National Geographic’s pre-coup view of The Crimea: “Russia’s Paradise Lost”

"Krushchev had cockroaches in his head"

Screen capture from Nat Geo slideshow on Crimea
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Crimea, 2011, “Russia’s Paradise Lost”


The National Geographic Magazine featured Crimea in its April, 2011 issue. The article can be seen here, though to read the whole thing, you have to enter your email address and agree to get promotions from the magazine.

The headline on the first page of text: “The Past is never past in Sevastopol.”

On that first page, we find a 70-year-old grandmother saying “Sevastopol is a Russian city, and we will never put up with the fact that Ukraine is in charge.”

The story of Krushchev’s transfer is also related in the voice of a native:

Physically, politically, Crimea is Ukraine; mentally and emotionally, it identifies with Russia and provides, a journalist wrote, “a unique opportunity for Ukrainians to feel like strangers on their own territory.” Crimea speaks to the persistence of memory—how the past lingers and subverts.

In 1954 Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, signed Crimea over to Ukraine as a gesture of goodwill. Galina was 14 at the time.

“Illegal,” she said, when asked about the hand­over. “There was no referendum. No announcement. It just happened.”

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What was Khrushchev thinking?

“He wasn’t,” she snapped. “Khrushchev had roaches in his head.”

The writer asks this same person “Do you miss the Soviet Union?”

“… she reminisced about the stability of life under the Soviets. Prices were artificially low. “You could get a kilo of sugar for 78 kopeks,” she said. “Butter, only 60! Now, I don’t even buy it.” Education and medical care were free. As for a vacation: “I could go to a resort”—now completely out of the question on her monthly pension of $130.

“Yes, we have a longing for the Soviet Union,” she said. “But it cannot come back, no matter how much we wish. We can only toskavat.”

Toskavat, verb, to long for. Toska, noun, a longing, darker than nostalgia, verging on depression.

And there is this about the language:

Crimea also sounds Russian. Ukrainian may be the official language, but Russian is the lingua franca, even in city hall. Of 60 secondary schools in Sevastopol, only one holds classes completely in Ukrainian.

We also learn from the article that Russia’s lease came up in 2017, and the Yanukovych government renewed it for 25 years. A 30% price cut on gas and oil sweetened the deal for Ukraine.

I expect they miss it!

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