CORRESPONDENCErnLetter Fromrnthe Crimearnby William MillsrnThe Price of FollyrnOn the night train from Kiev to SimferopolrnI share a compartment with VolodymyrrnPrytula, a Crimean journaHst.rnCalled “Vova” by his friends, this slenderrnman with a Zhivagoesque mustache isrnmy sole contact in the Crimea. Hernspeaks little English, I no Ukrainian orrnRussian, but we communicate with thernhelp of Ukrainian red wine. I have readrnhis articles in English in UncaptivernMinds, a journal of information aboutrnEastern Europe. Besides being a freelancernjournalist, Vova heads up thernCrimean branch of the Ukrainian IndependentrnCenter of Political Research.rnHe helps monitor all the trouble in thernCrimea, and there’s plenty of that.rnUkrainian folk songs are played overrnthe train sound system. Lots of accordions.rnBefore total darkness sets in, I canrnsee food plots being tended by old people:rncorn, squash, sunflowers, leafyrngreens. Later when the train stops at arnstation, we get out and see what the peoplernare selling. Vova buys us each an earrnof boiled corn on the cob. We agree it isrntough. Then I spy boiled crawfish! ThisrnI never expected in the middle of thernLJkraine. Because I used to enjoy themrnin Louisiana, I buy just one for the taste.rnIt is good, but not spicy like the Cajunsrnwould do them. I see fish that have beenrnsmoked on coat hangers, and we buy arnsmall bag of pale colored apples. I amrnstruck by the vendors, everyone hustling,rnpoor, but valiant. One old woman stopsrnher selling long enough to bind up herrncrippled leg.rnVova turns in, but I have trouble sleeping.rnI get dressed and get out of the trainrnevery time it stops. Once we wait for 20rnminutes in Shevchenko, a city namedrnafter Ukraine’s great hero and poet.rnOn the platform I talk in English to thernmayor of Krasnoperekopsk, Sergei Kunitsyn.rnHis city is located in northwesternrnCrimea. He too served in the AfghanistanrnWar. The mayor runs the NorthrnCrimean Experimental Economic Zonernwhere that strange animal, private enterprise,rnis being tried. The mayor tells mernhe has been to the Brookings Institute.rnBack in the car I notice that the womanrnwho should tend the samovar has passedrnout from liquor.rnAt morning light, the train rumblesrnalong a narrow corridor with salt bays onrneach side. Many people are fishing, somernin small black inflatable boats. I get thernimpression that the fishing is not just forrnsport. Finally, at Dzhankoy, the mayorrnleaves us, transferring to the train forrnKrasnoperekopsk.rnWe are met in Simferopol by Vova’srnbeautiful girlfriend, Ireni, and his friendrnLyonya who has a short, scraggly beard,rnlooks about 50, and has his own radiornshow. After lunch Lyonya drives me tornthe Hotel Moscow. On the way he tellsrnme he was a submarine captain for arnRussian research vessel. He jokes aboutrnour route to the hotel; “Now we are onrnKarl Marx Street,” “Now Lenin Square.”rnThe Hotel Moscow is a dilapidatedrnIntourist establishment. Drop-in clientsrnare still unusual. The surly desk clerk isrntypical of those in nearly all Intourist hotelsrnI have ever stayed in. Through Lyonyarnshe tells me severely that if I stayrnlonger than this day, I must reserve thernroom in advance. As I was to discover,rnthe hotel was nearly empty the wholerntime I was there. As I leave the desk, shernsays, “The hot water is off because it isrnbeing worked on.” It didn’t work for thernnext three weeks and almost certainly itrnhad not worked for weeks before I came.rnVova and Ircni had arranged for arnyoung woman to be mv interpreter, andrnshe was to arrange a trip by bus to Yalta.rnWe went to the central station where herrnmother showed up. The mother was formerlyrna physicist (as was the father whornat one time had taught in Cuba). It soonrnbecame apparent that she was semihystericalrnabout her only child going offrnwith a stranger and proceeded to rent arncar for me. It came with a drunken Russianrnpassenger who carried on a briskrnconversation with the mother. Later thernyoung interpreter explained that thernman said his girlfriend in Moscow hadrnrefused him and so he was on his way tornYalta to find a woman. Why the motherrnthought her daughter would be betterrnoff in this circumstance beats me. Beforernour driver made it out of the parkingrnlot, the mother had stopped us twice tornhug her daughter before she left on herrndesperate journey to Yalta with thernAmerican.rnOff we went on our merry way, thernRussian drinking from his liter of warmrnbeer. Sometimes the interpreter wouldrnnot tell me what he said, apparently becausernit was too crude. Once in a whilernhe would say to me, “Excuse me,” thisrnbeing his only English. At a mountainrnpass where there is a military checkpointrnthe Russian announced he had to relievernhimself and got out while the driver wasrnyelling, “No, no Alexis!” I assumed hernwas going behind some bushes, but inrnfront of the armed border guards he desecratesrnthe side of the mountain. I amrnbecoming uneasy.rnWe make it to Yalta and stop atrnChekhov’s villa, now a museum. Thernsmall grounds had some large trees, andrnthe villa was modest. Chekhov had builtrnthe place in 1898, coming here becausernof his tuberculosis which he had hadrnsince his mid-20’s. He was to live only sixrnmore years. Russians have come to thernBlack Sea coast since they annexed thernCrimea in 1783. It is a warm place,rnwhich is at a premium. There are hundredsrnof sanitoriums in the Crimea builtrnby the Soviets.rnWe finally lost the Russian at CountrnVorontsov’s Palace in Alupka. The countrnbuilt it in the 1830’s in a style some callrnMoorish-Tudor. At the time he was livingrnin Odessa as Governor General ofrnSouthern Russia with his wife CountessrnEliza. It was there and then that thernCountess had her way with Pushkin.rnTheir affair got Pushkin sent off to thernboondocks. In the I840’s, Vorontsovwasrnappointed Viceroy and Commander-in-rnChief of the Caucasus by Tsar Nicolasrnand at the Tsar’s insistence was directedrnto resume “pacifying” Chechnya andrnDaghestan. The Russians set aboutrnkilling Chechens and the Chechens returnedrnthe favor. Does this sound familiar?rnAs I write, some 150 years later, thernChechens are holding Russian hostagesrnin Daghestan (subsequently massacred)rnand other Chechen sympathizers haverntaken over a ship out of Trabzon withrnRussian hostages.rnAfter visiting the very fine botanicalrngarden at Alushta, which was also createdrnby Vorontsov initiative, we take the busrn44/CHRONICLESrnrnrn