10 Pieces of Real Travel Advice for Visiting Crimea

Ok, I’ve spent months in Crimea since it became Russia again, in 2014, and filmed hundreds of videos of reportage. Based on the fact that it reflected the will of the vast majority of Crimeans, after the fall-out from Euromaidan in Ukraine, I recognised, and Graham Phillips Crimeasupport Crimea’s reunification with Russia.

However, this it not a political piece. There’s a mass of information online about Crimea, and much of it is clear false information, warnings about the ‘dangers’ of visiting Crimea ‘annexation’, ‘occupation’, and so on.

Crimea is one of the world’s most beautiful places to visit, and I know given the amount of people contacting me, more people are indeed looking to visit it. However, it’s in quite a unique position, and there are a few considerations, so, here we go, with 10 things you’ll need to know (written presuming you’re a western person.

1. There are no cash machines which take western cards. So you’ll need to take all the money for your trip with you. The last cash machine is at Krasnoarmeiski, before you get the ferry, but, you’d be best off stocking up on wedge before that.

2. Due to sanctions, some things don’t work in Crimea. If you have a UK, EU number you may well find it cannot connect to a roaming service, so you’ll need to purchase a number in Crimea. Crimea has its own phone network, separate from mainland Russia, Crimeastreet2so, you’ll need to purchase a local MTS card. There’s 3G, even some 4G. All internet sites work as normal, and you can even use main booking sites to book apartments, hotels in Crimea. All the apps you have should work, but there may be an issue downloading new ones, you can use your credit card to book things online there – all good.

3. Don’t even think of going to Crimea via Ukraine, as is the official advise. It’s a nonsense. Kiev have to ‘give you permission’, but you still need a Russian visa, and more, have to pass through the Ukrainian ‘blockpost border’, adding hassle, stress, and perhaps other. Get a single-entry Russian visa, and you can book a flight to Simferopol airport!

4. It’s better to put what you’ve read in the western press, by western governments out of your mind before you enter Crimea. You can find people there who will freely tell you that they are ‘pro-Ukrainian’, and want to be with Ukraine again. But, they’re a small minority. You can find a lot of people who generally would like Crimea to be as prosperous as it previously was, but speak to people there and you’ll see for yourself that the vast majority of Crimeans supported, and support reunification with Russia.

There’s no sign of tension, or repression of Crimean Tatars. You will come across many in your travels in Crimea. Crimean Tatars are, in my experience, a warm, friendly people. A lot of restaurants are Crimean Tatar, they run many businesses. Speak to them, ask them yourselves how life is for them. You will hear different opinions, some for Russia, some for Ukraine (though again, a minority), many non-political and simply for whatever will give them the best quality of life.

5. You will find people in Crimea who speak excellent English, and many have some level of English. However, it’s by no means universal, and at this moment in time you could even say that Crimea is not especially orientated towards English-speaking visitors. Not every restaurant will have an English-language menu, and while your waiter may well speak English, it’s not a guarantee. Speaking some Russian, or having a Russian-speaking friend with you, would definitely help.

6. Despite the political tensions between the west, and Crimea, I’ve never encountered, or heard of any problems encountered by western visitors because of where they come from. On the contrary, Crimeans are more than likely to roll out the red carpet for a western visitor. Most tourists there are from Russia, and actually many have come to Crimea for the first time. In my experience, you’ll also find them of a friendly disposure towards you!

7. Despite what governments etc try to insinuate, you are not breaking any laws by visiting Crimea, with the exception of Ukrainian law. So if you go to Crimea, and post selfies from there etc, then you may have some issues if you try to visit Ukraine, but, that’s all. You’ll have no stamp in your passport other than a Russian one. You’ve broken no laws, apart from ‘Ukrainian laws’, whatever they are these days.

Graham Crimea reportage8. Prices in Crimea are pretty much what they are on mainland Russia. For a UK visitor, you’ll get around 70-75 roubles to the pound now, down from a year ago, but it still makes Crimea a comparatively inexpensive tourist destination. A beer by the beach for £1.50, sit-down lunch in a seaview restaurant for less than £5 all do-able, even in Yalta at peak season. There are pricier ‘tourist traps’, and that goes back to the above, that it’s better to know some Russian!

9. If you’re driving, you’ll see a massive ‘road rehabilitation’ project going on (and there’s actually infrastructure being upgraded everywhere), but it’s not reached everywhere yet, so on some roads, get ready for a bumpy ride. If you drive there in summer, you could be in line for a few hours wait for the 25-minute ferry crossing. And in Crimea itself, particularly Yalta, traffic can be heavy at peak times.

Crimea in general, some of it is ‘Russian standard’ – ie what you’d find in Russia, infrastructure etc to a high level. Quite a lot is still ‘Ukrainian standard’, no offence, but you get the idea. This ferry video, btw, in Russian, but again, sure you’ll get the idea –

10. There really is an incredible amount of things to do in Crimea. You can have a beach holiday in Yalta, Koktobel or if you want a sandy beach, Evpatoria. There are vineyards, safari parks, palaces, mountains, festivals, epic open-air museums, bike shows, concerts, there’s the black sea fleet of Sevastopol, always something happening by the waterfront or in the square there, Yalta is absolutely buzzing, Balaklava is mind-blowingly beautiful, Taigan is the best safari park you could ever visit… where to base Graham Crimeayourself will be your decision. Simferopol itself is an appealing city, and although it’s not by the sea itself, or especially tourist-orientated, it’s a mid-point between a lot of places which are.

The most popular places to stay are Sevastopol, and Yalta, but if you want to stay in a number of places, you can find hotels, or apartments anywhere in Crimea – Alustha, Feodosiya, Kerch, Sudak, Koktobel, and more, and you’ll find something to do everywhere in Crimea. So, if you were thinking of going for a week, I’d recommend two, and even then you are just getting started. Not to sound like the Holiday show, but that’s exactly as it is.

And why should you believe me? Because I’ve got no angle here other than to tell you the truth of how things are. And I’ve spent a lot of time there. As for the rest, be sure that most all of what you read about Crimea in the west is by those who haven’t even been there – and certainly do have an angle –

But, if they want to visit, let them follow this advice, and I wish you all a great time! Graham

Shelling, and Battle, Escalate in the DPR

I arrived back in Donbass before Victory Day, and for a few days things were relatively quiet. However, there’s been an escalation in recent days. The day before yesterday, I was near Ukraine-held Mariupol, the DPR village of Kominternovo, and here was the scene –

As you can hear, active shelling, and battle going on – 

Shelling had hit, and destroyed a home, and a 26-year-old woman had sustained this injury – 

Meanwhile, perhaps the most active zone of conflict has become around the industrial area, (known as Promzone, from the Russian), just a few kilometres to the north of Donetsk, near Yasinovate, held by DPR, and Avdeevka, held by Ukraine.

Here’s a new video of ongoing battle there, spoken in Russian, but shelling is in universal language –

And that is the current situation in Donbass, as is.

Alexander Khodakovsky on Donbass – No Offence, But Do Not Believe a Word of It

As I went to write this, some on Twitter starting sending me the latest video from Khodakovsky, in which he, represented as a ‘Donbass commander’ claims that Ukraine would have long taken over were it not for ‘100,000 Russian soldiers’.  Add a ‘sigh’ emoji to that, and let’s get on…. 

There’s few things that the western, and Ukrainian of course, media love more than someone on the DPR / LPR side ‘speaking out of turn’. The war’s been 3 years now, and enough former leaders, and prominent figures have left the DLPR for various reasons, gone to Moscow with their various grievances, and been more than happy to sit in studios there and launch missives against the DLPR, notably former DPR commander Rebel commander Alexander Khodakovsky of the Vostok Battalion speaks during an interview with Reuters in Donetsk, eastern UkraineIgor Strelkov. Of course, what they’re actually doing is looking to stick the knife into those who wronged them, the reason they’re not there any longer.

But actually you’d really be hard pressed to find a figure who has given more headlines to western media than Alexander Khodakovsky, (pictured), founder of the Vostok Battalion, and actually still in Donbass himself – have a look –

Ukraine’s Eastern Separatist Leaders Turn on Each Other

Moscow is bankrolling Ukraine rebels: ex-separatist official

Exclusive: Ukraine rebel commander acknowledges fighters had BUK missile

And actually, this is just the tip of the iceberg, in as much as what makes it into maintstream western media. On his VKontake account, Khodakovsky keeps up a stream Rebel commander Alexander Khodakovsky of the so-called Vostok battalion - or eastern battalion - speaks during an interview in Donetskof posts detailing ‘heavy losses’ among DPR fighters, in his words, how ‘everything is terrible’ in the DPR command’, Moscow is controlling everything, and more – much of which makes it into Ukrainian, and Russian opposition media. However, here are 5 simple reasons why, as per the above, you shouldn’t believe any of it – 

1. Khodakovsky, in contrast to how he is conveniently described in the media, does not have any position in the DPR, he is not a ‘commander’ of anything at all, and hasn’t been since his Vostok Battalion were incorporated into the regular DPR army, in the latter stages of 2015.

2. Khodakovsky feuded with Strelkov for control of the DPR in 2014, and wanted to be succeed Borodai as leader of the DPR in October 2014, however Alexander Zakharchenko got the position, and since then Khodakovsky has pursued a campaign against KhodokovskyZakharchenko, and de facto, the DPR he heads.

3. Who is Khodakovsky actually working for? He has close ties with Donetsk billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, from Donetsk and known to be angry at the recent nationalisation of his businesses there, by the DPR.

4. Add to that, that Khodakovsky was once a senior member of Ukraine’s SBU Security Service, and talk lingers of ongoing connections.

Yet, this isn’t a personal attack against Khodakovsky, who I believe I even met some time in 2014, and who was perfectly civil with me. I have no personal issue with him, and I know a lot of men in Donbass who are still loyal to Vostok, and to him. And perhaps 3, and 4 can be explained, perhaps the Donetsk-native really does want the best for the DPR, as he claims, writes what he writes because of the ‘greater good’ etc. Yet, to reason 5, as to why what he writes, and says cannot be taken as anything more than comment, hearsay, or speculation.

5. Khodakovsky never provides any evidence of his claims. It’s all bare words. And they, particularly recently, are all from the same agenda – against the DPR authorities, Khodakovsky 1claiming ‘everything is terrible‘, etc. Khodakovsky makes no effort to correct the common misconception that he’s a ‘commander’ etc, rather he plays up to it. Where he’s writing this from? Seemingly, his home, apprently in Donetsk. And if he can’t, within his own sphere, find enough negative information, he’ll just assume the worst and write it anyway, as even he admits –

“I do not have the information about the losses in the other units, but I can guess that they are considerable too…

So, that’s that. Khodakovsky is a lot of things to a lot of people. But, with due respect to the man, and sad to say even about a man who made so many noises at the start about wanting to do the right thing etc, just do not believe a word he says about Donbass. 

Integration of the Donetsk, and Lugansk People’s Republics, with Russia

It’s been one of the big, if not the big question since the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics inception – what are their futures, and more specifically, their futures with Russia. Does Russia even want them, after all, officially, Russian doesn’t even recognise the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics.

In this last week, was the clearest sign yet, that the futures of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republic, and Russia, are intertwined. I went along with Patrick Lancaster to film that, here in Donetsk. Here, Patrick’s video, with English subtitles –

Zakharchenko states that the Donetsk, and Lugansk People’s Republics have been integrating into Russia, the motherland, for 3 years already, and can only exist because of Russia’s help, and they see their futures together with Russia, the homeland.

The event was the first Donbass meeting (2nd in total) of the recently formed ‘Donbass-Russia’ integration committee, which came about in Crimea after the March visit there.

Playing a key role, Crimea politician, now in Russia’s State Duma, Andrey Kozenko (interviewed above, pictured here), who said at the time of formation –

lt’s no secret that Russia gives a lot of support to our fraternal republics. It is absolutely obvious that there is a need for public coordination of the numerous sustainable humanitarian ties between Donbas and Russia. To carry out this work, we are creating a permanent integration committee “Russia – Donbass”.”

The meeting in Donbass began with the official reception, above, then a day of round tables, about how to take integration forward. And it is indeed, that integration of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, and Russia, moves forward.

In Memory of Militsa Rakich – 3-Year Old Victim of NATO Bombing

Recently, as you may know, I spent 3 weeks in Serbia filming reportage. Most of that is as-yet unreleased, and will be to come. There will be a series of reportage on NATO’s campaign against Serbia, then Yugoslovia, in 1999, in which over 2000 civilians, including 88 children, were killed, by NATO bombing. 

Before leaving Serbia, I went to pay respects at the grave of Militsa Rakich, a 3-year-old girl, killed in her own home, by Belgrade, when NATO dropped a (forbidden) cluster bomb, on April 17th, 1999.

There will be documentary reportage to come on Militsa, actually the first interview with her father for many years.

RIP.

Kosovo – Western-Approved Separatism, DPR and LPR – Non-Approved…

It was a week in which the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics both pulled off huge victory days, huge concerts on their republic days, mass crowds, and all without a hitch. Here, the concert in Donetsk for DPR Republic Day –

So, you might have thought that these republics managing that despite both still being on a war footing, with the Donetsk area in particular still under regular Ukrainian shelling, may have managed a word of two of appreciation of their achievements?

Well, of course, not a bit of it. All the western press did was either ignore the celebrations – the largest yet in the republics, formed after Ukraine’s Euromaidan placed an unelected, far-right government in power in 2014 – or go negative, focusing on the military vehicles on display and how that supposedly represented a breach of the Minsk agreement.

It may almost give one the idea that the west, and western media don’t like ‘separatism’. Yet, that’s clearly not the case. In 1999, western governments, here the UK’s Tony Blair, used a civil war in the Kosovo region of Serbia, as an excuse to launch a NATO attack on all Serbia, and create Kosovo as an independent state, for Kosovo Albanians.

The history of Kosovo is long, complicated, bloody, and interpretations differ vastly, However, as a part of Serbia, it has both a deep-rooted and symbolic significance to the country, with Serbian Orthodox monasteries there dating back to the 12th century. As for the civil war, which NATO used as cause to intervene there in 1999, to brutal effect, there were wrongs being committed there by both sides.

Yet, NATO stepped in against the military of a sovereign state, Yugoslavia, at that time, and on the side of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, an organisation the USA themselves declared a terrorist organisation, after a series of terrorist attacks, in 1998, noting further “We would be remiss to dismiss allegations that between 30 and 50 percent of the KLA’s money comes from drugs.”

What happened after, is widely known, NATO launched an attack against Serbia which, while it may have started by targeting military objects, soon started targeting civilian areas, to deadly result – over 2000 civilians killed, including 88 children. And Kosovo was created as a state separate from Serbia.

Now, although Kosovo is only a partially-recognised state, 111 of 193 UN members, it’s one the western media actively, enthusiastically endorses. Just have a look at some of the headlines –

Kosovo: what to see in Europe’s newest country – Telegraph

How Kosovo is producing the best female pop stars

Rita Ora’s new music to pay tribute to her native Kosovo – Mirror Online

The Guardian writes promo-articles about Kosovo.

And Rita Ora, UK pop star who was born there, but left when she was one so clearly doesn’t remember it for herself, releases an epic, pumped-up, dream-espousing song in Kosovo’s honour, given mass PR across the western media

So, it’s clear, the west can, and does, support separatism, but only its own separatism. Sadly for the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics, still under attack by Ukraine’s west-backed forces, their separatism wasn’t west-endorsed, so no sexy videos, fairytale headlines, just constant shelling by Ukrainian forces, and attacks by western media.

Kosovo Politician Threatens to Take 1/3 of Serbia, Meanwhile US Sends More Troops to Kosovo

Ramush Haradinaj, leader of the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovosays Serbia should “delete Kosovo from the Constitution”, otherwise Kosovo will “reciprocally add one third of the Serb land to its map.”

Serbia maintains Kosovo in its national constitution, as it does not recognise the state created after the 78-day NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, then Yugoslavia, of 1999, of which the creation of Kosovo was the result. Kosovo is only recognised by 111 of 193 UN member states. 

NATO, and the US Army maintain a massive military presence in Kosovo, notably Camp Bondsteel – pictured.

Meanwhile, the US is preparing to send another 130 soldiers to Kosovo.About 130 soldiers of the Tupelo-based 1st Battalion, 185th Aviation Regiment are deploying for about 10 months in support of Operation Joint Guardian.

Officials say the troops will travel to Fort Hood, Texas on Sunday for eventual service in Kosovo. While there, the unit will complete required post mobilization training for duty in Kosovo….”