Features

Balaklava: The Lost History

Oksana Yushko

Published on 27/08/13

© Oksana Yushko

This pro­ject is a part of my explor­a­tion of people’s mind who were born in the USSR.
Chan­ging people’s mind is the most dif­fi­cult thing. The Soviet Union hasn’t exis­ted for 20 years but the shadow of it lies every­where. Things have changed but people’s minds and atti­tudes have not.
I made my way to Bal­ak­lava, a small town by the sea in the Crimean Pen­in­sula, Ukraine. Dur­ing the Soviet era, it was a city that didn’t exist to the out­side world. The town closed to the pub­lic for more than 30 years due to the sub­mar­ine base that was situ­ated there.
Almost the entire pop­u­la­tion of Bal­ak­lava worked at the base, and even their fam­ily mem­bers could not visit the town without a good reason or proper iden­ti­fic­a­tion. It was a closed soci­ety, an ambi­tious, priv­ileged caste, a major league, a private club with lim­ited mem­ber­ship. Officers were well paid, enjoyed spe­cial apart­ments and were given other priv­ileges. It used to be like this.
After the col­lapse of the USSR in 1992, the Soviet army was auto­mat­ic­ally trans­ferred to Russia’s con­trol. It was only in 1997 that the ships and equip­ment of the Black Sea Fleet were offi­cially divided between the two coun­tries Rus­sia and Ukraine. The pro­cess of fleet divi­sion remains pain­ful since many aspects of the two navies co-existence are under-regulated, caus­ing recur­ring con­flicts.
The sys­tem col­lapse turned the once priv­ileged Soviet officers into unwanted people.
Cross­ing the streets of Bal­ak­lava, I saw traces of this not only in the town but also on people’s faces. They still live in the past. Their atti­tude to the present situ­ation is com­plic­ated, but most of them don’t want to look for­ward to the future.
The Soviet Union hasn’t exis­ted for 20 years, and you might not see mil­it­ary guards on every corner nowadays, but the shadow of it lies every­where.
Things have changed, but people’s minds and atti­tudes have not. But at least they have their freedom.

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