Putin's war forces Russians to abandon popular vacation spot CNN (2023)

Putin's war forces Russians to abandon popular vacation spot CNN (1)

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Russian tourists have been holidaying there for over nine yearscreamThey don't have to think twice because their country is at war with Ukraine, or their deck chairs are parked in occupied territory.

But in light of Kiev's counteroffensive, Ukraine's southern peninsula is no longer the safe haven holidaymakers have become accustomed to since it was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Crimea has seen a spate of attacks in recent weeks, including a naval attack by Ukrainian special forces on Thursday and a series of drone strikes on Friday.bridgeThe region connecting Crimea and Russia, as well as southern Ukraine under Russian control, has been attacked repeatedly in recent months.

Ukraine claimed responsibility for some of these attacks, and Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov warned that attacks would continue.

The attacks forced Russian tourists to rethink their plans. Svetlana, a Russian who worked as a manager at a travel agency in Crimea, told CNN that the security situation has dried up her work.

Svetlana asked to keep her surname confidential because she feared repercussions for speaking to Western media. In early summer, she left Crimea and moved to St. Petersburg, Russia.

"I went back there recently and hoped it would end as soon as possible and that they would agree on something to end the conflict. But I stayed for four months and realized it wasn't going to end anytime soon," she told CNN .

"Tourism is completely gone. Last year there was less tourism, this year it's completely gone. Last year tourists canceled bookings when it all started, and this year they didn't even book," she said.

Putin's war forces Russians to abandon popular vacation spot CNN (2)

A family in Moscow takes a boat trip in the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea on June 20, 2023.

Crimea is economically dependent on tourism, which is why local authorities established by Russia have continued to encourage tourists to come despite the attacks. The Crimean Ministry of Resorts and Tourism opened a new hotline for Russian tourists this summer and said it was working with hotels to ensure tourists who were late or departing for security reasons did not face extra fees or cancel their reservations.

Ukrainian military personnel fire a small multiple missile system at Russian troops near the front line in Ukraine's Zaporizhia region during a Russian attack on Ukraine, August 19, 2023. REUTERS/Vyacheslav Ratynsky Vyacheslav Ratynskyj/Reuters Ukrainian troops appear to be widening gaps in Russian defenses on the southern front

Tour operators and hotels are also offering heavily discounted trips and free perks to attract more tourists. Hotel prices in Crimea this summer will be 30% lower than in 2022 due to falling demand, the Russian Tourism Association said.

But the discount is useless. The Russian government said the average booking rate for August was 40%, meaning most hotel rooms remained empty this summer.

Svetlana said most people still on holiday in Crimea book low-budget holidays, either camping or staying in the cheapest hotels or private accommodation. People who can afford to stay at fancier resorts are looking for other, safer destinations.

She told CNN she was not having a good time in Crimea. “I was tired of the constant fighter jets overhead, the constant army in town, the wounded, the poor running away with terrified eyes, and the military equipment that nearly crushed me a few times,” she recalls. An infantry fighting vehicle nearly collided with her vehicle.

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Crimea has long been popular with Russian tourists, many of whom remember holidaying there during Soviet times. But after Moscow was annexed in 2014, the number of tourists to the peninsula skyrocketed.

While 5 million people arrived in Crimea in 2015, its first full year under Russian control, that number will rise to 9.4 million by 2021, according to the Russia-appointed Crimea Tourism Ministry people.

Svetlana still vividly remembers the record-setting season. "Profits are higher this year than in the past 10 years. During the pandemic, people stayed at home and then flocked to Crimea as everything opened up," she said.

Ukraine says the influx of Russian citizens is not limited to tourism. Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in March that 800,000 Russians had permanently moved to Crimea since it was annexed.

Putin's war forces Russians to abandon popular vacation spot CNN (4)

People relax on the Black Sea beach in Yalta, Crimea on June 19, 2023.

Money flows into the peninsula from tourism and from the Russian government, which has poured money into Crimea's infrastructure.

The most significant of these investments is the $3.7 billion Kerch Highway Bridge, Europe's longest bridge and Putin's favorite project. The opening in 2018 was hailed as a physical "reunion" of Crimea with mainland Russia.

The 19-kilometer (nearly 12-mile) bridge makes it easier for Russian tourists to travel to Crimea at a time when things have become more expensive elsewhere in the world. After Russia was annexed, many Western countries imposed economic sanctions on Russia, and the ruble depreciated sharply.

After Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, several countries closed their doors to Russian tourists. The European Union has suspended its visa facilitation agreement with Russia, making it more difficult for Russians to apply for EU visas. Russian travel to European countries fell by 88% in the first half of the year, according to the Association of Russian Tour Operators (ATOR). Compared with the first half of 2019, the most recent year was not impacted by travel bans or pandemic restrictions. There are no direct flights between Russia and the EU.

Crimea has suddenly become one of the few sunny and beach destinations that Russian tourists can visit without breaking the bank.

"People come to Crimea because Europe is closed and prices in Turkey are very expensive right now. Where else can we go to rest? Sochi [a resort town in Russia] is very crowded and prices are crazy. We have nowhere Go, so people go to Crimea," Svetlana told CNN.

On July 17, 2023, the Crimea Bridge of Crimea connects mainland Russia and the Strait of Kerch, Crimea. Reuters/Stringer TPX Photo of the day

But the strategic and symbolic significance of the Kerch Bridge makes it an attractive target for Ukrainians.

The first strikes took place last October when a massive explosion severely restricted road and rail traffic on the bridge. While Kiev did not comment on the incident at the time, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) admitted in June that it was behind the attack.

There was another serious attack last monthAn experimental Ukrainian maritime drone severely damaged the bridge's lanes, killing two civilians, according to Russian officials.

The attack was horrific enough to scare away many Russian tourists still planning to come. Vladimir Konstantinov, the Russian-appointed head of the Republic of Crimea's State Council, said 10 percent of holiday bookings in Crimea were canceled in the next few days.

Hotel bookings in the second half of July were down 45% from the first half, according to ATOR.

Security has been stepped up on the bridge since the attack, and ATOR reported last month that the bridge occasionally experienced traffic jams for up to eight miles.

Authorities urged tourists to avoid the bridge and instead travel across occupied Ukraine. The route, about 800 kilometers long, passes through many war-affected areas, including Mariupol, which was nearly leveled by Russian bombing last spring.

The guide provided directions for tourists wishing to travel to Crimea via the occupied territories, "with military and police checkpoints along the way," adding that the time to pass through each checkpoint "does not exceed 10 minutes per vehicle." . The guide recommends carrying cash and downloading all maps in advance so you can access them even without internet.

Putin's war forces Russians to abandon popular vacation spot CNN (6)

In June, an explosion occurred near the Kerch Bridge linking occupied Crimea to Russia.

The security situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon.

Kiev's armed forces have ramped up their attacks for nearly two months, attacking both the peninsula and UkraineshipSailed several times around Ukrainian territorial waters. The Crimean port city of Sevastopol is an important naval base for Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

The Ukrainian military said at least 30 Russians were killed in the latest operation on the peninsula on Thursday morning.

Ukraine has used air and sea drones to attack ammunition depots, oil storage sites and other structures. Defense Secretary Reznikov said in an interview with CNN last month: "All of these goals are official goals because they will degrade (and help save) the ability of Ukrainians to fight us."

Asked whether Ukraine's goal was to permanently disable the bridge, Reznikov replied, "It's normal to disrupt the enemy's logistical lines and close off the option to get more ammunition, more fuel and more food." Strategy."

'We can't imagine Ukraine without Crimea'

More than 50,000 people have fled Crimea for other parts of Ukraine after it was annexed, according to the Ukrainian government. However, NGOs in Crimea believe that the number of refugees could double because not all are officially registered with the government.

Before the annexation, about 2.5 million people lived in Crimea.

The belongings of many people who left the country were confiscated by Russian authorities and auctioned off. According to the authorities, the proceeds go to the Russian Armed Forces. Vladimir Konstantinov, the Russian-appointed head of the Republic of Crimea's State Council, said vacation homes of Ukrainians living elsewhere, including in Yalta, were owned by President Volodymyr Zelensky himself. An apartment that has been nationalized by Russia.

Viktor was dressed in combat uniform with Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags plastered on his arm. Andrew Carey/CNN A soldier's hidden identity reveals turbulent history of Crimean Tatars

Svetlana told CNN that some of the assets confiscated by Russian authorities had been passed on to Russian citizens and people who came to Crimea from Russian-controlled territories in southern Ukraine.

Those who remained loyal to Kiev were ruled by a brutal regime. Human rights groups have documented cases of activists, politicians, public figures and local residents being abducted and detained by pro-Russian authorities.

The remaining Ukrainian citizens were forced to apply for Russian citizenship. Those who refused were prosecuted, according to the Crimean human rights group.

CNN interviewed a Ukrainian resident of Crimea who confirmed the climate of terror. Fearing for her safety, the person asked that her identity be kept secret and that no citations be made public.

Ukrainian officials, including Zelensky, have repeatedly said the war will not end until Crimea is back under Ukrainian control.

Before its annexation, Crimea was home to about 5 percent of Ukraine's population and generated nearly 4 percent of Ukraine's gross domestic product. "We can't imagine Ukraine without Crimea. Although Crimea is under Russian occupation, it only means one thing: the war is not over," Zelensky told CNN last month said during the interview.


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