#38 | April 23 - May 6, 1998  smlogo.gif

Feature Story

In This Issue
Feature Story
Press Review
Death Porn
Kino Korner
Moscow Babylon


Holiday in Crimea

By Vlad Gurov

For many decades the Crimean Peninsula was to the Soviet Union what Miami Beach is to Americans or Nice is to Europeans. A summer vacation on the Black Sea coast was accessible to all- while there were places where clandestine Soviet millionaires, frauds, and party apparatchiks came to "unwind," there was always enough space to also accommodate poor students.

The Crimea was beloved by communes of hippies from Moscow and St. Petersburg. In the early 70's nude beaches began to appear, the first in the Soviet Union. Greater Yalta harbored the sprawling mansions of Khrushchev, Brezhnev and other members of the Politburo. In the mid-80s, Mikhail Gorbachev built his summer house in Forose, where in August 1991 he vacationed and was put under house arrest. His dacha has now passed into the hands of the Ukrainian President.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Crimean Peninsula became part of the Ukraine. But despite the transfer, Russians, and especially Muscovites, keep to tradition and continue to visit Crimea.

They're attracted by the lack of language barriers, since 95 percent of Crimean residents still consider Russian their mother tongue. Moreover, Crimea is one of the few places can one find inexpensive quality wines like "Pinot Gris," "Bastardo," and "Kokyr." The wine cellars of "Massandr" preserve collector's vintages, harvested as many as seventy years ago, selling for $5,000 a bottle. But the available assortment includes more affordable but still high-quality wines. A bottle of the local champagne, "Novy Svet," awarded numerous gold medals in Paris at international wine exhibitions, costs only four dollars at home.

More importasntly, it's widely recognized that the most beautiful girls in the world live in Crimea. Of course, such tales are spread mostly by spurned Muscovites wanting to brag about their amorous conquests.

But Crimea is known not only for its tourism and resorts. In our time, the peninsula is being transformed into a veritable Sicily. The most merciless and omnipotent mafia groups in all of Ukraine are now based here, with Crimea perpetually leading in crime statistics. The principal reason behind the transformation of this tourist region into a criminal zone is hidden unemployment. A third of Crimean residents- that is, more than one million people, are practically unemployed-though the majority of them, for one reason or another, are not to be found on the unemployment rolls. The tourist industry is not seeing any real development, with government investments not forthcoming and privatization stalled by organized crime. As soon as a large private investor appears on the scene, he's killed. Almost all Crimean manufacturing has come to a standstill, and the sector's workers laid off. On top of it all, the number of people from the native population who are repatriating to Crimea from Uzbekistan is growing each day. This last category of inhabitants have neither money nor living quarters nor jobs. To make ends meet, they're prepared to do anything. Which explains why Crimean crime has such a solid social foundation.

Mafia dons have strong ties to officials governing the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Not long ago, the Mayor of Yalta, Nikolai Diskin, the Minister of Education, Yuri Podkopaev, and Vasili Shpilkin, a deputy to the Crimean Supreme Soviet, were arrested and sent to prison by law enforcement agencies. The vice-premier of the Crimean government, Aleksandr Safontsev, the acting director of the Crimean police, Nikolai Zverev, and the chairman of the local soviet, Nikolai Pyabkin, have all fallen victim to mafia activity. And all this has happened in just the past few months!

As usual, the mafia has a firm grip on the tourist industry. Travel agencies and hotels, beaches and restaurants- basically the entire tourist infrastructure- are in the hands of organized crime. Obviously, the casinos and prostitution aren't being run by the the Ministry of Culture, either. The mafia's shadow profit from one vacation season has been calculated to be almost 5 billion dollars! However, the average vacationer must fear not only the mafia. Much more dangerous are the unorganized criminals, the visiting "guest stars" and local residents seeking to make an quick and easy buck. One has to be especially wary of the local police, since around 5 percent of Crimean policemen are fired monthly for "compromising the honor of their profession" or are put behind bars. Fighting corruption within security organs is impossible, given the insignificant salary- approximately 90 dollars per month.

Crimea is probably the only spot in the world where one can buy a brand new Mercedes for $5,000 or $10,000, and maybe less. According to police figures, 9 out of 10 vehicles with Crimean plates are hot. Once every six months, Ukrainian and Interpol special forces conduct joint raids in the large cities which end in the seizure of 7,000 to 8,000 cars. Unfortunately, only a handful of these are ever returned to the rightful owners. After the Interpol representatives leave, cars mysteriously disappear from the impound lots. The stock of stolen cars is often augmented at the expense of naive tourists. Cars have been known to have been stolen from guarded lots even during broad daylight. Furthermore, a car can be stolen with the help of a bit of deception, as in the following scenario: A beautiful girl stands on the side of the road with the hood of her car is raised. She hails you to stop and asks for help. You, like any real gentleman, seduced by the lowcut neckline which drops/reaches to her the navel, obviously stop. You step out of your car. And in a blink of an eye, around the girl appear, as if out of thin air, several ominously large types. You can be Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris rolled into one, and you've got about a 90 percent chance of walking home from this scenario. Neither ingenious alarms nor special identification markings- which only insure that the car will be hacked to pieces on the spot- will help. Though special statistics on such crimes are not kept, it has been estimated that 10 percent of vacationers who come to Crimea by car leave by other means of transportation. It's worth noting that even the mayor and the prosecutor of Yalta have owned stolen cars.

During peak season, the Crimea is teeming with prostitutes. Though there are enough candidates for the job amid the local population, almost two thirds of all prostitutes come from other cities of the former Soviet Union. Almost all the "visiting" girls have a pimp from the ranks of the local mafia. It's safer that way. But there are others who prefer "independence." Many of these end their days at the bottom the Fedosivskaya coastline with cement posts, commonly used by local vineyards to prop up grape vines, attached to their bodies. Occasionally their clients are also eliminated -to quell future temptation. According to statistics, about 150 prostitutes die every season. It's a hazardous business, but the benefits are still considered worth the risk. For one session a girl can charge her client $20 to $50 dollars; for a night, $100 to $200. The price for so-called "elite" prostitutes is double that. The rate never exceeds 500 bucks a night; that's the tariff established by the local mafia.

Overall, it's probably cheaper and safer to simply meet "non-working" girls on the beaches. Vacationing ladies are hungry for adventure, and their barely-clad sun-baked bodies fan the flames of desire. And both the young and not-so-young prefer to tan topless, allowing you to assess your potential friend unhindered. In the water you can even grope them. A resort romance is more practical and less hazardous than trysts with prostitutes. And women who have left their husbands to take a vacation will give any woman for hire a run for her money. It's a type of compensation for leading the happy family life during the rest of the year.

The club life in the Crimea is brimming with adventure like nowhere else. DJs from all over Russia, the Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics flock here during the summers. Each year the climax of the season is the rave on the of Kazantip peak. Whereas this once was to be the site for the Crimean nuclear powerplant-the construction of which was well under way until 1989, when work came to a halt due to economic considerations - now people come here to "dance on the atomic reactor." Local ravers are determined to turn Kazantip into the Crimean version of internationally-known Ibiza. By the way, a vacation in these parts of north Crimea is almost three times cheaper than elsewhere. Which is why for the past few years young people have preferred Kazantip to Yalta and Alyshte.

Another tourist season is to begin the middle of May. The Crimean Ministry of Resorts is counting on the arrival of 5 to 7 million vacationers. The forces of the MVD and other security organs are pooling their efforts to uphold law and order. However, at present, no one can guarantee a safe vacation in the Crimea-not police officials, not God Himself, and certainly not the godfathers of the Crimean mafia...

I am a convicted felon

By Ruslan Gurevoi
I've never killed or raped anyone. I've never been involved in "commercial activities." First I attended school, then a university. For two years I served in the Red Army. For the past six years I've been a journalist. Last year I was brought up on criminal charges by a Ukrainian court, convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. All I did was write a few words about the truth, which unfortunately later on I was unable to prove.
The trial was held in February of 1997. On top of the two years, the judge added a fine of $3,000. In Crimea, where the average salary for a journalist is $100 dollars a month, it is physically impossible to earn such a sum. That is, impossible to earn it by legal means.

Right now I'm in Moscow, under the protection of the Russian PEN club. I was forced to flee from the "free and democratic Ukraine"- a country where civil rights are not upheld and where the life of a man who is opposed to the existing regime is practically worthless. A country where the government mortally fears a journalist who tells the truth-fears him so much that it tries to imprison him, discredit him, kill him.

My aging mother remains in Crimea. To this day she cannot understand what crime her son is guilty of.

But I'll describe everything in its own turn.

In 1994 I was invited to work for the Meshchanskaya Gazeta. At that time, the paper's circulation, 220,000, was the highest in Ukraine. The newspaper was published in Simferopol, the capital of the Crimean Autonomous Republic. I sympathized with the political views of the paper's publisher, Valeri Averkin: "The Crimea is a Russian territory, Sevastopol is a city of Russian fame." Thirty years ago Nikita Khrushchev gave the Crimea to the Ukraine without having first conducted a popular referendum. 85 percent of the Crimean population are ethnic Russians. So the territory's handover is highly questionable. That's all we were telling our readers. We weren't calling for an armed uprising, nor were we trying to fan the flames of nationalism. How could it even be a question of nationalism when, for example, my father is a Ukrainian from Kiev, and my mother, a Russian from Siberia? I guarantee that there are many, many children of mixed parentage, like myself, in Crimea.

Crimea held its presidential elections in 1994. Yuri Meshkov, a lawyer and one of the leaders of the Crimean Republican Movement, became our president. Our newspaper gave him our full support. However, only a year later, Meshkov was removed from his post. He was ousted illegally, through soviets on various levels. But the president was elected not by the soviets, but by the people, although the people proved to be of no concern to anyone in this matter. Yuri Meshkov emigrated to Russia and became a president-in-exile.

In 1995 the Ukrainian government initiated a wave of repression directed against Crimean citizens with pro-Russian sentiments. The victims were mostly journalists.

In the fall of 1995 I was driving the newspaper's car through the mountains on my way from Simferopol to Yalta. A police post lies not far from where the road begins its downward descent. About a hundred meters from the post, I was stopped by four people attired in police uniforms. All four were armed with Kalashnikovs. I was ordered to step out of the vehicle, which I refused to do since the uniformed men neither introduced themselves nor showed me any documents. At which point two of them turned their automatics in my direction and opened fire.

In general, I'm a pretty bad driver. I've never had my own car and haven't had much practice behind wheel. But at that moment, I was probably acting in accordance to some animal instinct and, because of it, managed to save myself. I ducked under the steering wheel, shielding myself from the bullets, and, by some miracle started the car moving. In the process my car ran over one of the gunmen. I'm not even certain whether they fired after me. Besides me in the car were our photographer and a female intern. Fortunately, they weren't hit either. The car was turned into a sieve.

Attached to the front window of our old Mercedes 190 was a red and white placard with the word "Press". It would have been impossible for "policemen" not to have seen it.

For some reason the incident did not cause any kind of reaction at the headquarters of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs in Crimea. The police investigation revealed that the attackers were not members of the police. In other words, everything was blamed on criminals who supposedly had wanted to deprive us of our car. However, I was able to uncover some information of a more curious nature. It tunred out that two policemen posted at the station near which the incident took place were hospitalized, with fractures of various degrees of seriousness, the same night that the shoot-out happened. Interesting? Nonetheless, the police declined to conduct a further investigation. I believe that the attack on our car was carried out by the police on an order from above. But that, of course, is only conjecture...

The intimidation continued. I was frequently visited either at work or at home by unknown people who threatened and tried to bribe me. It's unpleasant to even speak of it. They demanded that the newspaper change its position. By that time I was already the editor of the political and crime department, and I wasn't in a position to bargain with anybody. So the newspaper continued on it's pro-Russian course.

The newspaper was ultimately shut-down in 1996. At first, we were accused of improperly filing for our license. Then our bank accounts were frozen so they could supposedly be inspected. Our publisher was forced into bankruptcy. Yet even that wasn't enough for them.

In May 1996 I received notification by mail that the prosecutor's office had a criminal case against me for spreading of false information, citing Statute 125, paragraph 4, which carried a penalty of up to five years in prison. For what?!!!

The investigation lasted half a year. Three investigators came and went. I was hauled in for questioning almost daily. Local lawyers categorically refused to defend me, considering my case to be hopeless. Only one lawyer, Yuri Strebul, agreed to represent my interests in court. But even he after a while called me to say that his family was being pressured and that he would most likely be unable to help me. Soon thereafter Yuri Strebul was shot near his house. The killers was never found. The question is whether anyone ever looked for them in the first place.

So I went to trial without an attorney. Ukrainian public defenders refused to represent me, and Russian ones were forbidden to take part in the process by the Ukrainian government. The trial itself was postponed for several months. The judge, named Zhivykh, who was overseeing my case, probably wanted to examine everything fairly. Which is probably why in February he, a healthy 45-year-old, died under peculiar circumstances. By the end of February, the newly appointed replacement for Zhivykh, a pudgy, red-headed battleaxe had already passed sentence: two years in prison with a two-year suspended sentence, plus the fine. For the duration of the two years, I was to check in with the police every month. If the police wished to file any claims against me, I was to be put in prison on the spot.

Everything my aging mother had in the house was confiscated. My father had died early, and all her life she had to raise me by herself. The court took EVERYTHING from the house- as reparation for my "crimes". They sought to force me to beg for mercy, to appeal, to grovel on my belly before the Ukrainian government which trampled me underfoot. But no, I refused to abase myself. I worked for another year so as to somehow provide for my mother. Finally, in April of this year, I illegally crossed the border and came to Moscow. Alexander Tkachenko, the general director of the Russian PEN-club, helped me to find a job and agreed to defend my honor and decency in court. Lawyers maintain that my case had been concocted.

My wife, Julia, joined me in my exile. On April 26 we celebrated our first wedding anniversary. In Moscow, we have neither a home nor relatives. We're renting an inexpensive room and have barely enough money to eat. But at least here in Moscow, for some reason, we feel that we are safe.

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