Belarus and Ukraine 2006
Belarus and Ukraine 2006

Journey: Belarus and Ukraine 2006

For our 2006 journey we chose the Ukraine as our primary destination. We already wanted to go there for a while and now seemed to be the right time. The Orange revolution was only one and a half year earlier, no more visa were needed to enter the country and Kiev was reviewed as a hot city in many travel reviews. Minsk was also a place high on the to-do list so we decided to add Belarus to the destination list.

We started our journey in Riga from were we flew to Minsk were we spend three days before taking the night train to Kiev. After some days in Kiev we took the train to Sevastopol in the Crimea. From Sevastopol we went to Yalta and then Simferopol the Crimean capital. The final destination of our journey was Odessa from were we unsuccessfully tried to enter Transnistria. In the end the three weeks in Belarus and Ukraine were a great experience and we would recommend going to anybody! Photos: Belarus ,Ukraine

Odessa sailors and teenage girls if front of a packed tram

Odessa Sailors

Map showing our 2006 journey trough Belarus and the Ukraine

Our route trough Belarus and the Ukraine

Minks, friendly people, Stalinist architecture

A city trip to Minks was always high on our wish list, but we never came to it before 2006. Combining Minks with our planned Ukraine trip seemed practical so we decided to spend some days in the Belarusian capital before starting our Ukraine journey. Not many tourist visit Belarus, the country often called the last dictatorship of Europe, so we were very curious what it would be like. It turned out to be great, the people of Minsk are very friendly and the city still has a genuine Soviet look and feel. Huge propaganda posters depicting the army, prosperity of country, glory of the nation and of course the leader are everywhere in the streets of Minsk. People are sitting on the banks of the Svisloch River, drinking beers and enjoying themselves. We had no problem getting in contact with the locals and they were not hesitative to talk about the political situation in the country. The highlight of Minsk are it’s streets with Stalinist neo classical architecture from the time Minsk was rebuild as a communist model city after World War II. After three days in Minsk we took a night train to Kiev. Story: Minsk site seeing , Minsk Stalinist architecture , Photos: Minsk

Statue of KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky Minsk’s main street

Statue of KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky

Entering the Central house of Officers in Minsk with a soldier

Central House of officers

Baggage offloading of a Belavia Tupolev Tu-154 at Minsk airport

Tupolev 154 on Minsk Airport

Kiev, the cradle of Russian culture

Kiev founded in the 5th century by East Slavs and later became the capital of the Kievan Rus, the ancestors of the Russian peoples. The Ukrainian capital was almost completely destroyed during World War II, so it is packed with Soviet architecture, monuments and culture. We decided to stay in the typical Soviet style Slavutich hotel situated on the artificial Rusanovsky Island on the left bank of the river Dnieper. Slavutich is not directly in the centre but the view on the River, the famous monastery Pechersk Lavra and the motherland monument “Rodina Mat” is great. Nearby Hotel Tourist, another Soviet classic may be a better option however as it is closer to Livoberezhna metro station. Tourist is also very close to Hydropark, an island with beaches, bars, restaurants and clubs, a perfect place to relax in Kiev. We decided to do exactly that, still tired from the night train and spend our first day in Kiev on a Hydropark beach with some beers. The second day we went to Rodina Mat with the giant Motherland statue and the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Nearby is Pechersk Lavra, also known as the Kiev Monastery of the Caves, the cities most famous tourist attraction. Pechersk Lavra contains numerous architectural monuments, like bell towers, cathedrals and underground cave systems with mummified priests and monks. The next days we crisscrossed Kiev to see as much of its Soviet highlights as possible. Independence Square famous from Orange revolution in 2000 is a good starting point to see Kiev. Khreschatyk street begins ay the square with neo-classical Stalinist architecture like the Central Post Office and Trade-Union House. More grand Stalinist architecture, Tsum warehouse and Kiev’s last remaining Lenin statue can be found further up Khreschatyk street. Other Kiev highlights we saw are the former Lenin Museum, Dynamo Stadium, Chernobyl museum, Friendship monument, Hero city monument and the Kiev Metro. The four days we spend in Kiev were a great mix of relaxing, culture and Soviet highlights, highly recommended for a city trip in the summer! We already had booked train tickets to the Crimea in advance as they are usually booked full weeks ahead in the summer. The train to Sevastopol left in the evening and took around 16 hours. Photos: Kiev

Gallery of the former Lenin museum now called Ukrainian House

Gallery of the former Kiev Lenin museum

Mimino is a famous Soviet comedy movie about an helicopter pilot

Mimino Restaurant, the place to be in Kiev

The sun behind the motherland statue at Rodina Mat Complex

Giant Motherland statue at Rodina Mat

The Crimea, sparkling wine, blue water and world history

Many people have heard about the Crimea, known for the Crimean war with famous nurse Florence Nightingale, the Yalta conference where the post war map of Europe was drawn and Sevastopol, home of the Russian Black Sea fleet. There are also some lesser known points of interest like the Crimea’s excellent wines, Tatar inhabitants descending from the Mongols, Soviet time holiday resorts and a secret Soviet submarine base. Enough reason for us to spend a week on the Ukrainian peninsula. Our first stop was Sevastopol, a closed city during Soviet Times and only opened for tourists in 1995. Highlight was a daytrip to the secret underground submarine base in Balaklava. From Sevastopol we went to Yalta taking the beautiful 80 km mountain road with breathtaking views on the Black Sea. On the way we passed Foros, the holiday resort where Gorbachev was exiled in his dacha during the 1991 coup attempt by communist hardliners. We passed the Karadag Dolphinarium near Feodosiya were the Soviet Navy experimented with dolphins and other Sea mammals in order to use them for combat missions. In Yalta we stayed in hotel Yalta, a giant hotel where many Soviet workers enjoyed a Black Sea family holiday. We choose not to use Trolleybus 52 from Yalta to Simferopol, with 86 km the longest trolleybus connection in the world. In Simferopol we visited the old town quarter Ak-Mechet where the Tatars live who recently returned from countries like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan after living in exile for half a century. After a week on the Crimea we took the night train to Odessa the final destination of our journey. Photos: Crimea

Navy Dolphinarium were military Dolphins are trained in the winter

Military dolphinarium in Kazachya Bay

Lenin on Lenin Square, the central square of Simferopol

Lenin statue in Simferopol

Enjoying the beautiful Crimean highway between to Yalta

On the Crimean highway

Sevastopol Soviet monuments and home of the Black Sea fleet

Sevastopol was the anticipated highlight of our Ukraine holiday and it lived up to our expectations. The Crimean city was build as a naval citadel by Catherine the Great in 1783 to host the Russian Black Sea fleet. Most famous event in the history of Sevastopol is the 11 month siege by British, French and Turkish troops during the Crimean War. During World War II was Sevastopol again under siege and held out for 250 days before it fell in July 1942. After the war Sevastopol received the Hero City title, awarded to twelve Soviet cities. During the Soviet period Sevastopol became a closed city and was only opened up in 1995. The status of Sevastopol is still disputed between the Ukraine and Russia, who lease a part of the Harbour for their Black Sea fleet. We had a room reserved in Hotel Crimea, a Soviet style tourist hotel were only Russian is spoken so we had to check in with hands and feet. We spend our first day in Sevastopol walking around to see its many monuments and other remains from the Soviet period. Most interesting are the Lenin statue build on a hill, the giant Soldier and Sailor memorial near Aleksandrovskaya bay, the monument to Admiral Nakhimov and the Hero City obelisk on Cape Khrustalny. The absolute highlight of Sevastopol is the Russian Black Sea fleet that has its home in Sevastopol. Both the Russian and Ukrainian fleet are actually easy to spot, especially the vessels in Yuzhnaya bay, that can be observed form the surrounding hills. During our visit we spotted four submarines (Tango, Foxtrot, Kilo and Romeo class), Heavy Cruisers, Frigates, Corvettes, Dry docks, Landing ships and much more. The Russians make it very clear that Sevastopol is their city, Russian flags fly everywhere, Russian in the only spoken language and large propaganda posters try to rally the population behind Moscow. Photos: Black Sea Fleet, Sevastopol Monuments

Russian Navy propaganda, The Russian Navy courage and honour!

Russian propaganda glorifying the navy

Ukrainian Admiralets class workboat (Project 371U) in Sevastopol

Workboat from the Ukrainian Navy

Activity around the Russian Romeo and Kilo class submarines

Russian Black Sea fleet submarine

Crimean war, World War II and Cold war sites around Sevastopol

We spend our last day in Sevastopol visiting some famous war sites around the historic Crimean city. We first drove to Sapun Hill, the site of a fierce battle in 1944, where the Red Army tried to recapture Sevastopol. Sapun hill features a War monument, a diorama museum and a collection of Soviet World War II equipment. Highlight of the day was our trip to Balaklava, location of a famous battle during the Crimean War and home of a former secret submarine base. Most history enthusiasts will associate Balaklava with the disastrous “Charge of the Light Brigade” of British cavalry against the Russians during the Crimean War. Almost the entire brigade got destroyed as a result of bad decisions by incompetent British officers who bough their rank rather then earned it. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” became a famous anti war statement after the Crimean war. We decided to focus on the Cold War history of Balaklava, despite a serious interest in the Crimean war and spend our time visiting the Secret Submarine base. The Balaklava Submarine base became operational in 1961, decommissioning started in 1993 and the last Russian submarine left the base in 1996. Now it is open for public tours and is probably one of the most exiting sites to visit in the former USSR. The base exists of 600 meters of water tunnels in a large mountain, were submarines could be repaired and equipped. The base could withstand a 100 KT nuclear strike, had place for seven submarines and had a stockpile of nuclear weapons. The tour takes tourist trough the whole base including the weapons storage facility, staff rooms and submarine repair area. A small museum is housed in the old ammunition warehouse deep inside the hillside, tours are in Russian only. Photos: Balaklava ,Sapun Mountain

200 year Sevastopol anniversary memorial on the road to Balaklava

200th anniversary of Sevastopol memorial

Soviet Project 123 Komsomolets torpedo boat on Sapun Mountain

Torpedo boat on Sapun mountain

Water tunnel where submarines entered the secret complex

Entrance of the Balaklava submarine base

Yalta, Soviets style summer vacation

The Crimean holiday resort Yalta is probably best known for the Yalta conference, held in 1945, where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill drew the map of post-war Europe. In the Soviet Union Yalta was a beloved holiday resort where both workers and party officials were rewarded with a Black Sea family holiday. The most famous remaining memory of Soviet mass tourism is the giant Yalta Intourist Hotel. This giant Soviet hotel build in 1977 features two 2500 seat restaurants, several cafes, bars, souvenir shops, three swimming pools and a private beach. Soviet hotels are one of Comtourist’s main interests so we booked a room in the Yalta hotel first thing after deciding to visit Yalta. Reliving the Soviet summer holiday experience however is not Yalta’s only attraction. Lenin embankment is the place to see and be seen, go for a drink and some fine Ukrainian food. Livadia Palace the location of the Yalta conference is a must see for all interested in history, it can be reached by bus from Yalta. Another famous tourist attraction near Yalta is Swallows Nest a small kitsch castle, build on a high cliff. The best way to get to Swallows Nest is by boat, passing the incredible disc shaped Kurpaty Sanatorium, an absolute highlight of Soviet architecture! We would have loved to travel further along the Black Sea coast but had to end out Crimean tour in Yalta and go back to Simferopol. Yalta is well worth a visit for all those who would like to relive the Soviet holiday experience and witness the place were one of histories most defining moments took place. General travellers probably would not need to stay longer then a view days. Photos: Yalta

Russian banding guests enjoying the Black Sea beaches of Yalta

Guests at a Yalta Beach

Swallows Nest on a hills is the most famous Crimean landmark

Swallows nest near Yalta

Russian princess dressing up as a princess at Livadia palace

A real princess at Livadia Palace!

Odessa, Odessa

Odessa is one of those places were you want to go, just because of the sound of the name, despite the fact that it is unclear what it has to offer. Most people do know the famous Odessa steps from Eisenstein’s movie The Battleship Potemkin. Another famous image associated with Odessa is the exodus of Russian Jews to Israel and America. Most of these emigrants ended up in Brighton Beach in Ney York dubbed “Little Odessa” by the locals long time ago. We figured that it would be a good idea to end our journey in Odessa to spend some time on the beach and hang out in the clubs and bars of the famous Arcadia. In the end the weather turned bad when we arrived so we changed our plans, skipped the beach and explored Odessa and it surroundings. Particular interesting were the catacombs and museum of Partisan Glory in Nerubayskooe village. We attempted to enter Transnistria, a breakaway province of Moldova run by former KGB agents close to Odessa. We were not let in on the ground that we did not have a formal invitation. After three days in Odessa with both disappointments and surprises it was time to fly back home. We really hope to visit Belarus and Ukraine soon again to meet more of the friendly people and marvel at the extensive Soviet heritage. Photos: Odessa

The Potemkin stairs, Odessa and the Ukraine’s most famous landmark

The world famous Potemkin stairs

Bust of Soviet Marshall Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky in Odessa

Marshall Malinovsky monument

Pioneers guarding the unknown sailors monument in Odessa

Pioneers guarding a monument