Crimea is a disputed region in either southern Ukraine or southwestern Russia. The Crimean Peninsula is connected to mainland Ukraine by two narrow necks of land, making it more like an island with a couple of natural land bridges than simply a bit of land jutting out into the sea. The peninsula was the site of the Crimean War, between 1854 and 1856, and gave rise to modern nursing, live war reporting, the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade and the Balaclava (woolen head garment).
This little diamond features many landscapes: Crimean steppe or prairie in the East and North, Feodosia's sandy beaches, undulating hills of vineyards and fruit trees, castles reminiscent of Bavaria cling to cliffs plunging into the warm sea and there are forested mountain ranges with fabled cave cities to the West.
On 30 March 2014 at 03:00, when it would normally have changed to Eastern European Summer Time, Crimea advanced the clocks even more to be in the same time zone as Moscow.
The Crimean Oblast was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in Feb 1954 while both countries were constituent parts of the former Soviet Union.
Genealogy & research
All historical documents (including birth records) for all nationalities currently and historically represented here (Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews and Germans) are kept in the National Archive in Simferopol.
You may contact them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org although the best way to receive a response to your email will be to send it in Russian. The archive is open M-F 08:00-17:00. Individual access to much of the archive is not permitted, although for USD30 you can pay someone who works in the archive to do the work for you. Nobody in the archive speaks English so either be prepared to speak Russian or bring along a translator.
The archives and its staff are not accustomed to foreigners so be prepared to explain to the guard at the front desk what it is you want to do.
The Lutheran Church in Simferopol supposedly has a list going back to the early 1800s of all German families who emigrated to Crimea under Catherine the Great, or so it was said at the Archive. This information has not actually been confirmed at the Lutheran Church. For that matter, finding the Lutheran Church, although mentioned in the guide book, is actually a quite difficult task.
The city of Feodosiya has a Jewish Community Centre that is very active in doing research on the Jewish community of Crimea. You may contact them at email@example.com. They can communicate in basic English (so you can send the email in English) but more than likely the response back will be in Russian.
When you get to Crimea you can buy the local guide book "TIME to COME to CRIMEA!" (in both English, Russian and Ukrainian) at many of the small booths on the street. For your reading entertainment here are some quotes from the book:
"The attitude of the population to lesbians is curious and benevolent; to gays it is hostile, except for the famous ones."
"The modern military tourism including, for example, shooting from grenade launchers and flights by supersonic fighters, is developing at numerous polygons and air stations that used to be secret ones."
Weather and water
The weather in Crimea during the summer season is very much Mediterranean. Expect relatively hot weather and lots of thunderstorms that come and go. Hot and very humid at night. In the winter snow can cover the mountains and make the roads almost impassable
The water is fairly warm, although not as warm as the Adriatic. The water is clean and clear, although also a bit less clear than the Adriatic.
The Russian president has ordained that there are three official languages in his new province:
Russian is the universal language of communication.
Crimean Tatar (a Turkic language, closely related to Turkish) is also widely spoken by the Crimean Tatars.
Ukrainian. In decidedly and staunchly pro-Moscow Crimea, you might be met with a degree of hostility if you speak Ukrainian.
Few people speak or understand English.
Spoken English in the Crimea is of a low standard. Few people have more than a passing knowledge of English. A lack of exposure to the language and the relatively low number of foreign tourists, coupled with a continued Soviet-style education means that the population is decidedly monolingual.
Be prepared to memorize words in Russian and to become familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet. A few select older people have some familiarity with German, which may be of some use. Those proficient or familiar with Turkish will have a great deal of success in communicating with Tatar speakers.
Some of the street signs in Yalta are in English from the time of the Yalta Conference in 1945.
All roads coming to Crimea leads to Simferopol, it is the undisputed transport hub of the region.
Simferopol International Airport is a major hub and had both domestic connections with Ukraine and several international flights. Flights from Kyiv, Lviv, Istanbul, and many western European cities, including Frankfurt, Tallinn and Riga have been suspended but flights to Moscow continue.
There are also a very limited number of flights to Sevastopol Airport.
There used to be overnight trains running to Crimea from throughout Ukraine. The cost will varied based upon where you will be leaving from, but from the Slovak border to cost was about USD30 in the third class, USD70 in the second class (2013), but, as of March 2014, there were no direct trains from any Ukrainian town!
From Kyiv a place in 2 bed compartment (1st class sleeper) USD96, coupe for 4 people- USD30 (2014), a place in the 3rd class (unlockable, 6 bed compartment) cost USD17 (2014).
If you travel by overnight sleeper train it used to be quite comfortable, cheap and the quality is OK. Just the average travelling speed of trains is slow in Ukraine in general (about 60km/h).
Ukrainian trains are handled by Ukrainian Railways while international connections with Russia are handled by RZD. Notice that domestic trains do not always carry a restaurant wagon, be sure to supply yourself with food and drink.
All the cities of the Crimea can be reached by bus. From cities in Ukraine - travel to Simferopol or Sevastopol, and from there by bus to go to other cities of the Crimea.
List of Crimea bus stations and bus schedule.
If you intend to go hiking in Crimea it might be worth writing down phones of Mountain Rescue Service of Crimea (Контрольно-спасательная служба Крыма) 380 652 253158, 380 67 7041319, 380 67 5550001. If the hike is difficult and/or dangerous you need to register with them. They also hire out hiking gear and can provide instructor(guide) for multiple-day hiking or speleological trips .
Currently, the Crimea still uses the Ukrainian hryvnia. Starting 1 April 2014, pensions and other state payments will be paid in Russian rubles, although there have been statements to say that Ukrainian hryvnia will not be phased out completely until January 2016.
Street food can be delicious in Crimea, if you are not prone to gastritis. Once your system is acclimated, definitely try some local Tatar specialties such as chebureki (Russian: чебуреки), from an outdoor stand or a cheburechnaya (Russian: Чебуречная, chebureki joint). These are succulent half-moon shaped meat pies, usually filled with lamb or beef (Crimean Tatars, being Muslim, do not eat pork), and deep-fried in aromatic sunflower oil. Samsa are also good, hot pastries filled with mince meat and chopped onions.
Try manti (Russian: манты), which are steamed lamb-filled dumplings, often served with adjika (Russian: аджика), which is a very hot red chili pepper paste.
Try lyulya-kebab and shashlik (Russian: люля-кебаб and шашлык), which are shish-kebabs, especially if you can find ones cooked over a wood fire. If you can find pork shashlik, definitely try them. You will have more success with this in a Russian-run restaurant, as pork is not served in Tatar restaurants.
Find a good Tatar restaurant and try the lagman (Russian: лагман). It's an incredibly rich, thick lamb soup with vegetables and long homemade noodles that is absolutely to die for.
The ice cream sold at the beach includes a simple one called molochnoye (Russian: молочное, "made of milk"). It's white, but it's not vanilla-flavored. It tastes like sweet milk.
If you see women walking up the beach selling something from buckets, it's probably paklava (Russian: паклава, baklava). This paklava is like nothing you have ever had before. It's thin layers of homemade dough, put together to resemble big flowers, deep-fried and covered with nuts and honey. It's absolutely heavenly.
Find a pastry shop and try the trubochki (Russian: трубочки, "little trumpets"). A trubochka is a cornucopia shape of short pastry filled with meringue and sometimes dipped in nuts. Delicious with chai (Russian: чай, tea).
The beer in Crimea is outstanding and cheap.
Crimea is a wine-producing region. Most of the wine produced here, at the famous Massandra Palace winery and in Koktebel', is dessert wine in the style of Port or Madeira. Unwary foreigners might buy a bottle of what looks like red or white wine in a kiosk and find it undrinkably sweet. That's because it's meant to be sipped, in very small quantities, not drunk like a Merlot. If it's regular wine you're looking for, avoid anything labeled Портвейн (Portwine), Мадейра (Madeira), Мускат (Muscat), Токай (Tokay). For table wines, ask for "sukhOye vinO" (dry wine) or look for labels such as Совиньон (Sauvignon), Каберне (Cabernet), and Ркацетели (Rkatseteli), or look for Georgian wines, which are delicious and plentiful.
Try the regional sparkling wine, produced at Noviy Svet (Russian: Новый Свет, "New Light"), near Sudak. It's labelled "Шампанское" ("Shampanskoye", champagne). It's very good. Try to buy it somewhere reputable, though, because there are knock-offs. Noviy Svet is a very beautiful spot; you can tour the caverns where the wine is aged.
If you're not going anywhere else in Russia and Ukraine, try kvass (Russian: квас).
It's a very refreshing non-alcoholic drink made of fermented wheat, the traditional drink of farmworkers in the bread-basket of Ukraine, prized for its restorative properties.
Try the local kefir (Russian: кефир), a cultured-milk beverage. When ice-cold, it's extremely refreshing on a hot day.
If you're feeling adventuresome, you might look for "kumys" (Russian: кумыс or кымыз), which is fermented mare's milk, a traditional drink of the Tatars and nomadic peoples of Central Asia.
Beware, some of the local mineral waters taste very salty. Look for a Western European brand, especially if you're going to be exercising.
Vodka is cheap and plentiful, some of the supermarkets have the best prices and the widest choices.
Vehicles will be the biggest hazard to your safety in Crimea. Drivers tend to stick to speed limits as there are many militsyia (police) but the road surfaces are poor which leads to some unsafe overtaking, even on the curvy coast and mountain roads. Pedestrians cross roads at their own peril. Be particularly careful if a car has stopped for you at a marked crosswalk; check around the car before you venture past it farther into the crosswalk, because another very well may swing around it and go right through... right where you would be walking. Most cars ignore pedestrians!
There is a very strict zero tolerance policy to drinking and driving. Police patrols are frequent as well as roadside checks for documents.
Crimea does not have a major problem with crime. However, foreigners are at risk of being robbed if they are not careful about flashing wealth, except in Yalta during the summer which is filled with rich Russians. Foreigners should not hitchhike or take unmarked cabs unless they are travelling in a group. The safest way for a foreigner to travel alone is to take a bus or a marshrutka (a microbus that follows the regular bus routes). Moreover, beware of drunk men at night, especially if your skin is coloured. Beware also of the police, who may be corrupt and ask you for "presents", i.e. bribes.
The countryside, which is extremely poor, is very safe. You are more likely to get kicked by a wandering horse than robbed. Crimeans on the whole are very polite, except when lining up for a bus or service at a shop when pushing to the front has been perfected into an art form. Standing in line is not an option!
There are plenty of ATMs and, as always, be careful around them. At night avoid lonely places where the numerous drunks hang out; they are not really a danger except they might fall on top of you.
Leaving Crimea can be extremely hard at the moment. The checkpoints and borders of Ukraine and Crimea are tightly packed by Russian and Ukrainian officers, and you may face problems in trying to leave.