People's diplomacy to Crimea
Report from Mr. Maickel Wijnhoven - Netherland
Arriving late in the evening in Crimea, the beautiful new airport immediately stands out. The artistic and modern design is at once impressive and welcoming.
On the way to the hotel, it becomes apparent that there is a substantial amount of work being done to improve the Crimean infrastructure and roads; it is immediately clear that a lot is being invested in the region.
Over the following days, we make various visits to the graves of both German and Russian soldiers. The graves are adorned with flowers as a tribute to the soldier's sacrifice and as a reminder that something like this should never happen again. This was also the main purpose of our journey as people's diplomats: to show that the people in Crimea do not want a war, just like the people in the Netherlands and the other countries represented by our international delegation.
The people in Crimea live peacefully. Going about their daily lives, the streets are full of cars and pedestrians. There is very little police presence and we certainly did not see any soldiers. Outside of the city, we saw people farming and saw many road stands selling vegetables and fruit, and even wine, cosmetics and soap. We also saw the renovation of cultural landmarks, such as Khan's palace, and the many churches and monasteries around Bachtsjisaraj. There are many tourists here but most of them are from the Russian mainland.
A camera crew from the Russian news interviewed some of our group during our trip. The questions were mainly about our opinion of the region and the reasons for our trip to Crimea. Afterwards, we had a wonderful dinner at a Tartarian restaurant. The food was amazing and tasty, as it had been during the entire trip. A talented violinist serenaded us with beautiful songs while we enjoyed our meal. Soon after some of us were done eating, the dancing began. I don't know if it was the food or the savory Crimean wine, but we had a lot of fun during the whole trip. It was a fully immersive experience of Crimean culture.
A visit to Yevpatoria also showed how peaceful this region is. A stone's throw away from one another are an orthodox church, a mosque, and a synagogue. This is evidence of a truly multicultural society. The region has a lot of history as well, given that the town is more than 2500 years old. At the church, some workers were hard at work fixing a part of the roof and one side of the sidewalk was being renovated. Inside there were people praying and lighting candles. Next, we visited the mosque where a young man welcomed us inside and gave us a quick tour. Afterwards we went to the city's tourist information office where we learned more about the city. At the synagogue, which was our next stop, there was a wall where people could place little notes like they do at the western wall in Jerusalem. We were told that once a year these notes are shipped to Jerusalem. Last year the full bag that was sent weighed about 7 kilos! A small act like this shows how people are encouraged to freely practice and express their religious beliefs.
The next day we visited the university in Simferopol https://eng.cfuv.ru and got a chance to talk to students. They told us how they feel about joining Russia, the whole maiden event, and what their outlook for the future of Crimea is. Afterwards, we were invited to have lunch at the school canteen. We then drove to a concentration camp memorial where we sounded a bell two times in remembrance of the many people that died at that very spot. We watched a short film in the museum and each of us took some time to look at old pictures and artifacts that were found in the many graves.
The next day, we had a meeting at the local parliament in Simferopol with the head of parliament Vladimir Konstantinov to whom we presented the new book written by Hendrik Weber "unsere Krim". Konstantinov once again made it clear how important the People's Diplomacy and such visits are. We were thanked for our visit and our mission and afterwards we are treated to another delicious meal. One thing is for sure, the Crimeans cook good food!
The following day we drove to Yalta and visited Artek. It is full of small children who were ecstatic to see our delegation. Some try to ask us where we are from or to greet us in their rudimentary English. This is an international children's camp where top students can go and meet others. 92 countries send children to Artek, a tradition which begun in 1925. Here there are also new renovations underway. A new building, which will be able to house another 2000 students, is being built along the seaside. In our delegation, there were 3 people that had been to Artek as a child and one of them, Marco, presented his collection from his time there. Buttons he had collected and kept all these years were handed down to two students for display in the museum. Some of the students who were studying journalism asked if they could interview some of us about our trip. We were, of course, happy to oblige. We asked them about their future plans and it seemed that they had hope for the future. Although, due to sanctions, it's difficult to travel or export goods to Europe, they are confident that things will get better.
The last few days of the trip, were more touristic. We visited the summer retreat of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, and his family in Livadiya, Crimea. This is also the place where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill made their famous Yalta declaration. Afterwards we went to the house of writer Anton Tsjechov and visited the botanical garden.
Overall, we saw how people enjoy living in Crimea and are happy that they at least do not have war like in the eastern part of Ukraine. And although the sanctions have a negative impact on everyday life, I'm sure that the Crimean people will find a way to overcome these obstacles and thrive.