruling party has been in power for 20 years.
Our guide the following day thought that communism was better and
that politicians were just in it for the money.
It is sad that so called democracy does not help them.
We subsequently found that “The International Election Observation
Mission concluded that the 28 October 2012 parliamentary elections in
Ukraine ‘were characterised by a tilted playing field. This was the
result, primarily, of the abuse of administrative resources, as well as a
lack of transparency in campaign and party financing and of balanced media
coverage. Voters had a choice between distinct parties and candidate
registration was inclusive, with two notable exceptions, representing a wide
variety of political views’. ”
This area is very beautiful with its hills and a good amount of vegetation. It was also interesting from an historical viewpoint.
earlier city was destroyed by the Tartars but the present was founded by
Catherine the Great and presents an elegant 18th – 19th
century appearance. There is a
small area of glass and concrete buildings in the centre of the city but
they would not be allowed now. Although now in the Ukraine it was Russian
and was the most important port in the USSR and a naval base.
It remains a very important port.
Our visit comprised a coach tour with some walking around
is the 5th largest city in Ukraine with a population of just over
a million. It had a rather
military air with many statues and with a changing of the guard ceremony at
Shevchenko Park. This proved
particularly interesting however as the guards were school children of about
15 years of age for whom it is considered an honour to perform this duty.
They do so for one week, being on guard for 15 minutes twice a day.
We were invited into the guardhouse and were able to ask questions
and talk with two girls who had been on duty.
Over one third of the population of Odessa was killed in the war and
this ceremony reminds them of this and of the dangers of Naziism.
city dates back to 12,000 BC we were told, having been founded by Assyrians.
It became European from about 5-6000 BC.
In recent times it was used for the export of Russian wheat.
Apparently a lot of Italians were involved in the trade and the ships
were filled with ballast comprising lava from Etna – this was then used
for road surfacing in the city.
architecture was very grand by the station.
The area was bombed in the war and the station was rebuilt in 1952.
noticed many trees in the city and were told that a tree had to be planted
in return for the grant of planning permission. This
seemed a great idea that would beautify the city. However,
we also noticed a lot of graffiti.
stopped at the Cathedral which was demolished in Soviet times but was
rebuilt in 1999 by private subscription.
It was certainly beautiful.
also saw the Potomkin Steps, the Opera House (restored in 1967) and the city
hall with a statue of Pushkin. Pushkin
is called the father of Russian literature.
It is interesting that until his time French was the language used in
Odessa (presumably at least by the educated elite).
The buildings have been well restored and rebuilt and make this an
attractive looking city.
cities that we saw in the Ukraine on this trip were certainly more
attractive than those we had seen on our previous trip when we had visited
Zoë’s friend Larissa. Zoë
had visited the Black Sea area with Larissa and had told us that it was