Simferopol or Bust


(“Don’t Touch Our Leader”)

It would be easier to appreciate the wonders (or at least curiosities) of the capital of the Ukrainian peninsula that is now in the process of be annexed by Russia were it warmer.

Honestly, though, this is a small complaint, given that there are rumored to be 20,000 Russian troops lurking around this region, scads of Russian-flag-waving goons and all sorts of schizophrenic sentiments whip-lashing around. I’m just an observer here; I don’t live here and thus I don’t have to live with the fact that this city– Simferopol– and the entire Crimean peninsula may soon be dragooned into membership into the Russian Federation– warts and all– in the interest of spurious claims of fascism and bald-faced hypocrisy about geopolitics, nationalism and national identity.

I have to wonder sometimes if Russia, were it to the take the form of an sentient adult, would be better served by sitting down with a psychotherapist and talking about it feelings (“So, Russia, you’re feeling threatened by a new government in Kiev. Tell me about that.”)

Here’s the reality: The Crimean War did not just end last week with Russia’s defeat. Josef Stalin did not just kill, torture, imprison World War II did not just end last Thursday, with the Soviet Union’s unparalleled triumph of will and spirit and unrivaled loss of life and industry. The Soviet Union did not just collapse on Saturday, with a feeling of what I imagine could be compared to a father and a mother telling a child that they will be divorcing. (And a related reality check about the Soviet system, courtesy of cranky old Solzhenitsyn and its dubious cultural touchstones, “Live Not By the Lie.” But I digress).

All these incredible traumatic historic events did not just happen. Sometimes, however, listening to Russian rhetoric– in Crimea, in Moscow, in Petersburg– you’d think otherwise.

This is not to diminish the significance of some of these events. World War II, for example. People in the West– Americans, foremost– don’t have a real nuanced understanding of how the war was won. The Soviets won the war. Or, at the very least, deserve  70-80 percent of the credit for the winning the war. The Soviet Union was devastated beyond the understanding of modern civilization: the human toll, the sacrifice, the destruction, the wanton pillage and evisceration visited upon the country by the Nazis is nearly without comparison in human history.

Normandy, June 1944? A great military event. How many Americans died? 2,499 Americans,  and 1,914 from the other Allied nations, for a total of 4,413 (source)

Stalingrad, Sept. 1942-Feb. 1943? An unspeakable military event. How many Soviets died? 479,000, plus 40,000 civilians.  (source)

Stalingrad was but one event in an unspeakable lesson in human depravity and immorality; the entire Great Patriotic War (as the Russians call WWII) should be recognized as such, and the grieving process that emanates from such an event is understandably long, painful and nearly incomprehensible.

But at some point,  history cannot be constantly lived in the present. If it is, then it becomes a tool, a utensil, an implement designed for motives other than the strict recording of events past.

For the Kremlin, the Crimea War happened last week because it deludes people into feeling vulnerable or proud or fearful, and thus malleable. The glories of the Soviet Navy (such as they were) occurred just days ago, because the pride and optimism that comes with might and clout and breadth and reach are so easily harnessed in the interest of venal politics.

Simferopol is a shabby town that carries more vestiges of the Soviet plan than many other places in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. Given its location, it shouldn’t carry so many vestiges. It is a town beautiful situated at the gateway of an stunning geographic marvel of water and sea, land and landscape, and the drab apartment blocks, and bad streets, and crumbling infrastructure don’t befit a town located in such a prime location.

There are coffee shops, and well-lit clothing stores, and electronic shops and stores selling Peg-Perego baby strollers and MacBooks and espresso and lattes and Cuban cigars and French cognac and dresses by Milanese designers.

There are people who clearly think that joining Crimea to Russia is the right answer. There are many people who are much more ambivalent. There are many who are much more fearful about what is about to happen.

DSC_0066(a musical performance at a rally supporting unification with Russia)


(one of many trees around the Crimean legislature building… can’t really figure out the American Don’t Kill People sign…)


(“There Is No Trust in Kiev. There is No Compromise with Kiev.” 


(“Thank you Russia for Peace in Crimea”)



(goon squad outside local government administrative building)


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