Yalta continues to live at a slow pace
Yalta continues to live at a slow pace. Nestling amid the mountains, it flows lazily down to the sea. A boulevard runs along the border between the land and the sea. Noisy in summertime, now it calmly welcomes each of its few guests. Russians, who came to the Crimea on vacation, are strolling slowly. The atmosphere is somewhat enlivened and stirred up by skateboarders and rollerbladers who, under the watchful eye of Lenin, are taking advantage of one of the few flat and smooth surfaces in Yalta. The local Lenin is one of my favourites in Ukraine. He is sheltered between palm trees, his head turned towards the Black Sea. His gaze seems to deliberately avoid the capitalist-built McDonalds standing in a few dozen metres from him.
I am looking for some excitement, some animation in this sea resort. It’s all in vain. The only signs of an increase in adrenaline are visible in people approaching ATMs. I have been looking for an ATM in working order for several days myself. Finally I did it: a euphoric cry of a man – who had long been talking to the ATM to take the cash and joyfully tap the gracious machine – showed me the right place. Before leaving, the man told me he had been looking for a working ATM for a week and had run out of money to buy food for his family.
I talk to the people: the locals are troubled by the fear of an unsuccessful holiday season, the visitors – by the weather. However, many of them are still not discouraged, enjoying the fresh air and the smell of blossoming trees. Cherry trees have started to bloom in Crimea.
Looking for passion, I go to Livadia Palace where three politicians changed the course of history and decided the fate of several states, including Poland, in the winter of 1945. Excursion guides emphasise the importance of changes concerning Poland. They show the Pravda newspaper with the decrees of the conference. On the first page there is a dozen sentences that determined the destiny of Poland. Ironically, the Livadia Palace is a rebuilt estate of a Polish nobleman, Potocki, which was bought by the royal family in the second half of the 19th century. In the bedroom, where Roosevelt slept, there is still a fireplace that belonged to count Potocki.
Ironically again, in the cold February days of 1945 when the future of Poland was being shaped, the American president was warming himself by the fireplace of a Polish nobleman. On the first floor of the palace there are the royal family apartments. During the conference it was only the ground floor that was occupied by the most renowned politicians. Above the politicians‘ heads werethe halls of the deserted sanatorium.
After the victory of the revolution, the palace became a sanatorium. In the places where a flock of royal children had walked and laughed but a few minutes before, beds for patients were being placed. The study of Czar Nicholas II became a ward for 15 persons. The ward was numbered 29. For a while I have been sitting in the study of the last Russian czar, trying to imagine all that. His desk is surrounded by windows overlooking the Black Sea and Yalta on three sides. Nicholas II smoked, perhaps he used to stand by these windows, inhaling tobacco smoke. Later, smoking was prohibited here. For the sake of the patients. A thought strikes me, a memory of Mezhyhirya, Yanukovych’s villa. People reflecting on what to do with the estate, would most of all like to open a sanatorium there, too.
And fate shows its irony again: Yanukovych who wanted to live like a czar and indulged himself in royal entertainment (the members of the Russian royal family were passionate hunters, Yanukovych planned to go on a hunt in the morning of November 30th, after the pacification of EuroMaidan), lost his palaces which were given over to people. That’s the right of revolution.
I walked around the palace together with a group of Russian tourists from Yekaterinburg. They laughed at the threat of war and asked me not to spoil their vacation. The tourists saw the Russian troops as forces stabilising the situation on the peninsula. They told me with a smile that perhaps on their next visit ,they will be paying for everything in rubles.
As I was sitting in the study of Nicholas II, one of the museum curators came up to me. She turned out to be Polish. Her grandmother was born in Zhovti Vody. The curator‘s name is Eliza, she has been living in Crimea since she was 12. I ask her what she thinks about the current situation.
- There’s a panic and propaganda in mass media. Have you seen any bombs fall here? Any fires? Where are the revolutionaries? It’s totally quiet here, but tourists became fewer...
I ask whether she wants the Crimea to remain a part of Ukraine.
- The Crimea was and will be Crimea. But I am a Soviet person, so of course Russia is closer to me. After all, where do the tourists come from? Surely not from the West. But, you know... I am distant from politics. I only want peace and stability. This is the main thing. Which country it belongs to is of little importance.
We talked in Russian.