Farewell Crimea — Ukrainian hol­i­day­mak­ers flock to Odessa

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY OLGA NEDBAEVA

Irina Chapravska has just snapped up the last room of a lux­ury ho­tel that costs 300 eu­ros ( US$ 335) a night and of­fers a panoramic view of Ukraine’s serene Black Sea coast­line.

But this is not Crimea, whose peb­ble beaches have long been a fa­vored sum­mer des­ti­na­tion for mil­lions across the for­mer Soviet Union — un­til, that is, Rus­sia con­tro­ver­sially seized the penin­sula from Ukraine last year.

The se­nior com­pany man­ager and swarms of tourists around her are loung­ing in­stead in the his­toric port of Odessa, 150 kilo­me­ters ( 93 miles) to the west.

“There is no more Crimea. So here I am in Odessa in­stead,” Chapravska said from be­hind a huge pair of sun­glasses by a shim­mer­ing rooftop pool.

She and her nine- year- old son first caught the rays in Cyprus and Italy’s is­land of Sar­dinia be­fore head­ing to Ukraine’s big­gest port, a cul­tur­ally di­verse and thriv­ing mecca. Most of New York’s ex- Soviet Jewish di­as­pora came from this city, which lat­terly has drawn younger gen­er­a­tions seek­ing out its rather wild nightlife.

But nei­ther Odessa nor other note­wor­thy des­ti­na­tions far­ther west — from the an­cient cul­tural cap­i­tal Lviv to Ukraine’s patch of the Carpathian Moun­tains — have ever wit­nessed an in­flux of revel­ers sim­i­lar to the one test­ing their creaky in­fra­struc­ture to­day.

Soviet- era board­ing houses and ba­sic flats are be­ing rented out at daily rates ap­proach­ing a third of Ukraini­ans’ av­er­age monthly in­comes.

But Kon­stantin — an in­vest­ment banker who prefers to keep his last name pri­vate and like many Ukraini­ans faces ob­sta­cles ob­tain­ing quick travel visas to EU states — seemed to care less about the price than he did about head­ing to Ukraine’s latest hotspot.

“We are young. We want to eat out and go clubbing,” he said while splash­ing around in the ho­tel pool with his son. “Odessa has ev­ery­thing you need.”

‘ Tourism boom’

Not all an­a­lysts agree. The cost of rooms have tripled in some places from last year. Yet the roads re­main just as pot­holed and ser­vice can at times re­call the surli­est days of com­mu­nism — an era when smiles were at a pre­mium and group dis­ci­pline took prece­dence over per­sonal pref­er­ence.

“You can prob­a­bly de­scribe what is hap­pen­ing as a tourism boom,” said As­so­ci­a­tion of Ukrainian Tour Op­er­a­tors Pres­i­dent Igor Gol­ubakha.

But he quickly added that the do­mes­tic in­dus­try was grow­ing be­cause those who no longer viewed Crimea as an op­tion were try­ing to save money and avoid go­ing abroad.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the Ukrainian econ­omy is not send­ing out the right sig­nals and peo­ple are wor­ried about the changes ahead.”

Ukraine’s 16- month sep­a­ratist cri­sis in the coun­try’s east bor­der­ing Rus­sia has par­a­lyzed in­dus­try and is likely to see the econ­omy shrink by nearly 10 per­cent this year.

The hryv­nia cur­rency has lost about 65 per­cent of its value against the U.S. dol­lar since the war started — a drop that has put even the rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive re­sorts of Tur­key, just across the Black Sea, out of reach.

Mirabo travel agency owner Svit­lana Matviy­chuk said the num­ber of tourists go­ing to for­eign des­ti­na­tions “is down at least 50 per­cent” since the war’s start.

“We have seen a clear tough­en­ing of the EU visa regime,” she added. “This has also had its ef­fect.”

Crimean Strug­gles

But Odessa’s gain is a loss for vast num­bers of Crimeans who built their lives around selling ice cream and rent­ing rooms to va­ca­tion­ers from Ukraine’s main­land and var­i­ous parts of Rus­sia.

The re­gion is now only ac­ces­si­ble to Rus­sians by air and a ferry ser­vice woe­fully ill- pre­pared to han­dle the hun­dreds of thou­sands who might have trav­eled by train — a ser­vice cut by Ukraine at the end of last year.

Crimea’s deputy premier Rus­lan Bal­bek said the re­sort was pre­par­ing to welcome 3 mil­lion guests this sum­mer. But in­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts put the fig­ure closer to 2 mil­lion — less than half that seen when the re­gion was still part of Ukraine.

And much of Ukraine’s own tourism in­dus­try is try­ing to turn the change of luck into a per­ma­nent habit for fam­i­lies look­ing at their sum­mer op­tions.

Odessa’s Nemo Dol­phi­nar­ium —a glass- plated round build­ing that now also of­fers fit­ness classes and even birth­day pack­age deals — has never been more packed with awed kids and their de­lighted par­ents.

“We have more and more tourists from all over Ukraine be­cause of the ( eco­nomic) sit­u­a­tion,” said Nemo spokes­woman Olga Polyakova.

The ho­tels in cities like Lviv and Odessa are also do­ing their best to at­tract bet­ter spend­ing fam­i­lies and not just the rel­a­tively thrifty young.

Many now of­fer spe­cial course in­struc­tors and cheer­ful tour group lead­ers as well as nan­nies that can free up par­ents to en­joy time on their own.

“The air is fresh, the food is good, and there are mas­sages and a pool,” cooed south­ern Kher­son re­gion na­tive Maria Ostapenko.

“The par­ents are happy,” the Nemo’s spokes­woman Polyakova agreed.

AFP

A pic­ture taken on Wed­nes­day, Aug. 19 shows a view of one of the new­est ho­tels built in the south­ern Ukrainian city of Odessa.

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