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New Europe

Day Seventy-eight: L'viv to Yalta

Yalta - the Russian Riviera 
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Yalta's known as the Russian Riviera. You don't need much to enjoy its balmy Black Sea climate. And it's twinned with Margate.
Michael Palin - New EuropeYalta is heaving. It's a summer weekend in the Crimea and the holidaymakers are out in force, cars squeezed onto every inch of road, people squeezed onto promenades and sunbathers spread like seals across the rocky beach. Along the front a concrete Spanish galleon, full of snack bars and restaurants, rears up from a concrete frame, and a pirate ship is home to an up-market sushi bar. The obligatory disco beat thuds out. Yalta, where the fate of post-war Europe was decided, turns out to be Blackpool without the sand.

Anya, a local twenty-one-year-old, hoping to be a journalist and speaking excellent English, walks around with me. She tells me that though most of the visitors are Ukrainian and Russian, Crimea is not completely one or the other. It's a bit of a maverick, officially an autonomous republic, representing eighty ethnic groups, with its own flag and parliament. In a 1991 referendum held by President Gorbachev, eighty-eight per cent of Crimeans voted in favour of keeping the Soviet Union intact.

We stop in a sea-front piazza where there is a modern installation, all cable and stainless steel, celebrating the resort's twin cities, and from which I learn that Yalta is twinned with Margate.

Behind us is a McDonald's and opposite it an enormous statue of Lenin. I ask Anya why they would have left this standing. The Lenin, not the McDonald's.

'There are many people who have positive memories of the Soviet days,' she says as we gaze up at him.

'You cannot tear a page out of history, can you?'

I know what she means, but it was Lenin himself who said: 'Sometimes, history needs a push.'

Anya's a good diplomat. Just recently Russia had turned off gas supplies to the Ukraine, but when I ask her if it had soured relations she shakes her head firmly.

'This is only politics.'
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Seventy-eight: L'viv to Yalta
  • Country/sea: Ukraine
  • Place: Yalta
  • Book page no: 187

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