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A UKRAINIAN BUS RIDE

(How I Traveled from Kiev to the Crimea)
by Roger Werner

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 and deplaned.

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 Ukraine>

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  had stopped. 

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 fuel-air bomb. 

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 History  
 

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 War  

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 night sleep. 


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