Sevastopol: Home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet
by Olivia Kroth
The city of Sevastopol has come to international attention during the past months as Crimea was reunited with the Russian Federation. The Black Sea Fleet, biggest employer of the area, will be completely modernized by 2020, Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu announced on the Fleet’s 231st anniversary. Sevastopol has other assets as well. It is a city full of historical monuments and a popular seaside resort with a marine biology centre where dolphins have been trained since 1945.
Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu:
In 2014, “new air defence units and marine formations will be formed at the places of our fleet’s deployment. New submarines and surface warships of a new generation will be delivered to the Russian Black Sea Fleet this year”, Sergey Shoigu recently announced at a telecom conference. Furthermore, 86 billion roubles (1.8 billion euros) will be spent on the fleet’s modernization until 2020, Russia’s Defence Minister explained (ITAR TASS, 13.05.2014).
Black Sea Fleet Commanders
The Black Sea Fleet was created by Catherine the Great, together with its home base Sevastopol, on the 13th of May 1783. Currently, Vice Admiral Alexander Viktorovich Vitko commands the Black Sea Fleet. He was born in Vitebsk, Byelorussia, on the 13th of September 1961. In 1984, he graduated from the Nakhimov Naval School in Saint Petersburg. This academy for naval officers was founded by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1944. The academy is named after Admiral Pavel Stepanovich Nakhimov (1802-1855).
He commanded the Black Sea Fleet during the Crimean War against the Ottoman Empire, distinguishing himself by annihilating the Ottoman Fleet in the Sea Battle of Sinope (1853). Later he organized the land and sea defence during the Siege of Sevastopol (1854-1855). On the 10th of July 1855, he was wounded by a sniper and died two days later. Admiral Nakhimov is buried inside Saint Vladimir’s Cathedral in Sevastopol. The city’s Black Sea Fleet Museum owns a bust of the admiral, while his statue decorates a square with his name. Several warships were named after him: A Svetlana-class, Sverdlov-class, Kresta II-class and Kirov-class cruiser. Admiral Nakhimov’s portrait can be seen on a Soviet stamp of 1987, with ships of the Black Sea Fleet in the background.
Aivazovsky and Tolstoy in Sevastopol
Whoever wants to see what the Black Sea Fleet looked like in the middle of the 19th century, can have a look at Ivan Aivazovsky’s paintings, for example “The Russian Squadron on the Sevastopol Roads” (1846). It shows the port of Sevastopol, seen from the land side. Many people have gathered on the quay next to the round tower of a fort. They are waving and cheering the arrival of the Russian naval squadron. The picture is painted in subtle shades of beige, brown, sepia and yellow. Today this painting is exhibited at the Russian Museum of Saint Petersburg.
Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900): “The Russian Squadron on the Sevastopol Roads” (1846) State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg
Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1817-1900) was a Russian marine painter of Armenian origin, born in the Black Sea port of Feodosia. He created more than 6.000 seascapes, coastal scenes and sea battles, many of them in his native Crimea. Sevastopol and the Black Sea Fleet were “worthy of Aivazovzky’s brush”, as the Russian writer Anton Chekhov once remarked. Another Russian author involved with Sevastopol was Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910). He took part in the Crimean War and witnessed the Siege of Sevastopol as lieutenant of the Russian artillery.
Leo Tolstoy published three Sevastopol Stories: “Sevastopol in December, Sevastopol in May, Sevastopol in August”. In these texts the narrator addresses his readers directly, leading them through the besieged city to visit a field hospital at the Assembly Hall, a tavern and the Fourth Bastion. At the field hospital, readers get to know about the pains of wounded Russian soldiers. In the tavern, officers are talking about the war. Near the Fourth Bastion, we can almost hear the thunder of canons and smell the smoke of gun powder, as the storyteller is describing details of the front. The themes of these three stories are the cruelty of war, Russian soldiers’ patriotism and the narrator’s respect of truth. Leo Tolstoy wrote: “The hero of my stories, whom I love with all the forces of my soul, is truth.” Later Leo Tolstoy used details of these war reports in his novel “War and Peace”.
Saint Vladimir’s Cathedral
This impressive Russian-Orthodox church, located in Suvorov Street on the highest hill of the city, is one of the main sights of Sevastopol. It was built in the second half of the 19th century to commemorate Saint Vladimir’s baptism. Its construction in Russian-Byzantine style began in 1861 and was finished in 1876. The Cathedral reaches a height of 36 metres and can accomodate up to 1.000 people. Saint Vladimir’s relics were transfered here from the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg and buried in the crypt, together with the relics of 115 other Russian saints. On the 13th of June 1888, the Memorial Day of Saint Vladimir was commemorated in the Cathedral.
From “Hero City” to modern days
During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), Sevastopol was intensively bombed and occupied by Nazi Forces until its liberation by the Red Army, on the 9th of May 1944. One year later, Sevastopol was awarded the title “Hero City” by Joseph Stalin. The city had to be entirely rebuilt after the war. Thousands of workers from all parts of the USSR participated in the reconstruction work. Later Sevastopol became a “closed city” due to its strategic importance as home base of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet.
Vladimir Lenin in Sevastopol:
Nowadays about 400.000 inhabitants live in the greater area of Sevastopol. Because of its military history many streets in the city carry names of Russian and Soviet military heroes. The Sevastopol Shipyard has three facilities to repair, modernize and re-equip Russian ships and submarines. The city also maintains a large commercial port in the Bay of Sevastopol. It handles traffic of cargo, commercial fishing and passengers.
With its warm summers and mild winters, Sevastopol is a popular seaside resort and tourist destination. In the city centre, some restored buildings in the Art Nouveau style of the 1920s can be seen: the Main Post Office on Bolshaya Morskaya Street and the Art Museum on Nakhimovsky Prospect. It is worth while taking a walk from the residential buildings with columned balconies and arches to the avenues and boulevards around Central Hill, lined with chestnut trees. The walk will end on Marine Boulevard at the waterfront. Looking over South Bay and Artillery Bay, visitors might get a feeling for the historical importance of Sevastopol.
Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol:
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Southern France. Her blog: https://olivia2010kroth.wordpress.com