An amateur filmmaker rode a motorcycle from Moscow to newly-Russian Crimea for the Victory Day parade. How has the peninsula changed since the surprisingly bloodless annexation? Here's his perspective.
While perusing Reddit the other day, I found a link to this video. Could someone really have ridden through Crimea so soon following the controversial annexation by Russia that occurred through February and March? I reached out to Daniel Kushnarevich to ask him about it.
IW: Why ride a motorcycle to Crimea?
DK: I actually started out in a car while my friend Vadim rode his BMW R1200GS Adventure. But, after sitting in traffic for five hours while he rode safely through, we decided to leave my car in Kabardinka with my grandparents and continue on two-wheels.
My dad used to take me to Crimea almost every year since childhood, it's his favorite place. This peninsula is just full of beautiful nature. This time, I felt like I could show Vadim everything that dad has showed me. But honestly, neither of us has ever driven or ridden so far — it's 2,500km from Moscow to Sevastopol!
IW: Were you worried about traveling there following the crisis?
DK: Some people here in Moscow asked me the same thing. But, I knew that Crimea has always been a peaceful place and wasn't worried at all.
The ferry from the Russian mainland to the Crimean peninsula was crowded as always.
IW: Was crossing into Crimea any different than before?
DK: As a kid, I usually travelled to Crimea by the train that gos through Belgorod and Kharkiv, across the Russian/Ukranian border. But, now this border is closed due to the situation. So, the only choice was to get to the peninsula by ferry.
As we approached Kerch, a huge sign appeared: "Ferry Crossing Queue — 16 hours." But, we knew motorcycles don't need to wait in line.
No much has changed at the border since the last time I visited, pre-crisis. There weren't any military troops, only three policemen who were writing tickets and helping tourists. You do still need a passport and your car/motorcycle documents. Ferry tickets cost around $20 for motorcycles and $50 for cars and there are only two or three ferries in operation with a capacity of 20-30 cars each. Everything seemed to be well organized.
Inside a formerly-secret, underground submarine base.
IW: What'd you see in Crimea?
DK: We decided to stop by my dad's friend's flat in Sevastopol. The apartment was in a prolonged renovation process, so it wasn't too cosy, but we only needed a place to sleep and staying there was free. Thanks Petrovich and Yulya! While there, we visited museums and military glory places.
"Soldier and Sailor," one of many monuments to the Soviet military in and around Sevastopol.
The atmosphere in the town is incredible. You walk around the town and everywhere you can see monuments to famous generals, huge military ships, forts, sailors in uniform, painters at work, musicians and so on.
Next, we rode to through the Balaklava Mountains on a motorcycle. Balaklava is not a very big city, but it has a bay for small ships and yachts and a formerly-secret submarine base. Usually I've toured Crimea by foot or bicycle — slow, but you can get everywhere — or by car — fast, but you're stuck on the highways. The motorcycle combines these two qualities. In only 15 minutes we were on top of the mountain near the Barrel Of Death. I wasn't planning on shooting anything, but had my camera with me and started the edit here.
The "Barrel of Death" hangs off a mountainside above the Black Sea.
Next stop, Ai Petri Mountain, where we ate some Caucasian shaslyk while admiring magnificent views of the Crimean seaside from 1,200 meters above it. On the way home, we met some fellow motorcyclists from Moscow and returned to Sevastopol in a long column of bikers.
A couple days later, we visited the secret submarine base for a tour and there heard from a fellow biker of a huge old military bunker where, according to him, you could even ride a motorcycle inside. We decided to go shoot the last of the video there.
Victory Day — a major holiday in Russia and other former Soviet states — marks the capitulation of Nazi Germany and the end of WWII. This year saw an unusually large parade through Sevastopol, attended by Vladimir Putin himself.
IW: How was Crimea different this time?
DK: Let's be honest, nothing really changed. The most memorable differences are the usage of two currencies — both rubles and grivna — you see more Russian flags and now hear a little more Russian than Ukranian.
We didn't see any troops except in the Victory Day Parade on May 9th.
We spoke to a lot of locals and everyone seemed pretty happy that they are part of Russia now. Two young women who sell souvenirs told us the closed border and problems with the ferry meant they didn't have as many tourists as usual over the May holidays, but they believe that will change in June.
Late one night, we met two guys who were arguing about this whole Russia/Ukraine situation. One was enthusiastic about the fact he now lives in Russia — higher salaries, political stability — but the other was disappointed. He explained that he was a Ukrainian patriot and had lived in Kiev for most of his life. Only recently he had decided to move to Sevastopol to be with relatives and now finds himself Russian.
Also, some great stories were told by locals that work in the Sevastopol Rescue Service. When the referendum ended, people had to nationalize the Ukranian military bases, government buildings, etc. Military troops couldn't do it because it wasn't a military intervention, so common people formed the Sevastopol Public Levy and started to take over the buildings.
We heard about the SPL knocking on the door of a Ukranian base and telling them to give up. At that moment, Russian troops were standing in the background doing nothing because they weren't allowed to do anything! The people in the base opened up, then together the troops and the SPL changed the flag from Ukrainian to Russian and after sat around a table eating and drinking together.
Most people didn't care about the crisis, war or whatever. They just love their city and each other and seemed pretty happy.
IW: Was their a heightened police or military presence on the road?
DK: We saw some policemen, but not more than usual. Except on Victory Day, when it seems like everyone from all of Crimea came to Sevastopol. Police blocked cars from entering the city center. It was an awesome parade and awesome day!
"Shooting" a decommissioned naval gun outside Sevastopol.
IW: Was there any problem finding fuel or with other public services?
DK: Not really. Gas actually became a little cheaper than before, but is still a little more expensive than on mainland Russia.
IW: What's your take on the Russian annexation of Crimea?
DK: A lot of money is going to be invested in Crimea. I'm really afraid that it will become some kind of Sochi and lose its wildness. Hopefully I'm wrong.
On the last day, Vadim lost my passport after celebrating Victory Day too hard. Luckily, no one noticed when we boarded the ferry — they didn't even ask for our tickets!
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