It's ten years since I've visited Kerch, so it's hardly surprising that a lot has changed. But - a lot has changed. Its a city with an extraordinary history - most of all during the last war. The present may be changing, but the past stays the same. There is so much to say about this, but I can't do it justice here. Suffice to say, it was the scene of the one of the largest amphibious landings in history. In fact, two of them.
Kerch is perched on the extreme eastern end of the Crimean Peninsular, looking across the mouth of the Azov Sea, across the narrow Strait of Kerch looking at Russia on the other side. During the Great Patriotic War this is the furthest that the Nazis reached in the extreme south - they never bridged that tiny gap.
Today, I went to revisit a very special place, called Adzhimushkai Quarry. When the Crimea fell to the Nazis, Kerch was the scene of a Dunkirk - the troops that were left to do the rearguard action were caught in a pocket. Rather than surrender, 5000 or so of the troops went underground into a network of quarries, and they took several thousand civilians with them, including many children. From there, for five months they waged underground warfare against the occupying forces who knew exactly where they were and constantly tried to flush them out, using high explosives and gas attacks as well as underground fighting. The 13,000 or so people trapped underground set up a kindergarten, and a hospital (with of course, no medication or anaesthetics) and were desperately short of food and water. A special team of 'suckers' had the job of trying to suck moisture out of the rock to allow others to drink. In the end, only 48 of the defenders survived. There is a bit more on Wikipedia here.
There is a museum there with the most enormous Socialist Realist sculpture as entrance to what is of course a hole in the ground. It is not possible to go in without a guide - there are around 10km of caves in the network and while going in would be easy, the chances of finding your own way out again would be remote.
The landscape around about is a moonscape of collapsed land as the Nazis constantly tried to collapse the caves by burying large quantities of high explosives in the ground above, with quite a bit of success - many thousands were entombed as a result.
My encyclopaedic guide in the quarry, clutching her flashlight which we navigated by. I was so absorbed by what we were seeing, I totally forgot your name I am so sorry! Please tell me if you see this.
The commandant's headquarters underground in the museum:
If you're going to make a resolution, carve it in stone. Original post-war plaque which reads simply "Here there will be a museum of Adzhimushkay":-
On a different and lighter note, nearby is the ancient burial mound of the Bosporan kings, Tsarsky Kurgan. These 'kurgans' are features of the flat, endless Ukrainian steppe, many are Scythian: