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New Europe

Day Seventy-nine: Yalta

The Vorontsov Palace 
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The lion at the Vorontsov Palace that Churchill described as 'like me, only without the cigar'.
Michael Palin - New EuropeToday the Vorontsov Palace is the centrepiece of a park complex and tour groups pose beside Churchill's favourite lion and wander through the huge rooms that the British delegation of 1945 suspected were bugged by Stalin's people. One of the British delegation noted in his diary that in a private conversation someone mentioned having seen a large, very empty fish tank. Two days later it was full of goldfish. Another private exchange about not being able to find lemon peel for the cocktails resulted in the arrival of a large lemon tree in the conservatory.

Churchill, meanwhile, was more concerned about the amount of work there was to do and the short time set aside to do it.

'I do not see a way of achieving our hopes in five or six days,' he wrote. 'Even the Almighty took seven.'

Every day the delegation was driven the three and a half miles to another palace called the Livadia, where the conference meetings took place. Built in 1911 for Russia's last Tsar, Nicholas II, it's also set in luxurious gardens on the thickly wooded slopes overlooking the Black Sea. A long, elegant neo-classical facade in white Inkerman stone with a Carrara marble portico promises much but it's quite dull and gloomy inside.

In 1945 the delegations met around a long table in a white-marbled dining room and there was a smaller round table, which can still be seen, for intimate talks between the leaders and their closest advisers. Roosevelt, the American President, was partially disabled with polio and to make it as easy as possible for him to get to the conference table, an adjoining room, the Tsar's Grand Reception Study, was turned into his bedroom. The smallest of all the main rooms is the billiard room, panelled in English chestnut. It was here that the treaty was signed after six days' deliberation. The photo-call that followed and produced the famous images of the three leaders looking very cold took place in the Italian garden, a small formal garden onto which all the ground-floor rooms give access. With its Renaissance restraint and Italianate decoration, the Livadia Palace is incorrigibly Western European in style, yet by all accounts it was Stalin the Russian, twenty million of whose countrymen perished in the war, and whose armies already occupied most of Eastern Europe, who was in the driving seat at Yalta.
The Livadia Palace 
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The Livadia Palace, built for a Russian tsar, where Stalin got most of what he wanted at the Yalta Conference.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Seventy-nine: Yalta
  • Country/sea: Ukraine
  • Place: Yalta
  • Book page no: 189

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