The Many Battles of Crimea

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Europe » Ukraine
October 8th 2013
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 44.6, 33.53

What a great day in Sevastopol (Se-vas-TO-pol)! We had breakfast delivered to the suite, which works very well. Then, at 8:15pm, we headed off the ship. Alex, our local tour guide, recognized us from our photos, and we were off. Our day included visiting the cave monastery and churches, the secret submarine tunnel, the site of the Charge of the Light Brigade, various bastions of the Crimean War and World War II, and the Panorama art exhibit. Alex, our guide, was fabulous. He had been a submariner and navigator in the Soviet Navy and retired before it became the Russian navy. He has two sons, one who studied in the States and is now a big executive for HP Kiev. His wife is high up in personnel at Coca Cola. The other son lives in Moscow and also seems to be very successful.

Alex drove us first to the cave monastery of Inkan. A monk, Clement, was exiled from Italy for heretical beliefs and settled in a cave near this site, miraculously finding a fresh water spring where none had been before. Clement attracted some followers, and soon Rome got word that he was active again … and sent some people around to kill him. Later, the church in Rome began to accept Clement's beliefs, and he became a saint. Go figure. The murals inside the caves were … Byzantium murals. But we were lucky that the church was open (it's usually not), and we were allowed to enter. A service was just beginning, attended by about five women, mostly old. The priests chanted, as the women crossed themselves and bowed. All the priests had beards, and the head priest, who was draped in a green and gold surplice, was very young, with a red beard. He looked more rock and roll than priest. It was beautiful. Alex told us, after we left, that it was a funeral, but no one seemed like mourners, so we wonder if it was a memorial ritual as part of a mass.

After visiting the church, we walked up the hill behind the cave and monastery towards the ruins of a fortress and wall, built in the 12<sup>th</sup> century, built by the Byzantines. From the prospect, we could see the bay and vineyards in the valley beyond. And "Champagne Hill" where barrels of champagne (it was called that during Soviet times, now they call it sparkling wine) were stored during WWII. We could also see the quarries where much of the stone that built the cities was cut. While we hiked around, we learned about the original Greek settlers, who started a fishing village near Balaclava. (We did not learn much about the people who already here, other than they were “primitive.”😉 We also hiked through the caves where people lived and stored their animals during winter during the times of the Khanate. I didn't realize that the Crimean was its own Khanate, but apparently it was independent. There were a lot of Khanates. Alex also talked about how Catherine the Great is considered the mother of Sevastopol, having captured it for Russia and established the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which forms the backbone of Sevastopol's economy.

Returning to our car, we headed out towards Balaclava and the secret submarine tunnels. The port of Balaclava is lovely: the entrance is hidden from the end of the port, creating a very calm waterway. Houses have been built along the waterfront, and there are several nice private yachts on the bay. The water is clean since the submarines have left.

The submarine tunnel has an interesting history. It was conceived at the end of WWII, after Stalin, who never liked Truman, began to worry about the possibility of nuclear attack. Submarines sail up the harbor at Balaclava, then enter the tunnel. The tunnel itself is curved through the mountain, and exits at the mouth of the harbor. Inside is a dry dock, storage, an arsenal, and a unit that manages torpedoes. The tunnel was designed at the end of the 1940s, but construction did not start until 1953, the year Stalin died (and the year Alex was born). By the time the tunnel was built, it was already mostly out of date, as the new classes of submarines were too large to fit through the tunnel entrance and too long to pass along the curve. However, the tunnel remained in use as a place to store nuclear warheads, and this is why it was so secret. Even Alex, when he was a serving officer in the Soviet Navy, did not know about the tunnel. (He said Sevastopol itself was a restricted area, and he had difficulty getting permission for his father, a retired military officer, to visit him while he was station here.) All warheads are gone now, but the structure and some of the equipment still remain.

Well, the equipment remains on the Russian side. On the Ukrainian side, all metal bits are gone. After the Soviet Union was divided, the property of the tunnel was split as well. The Ukrainians took all but the arsenal: they did not want any nuclear weapons. So the Russians retained that side of the tunnel. When Ukraine had a serious economic crisis in 1994-1995, people entered the unprotected Ukrainian side and stole all copper wires, all metal bits, including hinges on doors and the small turntable from the railway. Most of the doors were too large to remove, but they did well removing all the other bits. The Russian side had security, so that remains much as it was.

The visit to the tunnels was fascinating, as much for Alex's stories of being a submariner and navigator in the Soviet Navy as for anything else. Some of the visit involves walking through the empty underground passageways, without much to look at besides the blank walls on the sides. We did see a couple of torpedoes, and Alex described the training exercise that was required to practice swimming out of the torpedo tube in case of need to abandon the submarine while it was underwater. One of the tunnels has exhibits about different classes of submarines, and we took a photo of Alex next to the submarine class on which he served. Another room, in the arsenal, has some magnificent models, created by a now-retired Naval officer, who has been building models all of his adult life – gifts of his models were made to Castro, Gorbachev, and other dignitaries. We enjoyed many of Alex's stories about life in the Navy. We asked if they had a Commissar on his subs, and he said, “Yes, of course. And you tell me why. I graduated from officer's school first out of 500. I won the only gold medal given to students in three years. And yet I did not make career of navy. Why? Because I told people what I thought. I did what they ordered me to do, of course, but I told them it was a bad idea. And I asked questions. When we were in Finland, I looked around at how the people are living. Then asked the Commissar, 'These Finns were granted independence from Soviet Union in 1918. They allied with the Germans during WWII, so they lost that war. Yet, everything they have and every way they live is better than ours. Why is that?' And I wonder why I never got another promotion again.”

After visiting the main part of the tunnel, we took a short drive to the exit of the tunnel, which is very near the moth of the harbor. It was a beautiful setting, with high cliffs on either side. Along the bay are several very large, very new houses in the style of late tsarist times … Alex said the President proposed that someone should rebuilt the old homes that used to stand there. But no one had the money, and, as Alex put it, “We don't have any oligarchs to help us.” So nothing happened, then, suddenly the homes started being constructed. For a long time no one knew who had the money to build such houses, but, eventually, they heard that they were owned by the son of the President. He doesn't live in them ... they are designed as holiday homes for the wealthy. But it's hard to know what they wealthy would like to do in the very small town of Balaclava. Alex pointed out the “beach” where people used to come to swim during their lunch breaks, but it looked like a concrete pier. I suppose one would have a boat and spend the days fishing at sea.

Our next stop was a vantage point to look at both the Valley of Death from the Charge of the Light Brigade and World War II line of defense. Alex had a map diagramming the charge, which we both nodded at intently and compared to the visible landscape. We could see the three hills that form part of the central story line, and I suppose this brought Tennyson's poem to life (although, as Alex said, no one was in position with both guns to the left of them and guns to the right of them … but it was still awful). Below the wall of the prospect, we could see structures built as part of siege of Sevastopol in WWII. German guns stand on the site – from this position, they attacked Balaclava. Or something. Too many wars happened around here. (Alex says that he sometimes has female guests who say, “Tell me nothing about military history” … and it's hard to make tour of Sevastopol without talking about military history.

From this point of view, we went to Bastion 1 in first line of defense. It's now a park (as all the bastions are, which is very nice), and has a great view of the bays around Sevastopol. It also, again, allowed us to see a part of Sevastopol that most tourists never reach.

Our next step was the Panorama art work of the Crimean War. The work covers the interior of a round building, high on a hill. You climb the steps to the second story. The interior walls of the round room are painted with depictions of a battle. In the foreground, on the floor and climbing up onto the walls, are three-dimensional objects that blend into the two-dimensional painting beyond. We can see the muddy road, the broken baskets and sandbags, crudely built huts and tents, cannonballs, icons, and other accouterments of war. The painting is of one battle in June 185?, but they have combined moments from several battles, and have added characters (like a specific surgeon who was known for being the first to use ether as anesthetic in wartime) that were not present at battles but took part in the War. The original art work was created in the early 1900s (I think 1905) and took two years. It was destroyed – along with most of Sevastopol – in WWII but later reconstructed. They had many, many photographs of the original work so can reconstruct it almost exactly. There is apparently another work, by the same artist, still preserved, in Moscow, that depicts Napoleon's attack on the city. Don't know if it would be high on my list of things to see in Moscow, but it might be nice to see someday when it is cold and rainy out and we're looking for a place to warm up.

Driving into town, we stopped briefly to see the monument (of course) to Catharine the Great. We had walked past it last night but not conned on to who it was (and didn't really look, since there are so many monuments). We also viewed the navy officer's club (ugly building) from the outside. Then we parked again at the central square. The statue on the central square is of the admiral who led the defense of Sevastopol during the Crimean War. Originally, he faced the sea. The communists destroyed the statue after the Revolution and replaced it with a statue of Lenin (now on the Hill). The Admiral was rehabilitated during WWII, when the Russians were looking for military heroes to inspire the population. During Khrushchev's era, he had the statue of Lenin moved up to the hill and reconstructed the statue of the Admiral (who now faces town). Alex points out that this was a real public relations coup: Lenin is given the higher ground, but the Admiral, a true local hero, is returned to his place on the central square.

We finished our day with a walk in the park, then a pass through the Russian Navy grounds, where we could go because we were with Alex, a member. He showed us where he plays volleyball in summer (he is a member of several teams). We also got to see the stands where VIPs sit for viewing the naval parade on Navy Day (the biggest holiday in Sevastopol).

We said good-bye to Alex at 4pm and reboarded our ship. Hungry, we went up to the grill for a quick bite to eat; then happy hour, to watch our departure from this lovely port. The rest of the evening was spent doing email, reading, and being chill. We opted not to go to the dining room, as we were still not too hungry, so we had salads from the salad bar. To bed early, as we have another long day tomorrow.


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