Shhh…I’m not sure I’m supposed to be here

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:

no travel to Crimea

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.

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.

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:

restricted google access

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:

#Crimea Russia Forever


Add yours →

  1. Good for you! Not the best season, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
    Does your Russian CC work there? I went last summer, and walking around with pockets for with wads of cash was a bit of a blast from the past.
    Wonder why Fulbright explicitly forbade visiting Ukraine.


    • I’m not sure why Fulbright forbade me, but I think it probably has something to do with not being or even appearing to be an arm of US foreign policy (i.e., they don’t want Fulbrighters out there encouraging or even appearing to encourage color revolutions). But I’m just guessing. It certainly wasn’t about safety (I had proposed going to Kharkiv, very safe) or visa requirements (none for US citizens).


  2. Care to throw together a quick trip report for TripAdvisor/Ricksteves forum when you get back?
    Also, if you are still there – could you try Yandex maps to see if it works better than gmaps?


  3. “Crimea is Russia” according to the Russian government. Just like according to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Kuwait was a province of Iraq.

    The majority of the world, including the UN does not recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea. The US doesn’t either.

    Russia is under sanctions because of the annexation. As an American, you should really not be supporting this area with your money.

    As a scholar you did not mention that the native population of Crimea, the Tatars, were mostly deported and Russians were moved in. It was part of the Russian Empire? Well, yeah, in conquest. Taken from the Tatars, again.

    And yes, the ones you met were happy to be Russian again, because they took that land illegally. They also shouldn’t be there to begin with.

    I am surprised that as an American you are treating this trip so nonchalantly.

    You really shouldn’t really be there.


  4. I have a news for you: if you support CRIMEA as a part of RUSSIA, you, my fellow American, support PUTIN, his regime, his bloody crimes against his own people and other nations! Get informed!


  5. Let’s make a deal. You read all my blog entries related to Crimea and then you tell me what in there is not true.


  6. Your comments contain many inaccuracies, either intentionally in support of Russia, or through sheer ignorance. The latter is hard to accept, since the world watched as Russia violently snatched Crimea from Ukraine, by military force in violation of all international laws and norms. No one has recognized this illegal annexation, not UN, not the US, and you knew that legal fact before you went there. You naively want your readers to believe that because you have a Russian visa you can enter Crinea because it is under Russian control. Yet Russia illegally annexed Crimea, so therefore Crimea cannot legally be part of a Russia, but belongs to Ukraine. Yet you support financially and morally those terrorists. Great going scholar from US! So, you violated the terms of your Fullbright scholarship by illegally entering Ukrainian territory, due to the war with Russia. You violated your contract with Fullbright and US law. You are a pretty uneducated scholar, or a Russian agent. Either way, you should be ashamed.


    • Interestingly you didn’t say what my inaccuracies are but you’ve got a big one–you say Russia “violently snatched” Crimea from Ukraine. Not so. There was not one shot fired, no one was killed, not even any injuries. I have broken no laws by visiting Crimea, nor have I violated my Fulbright contract.


  7. Hello Rachel!
    I an really interested on your blog, thanks for posting all this adventure.
    I am traveling soon to Simferopol, I had never been there (obviously). When arriving in Moscow, what or how should I transfer to Simferopol? Do I need to ask for special permit at the entrance, let the authorities know that I will be traveling to that city or just simply board my next plane to Simferopol and that’s it? Do I need to provide addresses from where I will stay? How much money do you think will be good to carry for one week?
    I hope that you reply to me soon, I will be traveling in a just a few weeks.
    Thanks for you help.



    • Hello! Travel to Simferopol is just like travel to any city within Russia. Just board your plane from Moscow to Simferopol, nothing special required. I would say that there is not much to see in Simferopol– all the beauty of Crimea is along the coast!


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