Greetings from sunny, possibly forbidden, Crimea!
Why forbidden? Super slapdash recap: Crimea is a peninsula on the Black Sea. It was part of the Russian empire that later became part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic– one of the states in the Soviet Union. In 1954, Crimea was re-designated as part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. When the Soviet Union broke up, Crimea stayed with Ukraine, except for the Black Sea Fleet stationed there, which was owned by Russia. Naturally, there is a lot of tension in having a foreign power’s navy stationed on your territory, so for Ukraine, the fleet remained a touchy subject. For Russia, the ownership of Crimea itself was always a sore spot: the population is majority Russian, not Ukrainian. In 2014, after the “revolution” (or “coup,”– what you call it depends on your politics) in Ukraine, Russia re-took the Crimea. Western nations responded with sanctions.
Am I allowed to be here? According to Russia, yes. I have a Russian visa which allows me to travel all over the Russian Federation. Crimea is Russia, so I am allowed to travel to Crimea, no questions asked. But the U.S. government seems to think I shouldn’t. This is what the State Department’s Russia page says:
My argument is that I am not an “official” American. And, despite the admonition not to travel to Crimea, there is no law preventing me, like there used to be with Cuba. So I’m taking this to be just a suggestion, not a hard and fast rule. If the Fulbright people get upset, well…I’m using the strategy of asking for forgiveness instead of permission.
Another snag is that recently Ukraine has been barring entry to those who have traveled to Russian Crimea. Well, at least they barred entry to Russia’s Eurovision contest entrant. Someday if I want to go to Ukraine I may have to delete this blog post. Unlike Crimea, the Fulbright program specifically forbade me from going to Ukraine, so the question is moot for the time being.
There are a few other peculiarities of travel to Crimea. US-issued visa cards don’t work here, so I have to rely on cash. Additionally, Google Business Services does not work here– or at least doesn’t completely work here. My work e-mail is issued through Google and my first couple of days I had no problem. But one day Google made me try to log back in and then denied me access. I was given the following message:
Interestingly, because my work e-mail never logs out on my cell phone, I’ve had no problem reading my work e-mail on my cell phone. So this all feels a little silly.
Google Maps is apparently incredibly confused. My Google Maps are set to English, so that means I usually get foreign names of streets written out with Latin (English) letters. But in the case of Crimea, the names of the streets are transliterated from Ukrainian, even though in real life the street names have always been in Russian, not Ukrainian. It’s very weird.
But, provided you bring cash and have some way to deal with the Google issue, there’s really no problem coming here. Sure, there are no imported cheeses, but it’s the same all over Russia. Prices here are comparable with Moscow. They shouldn’t be, because this isn’t the capital, but it is because products are no longer transported by rail through Ukraine. Now products only arrive by plane and by ferry. The Russian government is building a bridge across the Kerch strait so that soon products will once again move by rail. But this is a long process. According to some accounts, work on the bridge was delayed due to the necessity of conducting archeological digs. I’m not surprised by that because, as I am learning, Crimea has been host to many ancient civilizations, all of whom left artifacts across the peninsula.
The Crimeans I have spoken to are extremely happy about being Russian again. General opinion seems to support the sentiment expressed on this display outside the main government building in the capital of Simferopol: