For most of the world, the second half of July has brought waves of torrid heat and unusually intense weather phenomena, but the hottest resort town is undoubtedly Crimea, a land of ancient history and modern comfort, and now a land of trenches and apocalyptic warfare between East and West. The summer season in Crimea is usually a festival of joy and fun, but this year it is more of an “extreme tourism” experience that frightens and attracts Russians, at least those who cannot go to Thailand or even Turkey, not to mention the Mediterranean coasts that they love so much.
The military actions of the Russian and Ukrainian crusade counteroffensives at this moment are concentrated precisely on the peninsula that dominates the Black Sea, strategic outpost of any possible victory or definitive defeat. Indeed, tourists have been slow to arrive, intimidated by the trenches and bombardments, and the Russian government has tried by all means to favor and “recruit” various categories, from groups of children and adolescents to employees of public companies and members of the oligarchy. When the Ukrainians once again attacked the Kerch Bridge, a symbolic line of Putin’s “our Crimea” connecting to the “legal” region of Rostov and Sochi, the endless queues spread all over the “illegal” territory of Donbass, where fighting is always fierce, turning the trip to Crimea into an adventure with more adrenaline than any war video game. And then the promoters of extreme tourism arrived.
The “tourist season” has been renamed “barrel season”, bavovny in ukrainian, kloptsy in Russian, as a real attraction not to be missed: it is no longer about fireworks but about the real apocalypse, where even in the safest places you can hear the shelling from the surroundings. The Chairman of the Russian-Crimean Parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov, dismissed as diverse to those who disseminate information about the risks in these latitudes, that is, of “saboteurs” who want to sow panic in the good traditional tourists; but many begin to consider the war as the best publicity campaign.
There is no doubt that one of the purposes of the Ukrainian attacks is aimed at derailing the season, Crimea’s main economic activity, as well as separating it from Russia in order to annex it again, thereby declaring the failure of all Putin’s operations from 2014 to today. Russian propagandist Sergej Veselovsky warned that “Crimean security will only exist when Ukraine disappears, when even the very word ‘Ukrainian’ becomes an insult”; but many Crimeans begin to wonder which of the two masters is the worse. Crimean “Ukrainian partisans” issued a strong warning to another such propagandist, Feodosija blogger Aleksandr Talipov, by blowing up his motorcycle in front of his very eyes.
As a Russian proverb says, “fear has big eyes”, and legends have spread about pro-Ukrainian “kamikaze terrorists”, who would be recruited not only in the Crimea but throughout the southern part of Russia, where the Russian and Ukrainian languages have been mixed for centuries. The Russian secret services have already lost control in the midst of this whirlwind of military attacks and fake news, and they do not fully understand whether cluster bombs, remote missiles, assault drones or the multiple actions of diversants in practically all regions of the Federation are more dangerous.
General Zaluzhnyj himself, chief of the Ukrainian General Staff, has stated on several occasions that “nothing and no one will stop us in the reconquest of Crimea”, and he is certainly not a man used to throwing words to the wind. Instead Putin has insisted that the Ukrainian attacks do not stop the flow of people and tourists from Russia to Crimea since “alternative routes” can be used, that is, through the occupied territories. One war correspondent, Dmitry Steshin, even praised on television “Russia’s leaders who take their compatriots seriously, granting them access to Crimea through the new territories,” as if Crimean tourism was the ultimate purpose of the entire war.
The recommended itineraries are really suggestive, crossing splendid valleys and hills, with recently rebuilt roads although damaged in several places by bombing. Some of the smaller bridges have also been disrupted or difficult to navigate if Ukrainian attacks can be dodged. All this looks like a theater of the absurd worthy of Gogol and Chekhov, according to the best Russian traditions, an “alternative reality” in which the entire credibility of the Putin regime is at stake. It could be said that a vacation in the Crimea is the true litmus test of twenty years of politics, first economic and then military. Before 2014, Russians flocked to the beaches of the peninsula and showed their contempt for Ukrainians with full wallets. Then they tried to “remake Crimea in Russia’s image”, making it almost prohibitive for the less well off. Now they want to affirm the resistance of the Russians to Western invasions and depravities by holding firm in the Crimean stronghold. The “route of life” to the Crimea has become the “route of death” that maximizes patriotic ardor.
Driving on the roads and bridges of Crimea is the most exciting version of “Russian roulette”. The probability of flying through the air or injuring yourself is very high and the joy of having reached your destination is greater than that of all the time on vacation. The advertisements say: “We have the best sea in the world and the best anti-aircraft defense.” Even swimming in the sea is scary, because instead of sharks you can run into underwater drones. Yachts and all water vehicles are now equipped with sophisticated radar and ultrasound systems, just like in the best adventure movies. Repairing damaged bridges and installing a capillary network of defensive technologies are absorbing increasingly substantial portions of the regional and federal budget, already in growing deficit.
As if that were not enough, the other Black Sea coastal centers such as Sochi and Tuapse, always packed with tourists, have been devastated by monsoons and floods, and in Batumi, Georgia, the Russians are not comfortable with the local offer, which is not in a position to offer services at its level. Nor can Russians do without summer vacations, the same or more than all Europeans, especially to express that “longing for the sea” that characterizes the very nature of the huge Eurasian country with no maritime outlet to the rest of the world. Russian wars have been repeated incessantly, from the Baltic to the Black Sea against the Turks and Scandinavians and in the Pacific Ocean, where the peace treaty with Japan after World War II has not yet been signed. Now a new maritime front is even opening up, that of the Arctic, where the ice recedes and future wars are being prepared for domination of the “head of the world” that could make the current ones pale.
Anyway, now “we have Crimea, Crimea is ours, go to Crimea and rest!” the ads repeat on all platforms. Outside the country you cannot go, the dollar and the euro are above 100 rubles, and the money is not even enough for Egypt, therefore “to the Crimea!” Sit in your cars, fill up the gas tank even if it costs twice as much, experience the thrill of risking your life, and on the beach be careful not to fall into the trenches, which may be useful to you anyway. In the family we have three, four children, where do we take them if not by car to the Crimea?
It would give the impression that the war has put the Russians in a truly extreme and apocalyptic state of mind: “all in all, we have nothing to lose anymore.” Crimea is the ideal place to represent this model of life, and it is no coincidence that the ideology of the russkij mir sounds better like krimnashism“Crimean-Nostrism”, since Putin’s cry Krym Nash! on Red Square on March 18, 2014, when history changed. The entire world is Crimea, a land in suspense where Russia offers itself as a sacrifice of purification and eternal glory.
If you manage to overcome the dangers and reach Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, you can visit the archaeological excavations, where a powerful team of specialists, protected by squads of special forces, digs to find the roots of the Russian soul. It is about demonstrating that the ancient Chersonesus (in honor of which the city located on the Dnieper estuary was named Kherson) was a Russian land – the Slavic Korsun -, against all the claims of other peoples. In recent centuries the Tatars have claimed the peninsula, with successive clashes and wars, but before that it was claimed by the Greeks, the Turks and even the Germans. Hitler had research done during the occupation to prove it was a gothic land. The “apostles of the Slavs” Cyril and Methodius found here the remains of Saint Pope Clement of Rome, on whom Saint Peter himself had laid hands. But fortunately there will be no claims from the Vatican. Crimea was also ceded for a few decades under the Tatar yoke to the administration of the Genoese, masters of the sea routes in the 13th century and skillful mediators between the Mongol khans and the princes of Rus’. The discovery of America started from Genoa and today we must start again to discover Russia, perhaps precisely through the Crimea.
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