(Yalta) Balaklava Bay in Crimea, famous for its beauty, is almost empty of tourists in June. An anomaly that raises fears of a disastrous tourist season for the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Since the summer of 2022, Crimea, the logistics base of Russian forces attacking Ukraine, has been regularly subjected to strikes, in particular from drones. And it is now only accessible by train and car, commercial flights being suspended in the midst of the conflict, which involves long journeys.
What deter many Russian tourists who usually go there in droves.
Sergey Kniazev, 41, is a motorboat pilot. From the start of the season, in June, he normally leads flocks of holidaymakers from Balaklava to the wild beaches around. But not this year.
“We hope the season will be successful, but there are few people coming to Crimea. Still, there are some great places here! “, he is surprised.
Ophthalmologist in Moscow, Natalia Ossetrova, 46, came on vacation with her husband, their 4-year-old daughter and their dog, because her mother lives on the peninsula. On this day, the family is one of the few to take a boat to the beaches around Balaklava.
“We’ve been there already for three weeks, we love it, we’re lucky with the weather, good holidays and there are few people,” she rejoices. They came by car from Moscow: about a day and a half trip.
The family passed through the symbolic Kerch Bridge, which connects Crimea to Russia and was damaged in October 2022 by the explosion of a truck bomb. A shock that showed the vulnerability of the peninsula.
“We were afraid, of course, that they would blow up the (Kerch) bridge or that there would be another terrorist attack,” says Natalia Ossetrova. Before reassuring himself: “God be praised, we managed to avoid that. »
When crossing the Kerch Bridge, police searched their luggage and scanned their vehicle, Ms. Ossetrova said.
On June 4, Crimean Parliament Speaker Vladimir Konstantinov said it was “realistic” not to expect “huge profits” during the tourist season.
Last week, however, the seaside town of Yalta, on the shores of the Black Sea, was packed with people, as usual this season, AFP journalists noted.
Many are pensioners going to rest centers in Yalta for free thanks to stays offered by their company, a tradition inherited from the Soviet period.
But on Simeiz beach, on the road along the Black Sea between Sevastopol and Yalta, there are no crowds.
“Right now, there are special circumstances because of the special operation” in Ukraine, understates Vladislav Fiodorov, 31. This Crimean, originally from Sevastopol, sips red wine with friends on the beach.
“The majority of people are very afraid to come here,” continues the film set designer who has a Crimean tattoo on his chest. “Everything is calm here, although let’s say that on the other side (in Ukraine, editor’s note), fighting is taking place not far away. »
For Russians worried about coming, he recommends not to “stress” over nothing and instead buy a ticket to Turkey, another very popular destination.
On another half-empty beach, in Alushta, AFP met Valentina Orlova, a tourist from Makiivka, a neighboring town of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow.
“We’re from Donetsk, we’re used to ‘living here and now’, enjoying the moment and not fearing tomorrow,” she says of her trip to Crimea.
In Hourzuf, about 30 kilometers away, near the famous Artek summer camp, Yuri Gevorkian, a retired specialist in Armenian language and literature, lives by renting accommodation to tourists.
This year, for the moment, no customers. He didn’t even manage to rent his own apartment. But he too wants to remain optimistic.
“We hope there will be a lot of people as always,” said the old Armenian. “Hope is what remains last. »