Together against Russia

Sevastopol, the city of resistance to the bitter end! With today 400,000 inhabitants, the largest city on the Crimean peninsula, Sevastopol has always been at the center of European history and is therefore a real attraction – today more than ever.

Sevastopol was the center of the Crimean War, which, for the first time in world history, was a real worldwar, not a war between two powers, but a war with several allies: the Ottoman Empire together with the British, the French and the Piedmontese. as an allied against the Russian Empire. And there was also a war front against Russia in Europe’s north, albeit less militarily.

The bays of Sevastopol in the southwest of Crimea were already settled by the Greeks in the 7th century BC. Later the Romans took over the rule and then the Byzantines. After the total destruction of the city in the 14th century and after the conquest of Crimea by the Russians under tsarina Catherine the Great, the port city was re-established in 1783.

A Russian - and a holy city

“In a sense, Sevastopol will always belong to Russia. This is not only because Russia built it – a majestic stone city full of southern spaciousness, in whose blue bays the warships crowd. Sevastopol has provided for two things that are sacred to Russia at its core. It is a two-time heroic city: firstly because of the ten-month blockade when it stood up to the Nazis, and secondly because of its two-year defence campaign against Great Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire in the Crimean War. And Sevastopol has something sacred in him in the deepest sense: it was the gate through which, according to legend, and perhaps even in reality Christianity entered Russia.” This is what is written in the highly informative book “Black Sea” by the British historian Neal Ascherson from 1995 (whose German translation “Black Sea” is unfortunately only available in antiquarian terms). In 1995– at that time Sevastopol did not belong to the “Autonomous Republic of Crimea”, but had a special status, but since Khrushchev’s gift in 1954, the city also belonged to Ukraine. Then, in 1997, the “problem” was solved by a formal treaty between Ukraine and Russia, under which the city and the territory of Sevastopol with its war port came back under Russian control.

The “Panorama” shows a day of a first world war

When we talk about the panorama in Sevastopol, hardly anyone thinks of the view of the sea, but of a magnificent monument, which is hardly possible to find its own world: the “Panorama”. In memory of the two-year siege of the city in 1854/55 by the British, French and Ottomans and the eventual defeat of the Russians defending the city – among their soldiers at times also Leo Tolstoy – was celebrated on the occasion of the 50th anniversary in 1904 in a specially designed built palace created a 360° circular painting: in the full round 115 meters long and 14 meters high. It shows the battle on June 6, 1855, when, in memory of the terrible defeat of the French at Waterloo in June 1815, the French did their utmost to win here – with success. Incidentally, the Crimean War was not only a first world war, it was also the first war to be accompanied by a journalist from the London Times – it was the beginning of journalistic war reporting.

In the impressive Panorama in Sevastopol, the attack of the Ottomans, British and French is shown, in the foreground with real war equipment, in the background as a painting.

The Allies were the victors, the Russians the losers, but, as with many wars, there were actually only losers. The Crimean War claimed well over 100,000 war victims, and the treasuries in London and Paris were empty. Russia was even so financially bled to death that a few years later it sold Alaska, then part of the Russian Empire, to the United States – for a ridiculous 7.2 million dollars, which would be about 120 million dollars today.

Nazis destroyed Sevastopol

Even more horrific were the battles for Sevastopol in World War II. For Hitler, it was clear that Crimea had to be conquered, purged by Jews, Tatars and Russians, and settled by Germans. Even the future names of the Crimean peninsula and its cities were already clear: for the Crimea Gotenland, for Sevastopol Theoderichshafen and for Simferopol Gotenburg. From the autumn of 1941, the German troops attacked Sevastopol from the sea and at the same time in the countryside, with minor successes, but again and again with setbacks.

At the beginning of June 1942 there was a major offensive, in which the German Wehrmacht was also supported by Romanian troops. In total, more than 200,000 men were deployed on the Axis assailant side, with 600 heavy guns and 200 warplanes. On the side of the defending Red Army, there were just over 100,000 men with similar guns, but only 53 aircraft.

On 4 July, the city of Sevastopol was conquered, occupied and, above all, totally destroyed. The NZZ knew to report that there was no house left that was habitable, all were bombed or burned out. The conquest of Crimea cost the German and Romanian troops about 12,000 dead and injured, on the Soviet defense side about 10,000 dead and injured, but in addition to almost 100,000 prisoners of war.

For Hitler, the conquest of Russia also included the conquest of the city of Sevastopol, which was considered one of the safest fortresses in the world. The city was completely destroyed, and nine houses were still habitable after the conquest, it was reported at the time.

The recapture of Crimea two years later by Soviet troops was no less horrific. Despite the rapid advance of the numerically superior Soviet troops from the northeast of the peninsula to the southwest and the conquest of Simferopol and Yalta and other cities, Hitler forbade the evacuation of the German troops from Sevastopol because he strategically important fortress at all circumstances. Thus the reconquest of Crimea ended with the reconquest of the city of Sevastopol, where not only did tens of thousands of soldiers die in the battle, but tens of thousands of German soldiers drowned in the Black Sea as they tried to flee on ships that were ships were sunk.

In Russia and Ukraine, still an issue

There is a Russian-Ukrainian feature film about Sevastopol during World War II. It shows the Russian sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko, 25 years old in the battle for Sevastopol, who shot 309 Wehrmacht soldiers in the defense wars against the Nazis in Odessa and Sevastopol. She was honored not only in Russia, but also invited to the United States by the wife of then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and was the first Soviet citizen to receive honorable reception at the White House. It was intended to help convince the American public that a second front must be opened in the west of Hitler’s Germany in order to defeat Hitler’s armies once and for all.

Why is this film mentioned here? At the time, the United States was extremely grateful to the Soviet Union for its war against Hitler’s forces. This is often forgotten today, for example in the reports on the 75th anniversary of the “Landing in Normandy” – or it is even deliberately omitted. The people of Western Europe today like to be sprinkled with the march, we owed the “liberation” of Hitler to the USA.

The bay of Balaclava, in the back right the (now no longer specially camouflaged) entrance into the submarine bunker

In Balaclava, a municipality belonging to Sevastopol on a bay south of the city, you can also see the entrance of an underground submarine bunker. The facility was built by the Soviets in the 1950s and was intended as a nuclear bomb-proof repair and maintenance shipyard for submarines. The underground canal is over 600 meters long and between 10 and 22 meters wide. It could have housed up to 3,000 people for a month with the supplies stored there. However, the bunker then lost importance because the new nuclear-powered submarines are too large to enter this bunker.

“Ready to defend to death”

The willingness to defend oneself is still a characteristic of the inhabitants of the city of Sevastopol. In 2008, a monument was erected in Sevastopol to mark the 225th anniversary of the founding of the city in 1783 by Catherine the Great in honour of this Russian Tsarina. Of course, this did not suit the Ukrainians at all, it was tried several times to destroy the monument. In order to prevent the destruction of the monument, the inhabitants of Sevastopol organized a civilian night vigil of volunteers and lasted a good six months until the danger faded.

The people of Sevastopol have an intense sense of history and they therefore worship Catherine the Great, during whose reign the city was founded in 1783. From the Ukrainian side, however, the monument was often defaced with paint or even damaged, because the Russian past of the city has no place in the eyes of the Ukrainian nationalists.

But especially the days before the referendum on the reunification of Crimea with Russia, which was rejected by Ukraine in March 2014, were particularly dramatic in Sevastopol, as the local residents are telling us vividly. What to do if the Ukrainian side intervenes with nationalist militias, as has been specifically threatened? Fleeing to Russia? “The students decided to defend the city with weapons if necessary in the event of an intervention from the Ukrainian side.” “And already the underground military installations from the Second World War were looked at more closely and examined whether they are now also in the fight against Ukrainian militias could be used again.”

Русские не сдаются! - We Russians will never surrender! The man from Balaclava was happy to turn around for a photo of his motto on his T-shirt.

A war port, a Russian city, a people ready for defence, that is Sevastopol. Voluntarily, Sevastopol will never return to Ukraine. And Russia will never return the city to Ukraine, the city and the port are too important as access to the Black Sea – civil and military.

Warships are part of the cityscape of Sevastopol. After Ukraine's declaration of independence in 1991, Russia handed over half of its warships to Ukraine.