Sevastopol in Ukraine

At the moment I'm staying in Sevastopol in Ukraine, so here is a short article describing the place and giving some information about it.

A Personal View

I've been coming to Ukraine, and particularly Sevastopol, for a couple of years now. I used to live and work in Russia teaching English but found that for various reasons the country, or at least the city in it in which I lived - Krasnodar - was becoming less attractive to me as a destination. The pay of English teachers (and of normal Russian employees) wasn't going up much, but prices were rising quite steeply. In other words life, and pleasure, was becoming less affordable. Also the rampantly rising consumerism and materialism meant that life there was like being anywhere in the developed world - all cars, sushi bars, cash machines and shopping malls. When I also took into account the hassle and cost of always having to get a visa before being able to go to the country, and then having to find someone who would register me at their address while I was in the country (if I didn't want to pay $100 a night to live in a hotel), I realized that it no longer made sense for me to live and work there, or even to go there at all.

So what was an alternative country? The obvious thing was that it should ideally be a Russian-speaking country as I had put so much time into learning the language, or the country's language should at least use the Cyrillic alphabet. That limited my choices quite a lot, but the one country that stood out was the big one that neighbored Russia and had indeed in the past been part of it, or more accurately part of the old Soviet Union. That country was Ukraine.

As a European I didn't need a visa to go there and I didn't need to register there if I stayed there or lived there. (Bear in mind that, like many countries, it can generally only be visited for a maximum of ninety days, and for a maximum of two such ninety-day periods in any twelve months.)

So I started going there, and I liked what I found. I went to Lvov (or Lviv), Kiev, Kharkov (or Kharkiv) and Sevastopol.

As a generalization, Kiev and the west of Ukraine lean towards Europe, and the east of the country leans towards Russia.

As I write this there are protests going on in Kiev because the President has turned away from joining the European Union and instead wants to strengthen relations with Russia. Down here in Sevastopol, where Russian is spoken, the signs are almost always in Russian rather than Ukrainian, and there is a large Russian military presence, there is simply indifference about the idea of officially trying to be part of Europe.

One last thing about this city before I try and give some facts and figures - as mentioned, when I lived in Russia I lived in Krasnodar, and although it had a population of about a million it was known as 'the big village' because it was so laid back, and at weekends the main street, Krasnaya, was largely closed off to cars, and people would go there and 'promenade', to use an old-fashioned word. Consequently people got to know and see and meet and establish and maintain relationships with a lot of people.

Although Sevastopol has a significantly smaller population than Krasnodar, for me it has the same 'big village' feel to it. For me the one main street is Bolshaya Morskaya (the center of the city is in the southern part of it), and then after that there is the area along the sea front at the bottom of Bolshaya Morskaya. Indeed those are pretty much the only places I bother to go (or feel the need to go to) when I'm in this pleasant, easy-to-live-in city.

Some Facts And Figures

Sevastopol is a city located in Ukraine on the Black Sea coast of the Crimean peninsula. It is the second largest port in Ukraine after Odessa. Its population is around 350,000. As well as being a holiday resort and a tourist destination, its harbor is an important naval base. It is home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet. There is also a Ukrainian naval base here. Both countries' fleets have headquarters in the city.

Marine biology research is done here, and since World War II there have been studies done on dolphins to see to what extent they can be trained.

Sevastopol is one of only two cities in Ukraine (the other being Kiev) to have 'special status'. It was recognized in 1948 as being a separate administrative area and it's 'specialness' was declared in 1995 and incorporated in the Ukrainian Constitution in 1996 so that it has the power, and duty, to administer the city itself and its surrounding provinces. Sevastopol is separate from, and independent of, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea which surrounds the city and its province.

The area administered by Sevastopol is about 334 square miles, or 864 square kilometers.

The city was founded as a naval base in 1783 in the reign of Empress Catherine II of Russia. She visited the city in 1787. Early on the place was called Akhtiar. The city's founding happened soon after Russia annexed this part of Ukraine. When a fortress was built here, it was then called Sevastopol, but between 1797 and 1826 the name returned to Akhtiar. In 1826 it again became Sevastopol.

There are three rivers in the Sevastopol area - Belbek, Chorna and Kacha - and there are three mountain ranges - Balaklava Highlands, Mekenziev Mountains, and Black Mountain.

Sevastopol has a humid subtropical climate with moderately warm summers and mild winters.

The Siege Of Sevastopol

This took place in 1854/5 during the Crimean War. The city was besieged by British, French, Sardinian and Turkish troops. The siege went on for eleven months. Then the Russian military sank their own ships so that they wouldn't fall into enemy hands and they would also be an obstacle for enemy ships. Then the Russian military withdrew from Sevastopol.

The city again came under siege during World War II.

The Present Day

As far as getting here is concerned, the usual ways are to come by bus or train through Simferopol, or to fly to Simferopol and then make your way here. You can also fly to Sevastopol airport, which is actually more of a military base than a civilian airport. Disliking using taxis, when I flew to Sevastopol airport from Kiev I caught a bus from near the airport (I think it was number 137) which took me to the city center. (I actually got off at the top end off Bolshaya Morskaya, which is near where I stay when here, between Lenina and Bolshaya Morskaya.)

In 1957 the nearby town of Balaklava was incorporated into the Sevastopol region. It's a place worth visiting. Historically important as a Russian submarine base (you can go on a boat trip into the tunnels in the mountain where the submarines were based), it's much smaller than Sevastopol with not much going on. I spent a couple of months there last summer and I was quite content with its quiet, relaxed way of life. You get a lot of holiday-makers there in the summer, but the place is pretty dead in the winter.

The other well known place not far from here and easily accessible is Yalta. It's much bigger than Balaklava and more of a fun seaside resort, as well as being a perfectly decent city in its own right.

Sevastopol has got very good public transport, with lots of trolleybuses, buses and minibuses (marshrutki) to get around. Then there are trains and buses for traveling to places outside the city. As far as the airport is concerned, I thought the only flights to/from there are ones to/from Kiev, but I read elsewhere that there are flights to/from Dnipropetrovsk and Moscow. There are many more flights going out of and into Simferopol airport, plus the airport is more accessible, so many people prefer to fly there and then make their way to Sevastopol. Speaking of Simferopol, it's not a place that does anything for me, but nonetheless it's probably worth a visit anyway even if you're not stopping off there on your way to or from Sevastopol.

Just outside Sevastopol and well worth a visit is the Byzantine/Greek historical site of Chersonesus. St. Vladimir's Cathedral is there.

For eating and drinking, I would say Sevastopol is pretty good. There are lots of places of all sorts and at various price levels to go to. One well known restaurant here is Barkas, not far from the Great Western Hotel on the seafront.

Things To See In The City

Walk round the seafront to see the Monument to the Scuttled Ships and the Heroic Defenders Memorial and the Obelisk on Cape Khrustainy. See the Monument to Nakhimov on Nakhimova Square. Go to the Defenders Monument. Go to the Intercession Cathedral on Bolshaya Morskaya. Go to the Museum of the Black Sea Fleet on Lenina. Go on one of the ferries over to the north side of Sevastopol - either the Grafskaya one or the Artbukhta one. Go to the Art Museum. Go to the Dolphinarium. Go to the Panorama Museum. Go to St.Vladimir's Cathedral on Suvorova.

There are lots of other things to see and do in Sevastopol. Whatever your personal tastes you should find enough things you like and that interest you.


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