On the night train from Kiev to Simferopol I share a compartment with Volodymyr Prytula, a Crimean journalist. Called “Vova” by his friends, this slender man with a Zhivagoesque mustache is my sole contact in the Crimea. He speaks little English, I no Ukrainian or Russian, but we communicate with the help of Ukrainian red wine. I have read his articles in English in Uncaptive Minds, a journal of information about Eastern Europe. Besides being a freelance journalist, Vova heads up the Crimean branch of the Ukrainian Independent Center of Political Research. He helps monitor all the trouble in the Crimea, and there’s plenty of that.

Ukrainian folk songs are played over the train sound system. Lots of accordions. Before total darkness sets in, I can see food plots being tended by old people: corn, squash, sunflowers, leafy greens. Later when the train stops at a station, we get out and see what the people are selling. Vova buys us each an ear of boiled corn on the cob. We agree it is tough. Then I spy boiled crawfish! This I never expected in the middle of the Ukraine. Because I used to enjoy them in Louisiana, I buy just one for the taste. It is good, but not spicy like the Cajuns would do them. I see fish that have been smoked on coat hangers, and we buy a small bag of pale colored apples. I am struck by the vendors, everyone hustling, poor, but valiant. One old woman stops her selling long enough to bind up her crippled leg.

Vova turns in, but I have trouble sleeping. I get dressed and get out of the train every time it stops. Once we wait for 20 minutes in Shevchenko, a city named after Ukraine’s great hero and poet. On the platform I talk in English to the mayor of Krasnoperekopsk, Sergei Kunitsyn. His city is located in northwestern Crimea. He too served in the Afghanistan War. The mayor runs the North Crimean Experimental Economic Zone where that strange animal, private enterprise, is being tried. The mayor tells me he has been to the Brookings Institute. Back in the car I notice that the woman who should tend the samovar has passed out from liquor.

At morning light, the train rumbles along a narrow corridor with salt bays on each side. Many people are fishing, some in small black inflatable boats. I get the impression that the fishing is not just for sport. Finally, at Dzhankoy, the mayor leaves us, transferring to the train for Krasnoperekopsk.

We are met in Simferopol by Vova’s beautiful girlfriend, Ireni, and his friend Lyonya who has a short, scraggly beard, looks about 50, and has his own radio show. After lunch Lyonya drives me to the Hotel Moscow. On the way he tells me he was a submarine captain for a Russian research vessel. He jokes about our route to the hotel; “Now we are on Karl Marx Street,” “Now Lenin Square.”

The Hotel Moscow is a dilapidated Intourist establishment. Drop-in clients are still unusual. The surly desk clerk is typical of those in nearly all Intourist hotels I have ever stayed in. Through Lyonya she tells me severely that if I stay longer than this day, I must reserve the room in advance. As I was to discover, the hotel was nearly empty the whole time I was there. As I leave the desk, she says, “The hot water is off because it is being worked on.” It didn’t work for the next three weeks and almost certainly it had not worked for weeks before I came.

Vova and Ireni had arranged for a young woman to be mv interpreter, and she was to arrange a trip by bus to Yalta. We went to the central station where her mother showed up. The mother was formerly a physicist (as was the father who at one time had taught in Cuba). It soon became apparent that she was semi-hysterical about her only child going off with a stranger and proceeded to rent a car for me. It came with a drunken Russian passenger who carried on a brisk conversation with the mother. Later the young interpreter explained that the man said his girlfriend in Moscow had refused him and so he was on his way to Yalta to find a woman. Why the mother thought her daughter would be better off in this circumstance beats me. Before our driver made it out of the parking lot, the mother had stopped us twice to hug her daughter before she left on her desperate journey to Yalta with the American.

Off we went on our merry way, the Russian drinking from his liter of warm beer. Sometimes the interpreter would not tell me what he said, apparently because it was too crude. Once in a while he would say to me, “Excuse me,” this being his only English. At a mountain pass where there is a military checkpoint the Russian announced he had to relieve himself and got out while the driver was yelling, “No, no Alexis!” I assumed he was going behind some bushes, but in front of the armed border guards he desecrates the side of the mountain. I am becoming uneasy.

We make it to Yalta and stop at Chekhov’s villa, now a museum. The small grounds had some large trees, and the villa was modest. Chekhov had built the place in 1898, coming here because of his tuberculosis which he had had since his mid-20’s. He was to live only six more years. Russians have come to the Black Sea coast since they annexed the Crimea in 1783. It is a warm place, which is at a premium. There are hundreds of sanitoriums in the Crimea built by the Soviets.

We finally lost the Russian at Count Vorontsov’s Palace in Alupka. The count built it in the 1830’s in a style some call Moorish-Tudor. At the time he was living in Odessa as Governor General of Southern Russia with his wife Countess Eliza. It was there and then that the Countess had her way with Pushkin. Their affair got Pushkin sent off to the boondocks. In the 1840’s, Vorontsov was appointed Viceroy and Commander-in- Chief of the Caucasus by Tsar Nicolas and at the Tsar’s insistence was directed to resume “pacifying” Chechnya and Daghestan. The Russians set about killing Chechens and the Chechens returned the favor. Does this sound familiar? As I write, some 150 years later, the Chechens are holding Russian hostages in Daghestan (subsequently massacred) and other Chechen sympathizers have taken over a ship out of Trabzon with Russian hostages.

After visiting the very fine botanical garden at Alushta, which was also created by Vorontsov initiative, we take the bus back at dark to Simferopol The next day a tearful mother calls Vova and says her daughter can no longer act as interpreter. The mother is terrified that the criminal gangs will knock off her daughter after dark, much less the American. Her fears are not entirely groundless. A well-off businessman who was their friend had been murdered within the year.

The fact is the situation in the Crimea is tumultuous. In 1954 Khrushchev gave the Crimea to the Ukraine to celebrate a long history of Ukrainian-Russian relations. While there was a Soviet Union, this did not change much. After all, Russia does not share any land border with the Crimea. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, being part of the Ukraine did matter. Communist nomenclatura and military men have retired to the Crimea in such numbers that Russians are 68 percent of the population. But they are no longer in the Soviet Union and do not want to be part of the Ukraine.

After the Ukraine declared its independence, the idea of Crimean separatism heated up, and in the 1994 elections the Russian bloc headed by Yuri Meshkov scored a victory. There had been a pre-election promise to hold a referendum on reunification with Russia, but attempts to move in this direction were persistently thwarted by the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev. After insisting that the Crimean Constitution conform to the Ukrainian Constitution, and after this failed to be carried out by Meshkov forces, the office of the Crimean president was abolished, and the Crimean government was placed under the Ukrainian ministers in Kiev.

All of this means that disorder often reigns. In the meantime, the power vacuum is being filled by criminal gangs that often work hand in glove with old communist politicians. There is a Crimean or Russian saying that roughly translated means, “A wealthy man is his own death warrant.” It is well known that assassinations of businessmen in Moscow are rampant. Likewise in the Crimea. Thus, the fear of my interpreter’s mother about her daughter’s welfare.

The next day Vova arranged for me to accompany Lyonya and United Nations personnel as they visited various refugee settlements around Simferopol. He also arranged for another interpreter, Helen Krylova, a university student. As I was ultimately to discover, she should be wearing one of those shirts with “No Fear” on it.

We were accompanied by a Tartar representative, but initially we visited an Armenian settlement and then a Greek one. These families had been forced under one circumstance or another from their Crimean homes, many of them being relocated to Central Asia. One of the Armenians we talked to, for example, had come from Tashkent. The Armenians and Greeks had been small minorities in the Crimea. Almost none of the houses were complete, even if lived in. Before our little party left the small Greek enclave, the Tartar representative was in a heated argument with one of the Greeks. Apparently the Greek had mentioned some help he had received from the Crimean authorities, and the Tartar was griping vociferously that the government was not helping his people.

We finally made our way out of town to a rather large Tartar settlement. At this point, it is necessary to review some Crimean history. Mongols, misnamed Tartars, have been in what is now Russia at least since the end of the 13th century. A part of the Golden Horde eventually settled in the Crimea in the 15th century and was ruled by the Crimean Tartar khanate. Khanate rule lasted until Russia annexed the territory in 1783. As Russians moved in, slowly the Tartar percentage of the population declined, and by the 20th century they were a minority. Massacre by the Bolsheviks and famines reduced them to 25 percent by 1923. And then the worst. Accused by Stalin of mass collaboration with the Nazis who briefly controlled the Crimea, the entire population of 250,000 was deported overnight. Most were sent to Uzbekistan and others to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Roughly half of them died en route or within the first few months. Although Khrushchev denounced the deportation in 1956, the Tartars were permanently forbidden to return to the Crimea, and so it remained until 1991 when many, around 250,000, returned.

In the settlement we visited, there were about 60 houses in various states of completion. Cut stone was used, though some of them had only mud and straw bricks. Some lived in tents near where they were working. An old man told us there was one water tap for all 60 families. When I asked him what he was cooking on his one burner stove he stuck out his chest proudly and said “Crimean borscht.” It looked to be nearly all cabbage.

The next day was spent in the town of Bakhchisaray, which was the old capital of the khanate. The palace, built in the 16th century, destroyed by the Russians in 1735, and rebuilt beginning in 1738, was well worth the trip alone. The minarets are visible at some distance, then once inside the outer walls, the space becomes much more intimate. Inside we were accompanied by Ebubekirov Server, a historian. Of the three courts inside, the most interior was the living quarters of the khan and his family. Inside one of the rooms was a small white fountain in the middle, and around the interior walls a dais for sitting and reclining while conversing, the sound of the water as accompaniment. In another room there is a famous fountain dedicated to a slave-girl whom the khan loved. It is famous because Pushkin left a rose in the fountain. On the day I visited, a red and a yellow rose rested at the top level.

In the afternoon I had an appointment with Mustafa Jemilev (spelled variously “Dzhemilev,” “Cemilev”), the leader of the Crimean Tartars and Chairman of the Assembly of the Crimean Tatar People, called the Mejlis. He has dark curly hair, a short beard and slightly graying mustache, and dark, haunting eves that have seen more than they should have in one lifetime. A journalistic hazard of a foreign correspondent is that in a country new to him, he frequently is talking to people about situations of which he has only a superficial knowledge. Afterwards he tries to build up a fuller picture. I knew I was in the presence of a serious man, and a great man, but it was only later that I discovered some of his history. I expect it is very disconcerting for the Tartars and for Mr. Jemilev to experience the ignorance of the world about what happened to them. They do not have the resources to employ public relations firms in Washington and Paris or a large emigre population from the Soviet Union. I feel sure when I asked Mr. Jemilev about any Tartar involvement with the invading Germans against the Bolshevik armies in World War II, he must have sighed inwardly, having been asked the question many times before. Later I was to read that, yes, there had been some Tartars in German units, but there had been many more non-Tartars, e.g., Ukrainians, Volga Germans, Russians, who had helped to fight the Bolsheviks, but who were not persecuted in mass after the war.

We also talked about the tension between the Tartars and the Russians (not the Ukrainians). In the early 1990’s, Russian officials would incite the “citizens” to tear down the Tartar tents or half-built houses. There are currently physical encounters between the criminal gangs who control the open-air markets and the Tartar merchants. The gangs try to shake them down and the Tartars will not go along. A taxi driver in Theodosia on the coast told me he and his cab had to work two days a month for a gang. At one market, the Russians attacked the Tartars, and soon thereafter one of the gang’s restaurants was burned out. I asked Mr. Jemilev if the tension was increasing, and he said it only seems calmer now. This conversation took place before the recent Russian elections. The results of those elections, with the Communists and Nationalists coming out ahead, are probably not comforting to the Tartars. As the Tartars say, they can only depend on themselves.

The gangs have put out the word that five Tartar politicians will be killed. Jemilev laughed as he said he was hurt that his name was not among the five. Probably a mistake. This is a man, as I was to discover later, who knew all about intimidation and persecution. The Russians had imprisoned him for a total of 15 years for his human rights activities. His mother had carried him in her arms as the family was loaded into cattle cars during the deportation of 1944. He was 16 months old. She and the four young children were now officially “traitors.” The reason his father was not then labeled a traitor was because he was at the front in the Red Army. At war’s end, when he was discharged, then he became a “traitor” and was sent to Uzbekistan.

From his teens Jemilev tried to reconstruct the history of his people, which had been obliterated because of “anti- Soviet” activity. Corrupt Soviet historians had rewritten the story to suit their political aims, much in the way corrupt American historians are doing now in “revising” our high school texts. Jemilev pursued his research between and sometimes during his various imprisonments, and it is his restoration of Crimean Tartar history that has made him the leader and spokesman for his people.

Later in the day my energetic interpreter and I hiked the couple of miles to the Uspenskv (Dormition) Cave Monastery, which dates from the eighth century. One climbs steps to the sanctuary, which was cut out of the rock of a cliff. Then we continued to the old fortress of Chufut-Kale. After the Turks had sacked the fortress, the Karaim Jewish sect moved in and stayed, probably until the 19th century. The Karaim had broken with mainstream Judaism around 1000 A.D., and gradually some of them came to the Crimea. Now the fortress and the eaves are once again abandoned.

The Crimea and all of the lands around the Black Sea are freighted with long history and archaeological remains. If bureaucratic barriers to the tourist situation are ever removed, meaning of course placing tourism under private ownership, which is all that ever works well, everyone will benefit, both the Crimeans and the tourists. But the old Soviet way is still in place in the Ukraine and thus in the Crimea, and unless you are invited by someone in the country and he seeks out a visa for you from the Interior Ministry, one must prepay for Intourist hotels that one has never seen and thereby establish an itinerary, then present the receipt to a consulate for a visa.

The history and prehistory drew me here in the first place. High above my hotel in Simferopol was a Scythian Neapolis dating from the third century B.C. Seventy burial sites of Scythian noblemen have been unearthed.

I was interested in seeing Theodosia (Kaffa) and Sudak, where Greeks, Genoese, and Ottomans have held power. Cars are easily hired, but as my intrepid interpreter demonstrated to me, if I asked the price it would be $100 one way—if she asked it might be $25. I followed her instructions: “Don’t say one word in English.” (Incidentally, the Turkish visas for Americans are twice the cost of what they are for others.) In Theodosia, I did not see any Greek remains, but the Genoese fortress was much in evidence. As one travels about the Black Sea, whether in Turkey, Georgia, or the Crimea, one is struck with awe at the energy that once drove businessmen to found the emporia, in the case of the Greeks, and these fortresses in the case of the Genoese. On my way home I stopped off in Genoa, just to get near the former heart of this merchant empire, visiting the Casa di San Giorgio (the House or Bank of St. George), which lent money to governments and merchants and ended up with property in the Black Sea, and also visiting the homes of great merchants and benefactors like Andrea Doria.

Sudak is not as glitzy as Yalta, but the beach and mountains are as beautiful and the Genoan fortress much larger than that of Theodosia, and in better repair. At the Hotel Horizon, I had an authentic socialist dining experience. One had to pay for three meals with the room. I was assigned Table #1 with some other people, but they were wise enough not to come at the mandatory 8:00 A.M. breakfast. At 8:00 there was no sign of breakfast, and no waitress to be seen. In each plate was a piece of raw bell pepper, two slices of raw cucumber, cabbage cut like slaw with no dressing, and half a hardboiled egg. In 15 minutes, the socialist waitress traipses in dropping a spoon in every glass of her 25 tables. Five minutes later she drops one spoon of sugar. Finally I get a piece of bread and decide to leave. The other people arrive at 8:30, when a two-inch square of tough scrambled eggs is dished out. I decide to leave again, and then for the piece de resistance, the tea appears. This was my first and last meal at the Horizon.

For a culinary coda, I decided to cat my evening meal along the beach. In a little outdoor restaurant covered with the light camouflage netting used to prevent air attack I ordered the only available item, which was kabob. At least here one could dine when one chose and the crowd was very unregimented. As all the kabobs for the restaurant were cooking, the lights failed. In order for the cook to see what he was doing, someone brought his Mercedes up from the rear and the cooking was finished in the headlights. Since the kabob was mostly gristle, it was just as well eating in the dark. As soon as I finished, the lights came on again.

Back in Simferopol one day, Helen took me to her Church of the Holy Trinity, which is the largest Russian Orthodox church in Simferopol. There I met the priest, Vasily Pavlov, who is in fact a Crimean Greek. He said Greek and Russian Orthodox all worship together. Father Pavlov, who was perhaps 30, said that some young people are slowly coming into the church, and of course many old people had remained believers under the communists even though persecuted. He noted that when the Apostle Andrew had first visited the Crimea, he found 20 believers already here. Crimea was further important in the development of the Orthodox Church, since Vladimir of Kievan Russia was baptized here and went on to make Christianity the official religion. I noted that the interior of the church was in a fine state of restoration and outside large mosaics were in various stages of completion, and Father Pavlov replied that the work was being paid for by the worshipers. Most of the churches seized by the government were being returned. In front of the church and in the foyer were several afflicted people and some simple beggars, and although no one seems to have much money, they give them their alms.

I asked Helen how she came to be Orthodox, since most young people had been educated to be nonbelievers, as were her parents. At first she said she started reading the Bible. I quizzed her further, asking if she merely stumbled onto a Bible one day and starting reading it. Then she said, “As a young child I used to visit my granny who lives at the foot of the Urals, and one time when my parents were not there, my granny had me secretly baptized. Now I go because it makes me feel lucky.”

With the former president of Crimea no longer in office (the office abolished), the government is being run by Anatoly Frantchuk, the premier, appointed by the president of Ukraine, Leonid Kutchma. This will be the status quo until the Crimean parliament writes a new constitution that conforms with Ukrainian law. I had an appointment with the vice-premier, Igor V. Ivanchenko, to ask about these matters. Helen, although in her early 20’s, could pass for 16. She led me to the big government building where the interview was to take place, the door being manned by guards with automatic weapons. She whispered, “Don’t say anything, just walk past.” I was beginning to feel like I was part of a Peter Sellers movie. She did not want to get mixed up in the inevitable paper and document shuffle. Sure enough, we sailed on past.

Subsequently we were led into a huge office and I was introduced to the affable vice-premier. I think he was amused at the youth of my interpreter and remarked that he had a daughter her age studying in Germany. On the question of the Crimean constitution, he admitted that it had been written in haste and that changes had been necessary between 1992 and 1995. He explained that the Ukrainian constitution was the old Soviet constitution, and that Ukraine was not then a federated state. Only the Soviet Union had such a document. If there had been a constitution suitable for a federated state, many of the conflicts between Crimea and Ukraine might have been avoided. He said the majority of the Crimeans had not wanted to be a part of the Ukraine, but that the Russia government doesn’t want it back, only the hardliners do. He said further that no serious politician talks of Crimea going back to Russia.

Many of the problems, he noted, come from the deported people. They came with nothing. When they sold what they had in Uzbekistan, inflation destroyed the value of their money. Other republics made promises about helping the deported, but at least Ukraine had delivered some, which is as much as it can. In the case of the Tartars, he says some help comes from Turkey, and all the deported get some money from the United Nations.

On the economic front, he noted that large reserves of gas had been discovered, one well being brought in with the help of a British company, JKK Oil & Gas, with credits from the European Banks of Reconstruction and Development. Ship building in Kerch is very strong, with orders for cargo vessels that carry them to the end of the century, especially Greek orders. Earlier, he said, privatization was blocked by the Crimean government, but this is changing. Hotels will be auctioned off, and foreigners can participate, but there is a problem with foreigners owning the actual land under current law. That will have to change, he said, and there is no question that foreign tourism is hurt very much by the lack of foreign investment.

Outside and across the government plaza, preparations were being made to celebrate the day of Ukrainian independence. In years past the yellow and blue Ukrainian flag had been burned, but for the time being, this was changing too. Nearby, I stopped to watch the police keep watch over two groups of very loud, old people. They were all pensioners, but the Ukrainian group carried the Ukrainian flag while the Russian pensioners screamed at them, yelling “Down with the Ukrainian government.” They screamed they were much better off under the Soviets and wanted to go back to the old way. Their pensions were inadequate. This War of the Old People is almost a daily occurrence.

It reminded me of the situation back in the States. Roosevelt-Johnsonian junk bonds were issued, and they were to be paid by another generation, always after the officeholders were gone. I remember my father telling me in the late 40’s that he was going to do fine with the Social Security scheme, because in the beginning, everyone paid a pittance for the promise of future security. But, he said, you and the grandchildren will have to pay for it. The Russian pensioners, like our own elderly, want the old way to remain, no matter what. They have depended on it. In Russia in December, nearly all the votes for the resurging Communists came from the pensioners. When a couple of generations have sucked on the teats of the Super State for so long, there may not be a political force strong enough to wean them. The Behemoth may have to die first. My view may be too apocalyptic, but it is my sense that if the sainted congressional freshmen are rebuffed in the next election and power should return to the Democrats, for decades to come no smart politician will take the risk of listening to what his constituents say they want, but will fall back on the time-tested rule of promising something for nothing. It has stood the present White House demagogue in good stead.

I met some interesting people in the Crimea and wish them well. It is difficult for us from the semifree enterprise West to understand how almost a century of super-state socialism can shape the minds of the people. When the Soviet Union collapsed, most Westerners believed that without the police state, private enterprise would grow naturally. Mostly, though, the old politicians are still in place under other rubrics. More important, the people over 30 have never lived under an environment of free enterprise. Those who are hustling, which they must do to stay alive, are thwarted by the old rules of socialism, or worse, by the criminal gangs who never obeyed the rules anyway.

Where is the hope? The main source is in the young people—those under 30, like Helen and Vova and Ireni, for they have seen the real teleology of Marxist theory. Helen explained to me that when her parents finished their technical training, they knew they had a job guaranteed. Her generation understands that it must be more flexible. Yet the young must pay the cartage for the old dispensation, which is very high indeed.