DOE Russian Studies Grant Activity

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Final Report
Russian and Eastern European Studies Program

Summer, 2003

Crimea, Ukraine Project

Harold Stone
Assistant Professor – Environmental and Coastal Planning
Department of Planning
College of Technology and Computer Science


Through the two week visit funded by the Russian and Eastern European Studies Program I photo-documented the environmental and urban planning design in the former Soviet Union, and the rapidly changing priorities that are applying pressure on the quality of life and the environment of the Black Sea coast of Crimea, Ukraine. The result of this project has been the integration of these images and associated observations and interviews are currently being integrated into the university courses through case study modules for both undergraduate and graduate learning in environmental and coastal planning.

The environmental and urban planning landscape in Ukraine has changed drastically since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The switch from a centrally planned infrastructure and economy to its current market focus, has significantly altered the socialist value and priority of: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."

Through a nationwide uniformity housing and service facilities, the Soviet Union marginalized both the costs and style of planning and construction. Rather than focusing on government owned housing and facilities to enable the expression of individual preference, the USSR focused on common space (parks, public recreation and natural areas) to provide the greatest return on the development investment. But, given the reduced resources available, the priorities of the now independent Ukrainian government must focus on improving and maintaining the basic infrastructure, leaving public spaces in ever increasing disrepair and decreasing quality of life for residents.

In the coastal region, a Soviet funded recreation and tourism infrastructure, designed to reward millions of the most productive workers throughout the USSR annually, is being retooled for the free market of the "New Russians" and western tastes. Open lands, once protected or in agricultural production are now being sold by the government and individuals and transformed into hotels, dachas and amusement areas with little consideration of a unified regional plan.

During the grant period a number of sites were selected and photographed to illustrate and explore the historic and current planning paradigms of the Soviet Union and the newly independent nation of Ukraine. To expand the information available in the images, interviews of residents were conducted and observations of the transportation, water quality, and recreational infrastructures were detailed.

Project Details

Three of the documentation projects conducted during for the grant are:

  1. Urban Parks: Transforming Land Use and Values
  2. The Return of the Crimean Tatars: Reclaiming Rights and Lands
  3. Coastal Development: Personal Preference or Environmental Responsibility?

Each of these projects is detailed below.

Urban Parks: Transforming Land Use and Values

Simferopol is the capital city of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ukraine. With a population of 650,000, significant pressure is applied on public resources. Simferopol is also an example of the priority placed on public areas by the former Soviet Union. Running through the extent of the city, the Salgir River serves as a green corridor connecting the city center with the bus and train station, three universities, many housing developments, and the two major park spaces. Through these greenways and parks it is possible to traverse the entire city, from north to south, along continuous tree lined promenades unobstructed by roadways, thus allowing residents to walk without the need of public transportation.

With ornamental trees and shrubbery, lighting, and numerous water features (fountains, levees and spillways), this complex park and greenway network requires significant maintenance and repairs. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, revenues from the city, state, and national government have been significantly reduced. No longer are adequate funds available to maintain the cadre of workers who continually serviced the park space. Vandalism has resulted in the destruction of river walk railings, benches, and much of the landscaping. Electricity has been privatized, and the costs are now prohibitive for the use of the lights in the parks and along the greenways.

The Salgir River greenway, Gagarin Park (named for Uri Gagarin, the first man in space), and Children's Park, (site of the regional Palace of the Young Pioneers) represent the best of Soviet design, and the worst of the post-Soviet economic strain. Through images and surveys, both, the good and bad characteristics of urban parks are explored with the aid of this grant.

Salgir River Walk, Simferopol, Crimea
Salgir River Walk, Simferopol, Crimea
Salgir River, Simferopol, Crimea
Salgir River, Simferopol, Crimea

The Return of the Crimean Tatars: Reclaiming Rights and Lands

In the early 13th century, Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde swept through eastern and central Europe and created an intimate relationship with the land and cultures of the future Russian Empire. Augmenting the Mongolian troops were defeated Turkic people known as the Tatars. The Tatars settled along the Black Sea in the Crimean region, developing an autonomous civilization, and eventually forming the Crimean Khanate in the 1500's. The Crimean Tatars were able to maintain their rich culture throughout the rule of the Russian Czars and the Russian Revolution and into Soviet period.

In 1945, Joseph Stalin decreed that Crimean Tatars had been traitors to the Soviet people during World War II and 250,000 were deported to Uzbekistan. In their place, Russians from the Moscow region were brought in to resettle the villages and work the land. Although several attempts were made to regain their homeland, these efforts resulted in arrests, executions, re-deportations and self-immolations. Only following the collapse of the Soviet Union did the attempts to reclaim their land marginally succeed. Because the homes and land were all owned by the state, the Crimean Tatars squatted in the pastures, vineyards and fields that they once tended.

Although their land rights were eventually upheld by the Crimean and Ukrainian Parliaments, the land they acquired little or no infrastructure. Without running water, paved roads, septic systems or electricity, these people created communities and developed a subsistence standard of living. Since their return 12 years ago, the quality of life has improved considerably, but the subsistence farming, weekly water allowances, and close community ties remain as center pieces in this new Crimean Tatar culture.

Environmentally, the Crimean Tatar communities threaten the environment of the Crimean Mountains of the Black Sea region of Crimea. Overgrazing, the lack of effective waste management, soil erosion and the excessive harvest of indigenous herbs, all impact the fragile ecosystems that were protected prior to their deportation 58 years before.

This region is also part of a proposed national park. Unlike the western planning methods, the soviet system would designate areas for protection without consideration of the current land use patterns, causing hardships on the residents. Today, in a time when we must include cultural capital in the cost benefit equation of development, the value of the historic and contemporary activities of the Crimean Tatar add value to the potential revenues of the proposed park. By including the music, dance, food and crafts, as well as the potential of home-stays and guides, in the potential revenues of the park, the Crimean Tatar have the potential of improving their economic standing while participating in environmental preservation activities.

In the several days I was in the village of Vesyoloye, Crimea I was able to participate in community and family activities, cook traditional dishes, and document life in the village. I was able to map a typical subsistence garden and list all of the crops and livestock grown, detailing which were for personal consumption, and which were grown for sale in the market, or bartered for other goods and services. In addition, I was able to interview a woman who was 12 years old during the deportations, and experienced life in Uzbekistan until her return 8 years ago.

This case study will be used to illustrate the difficulties of environmental protection in multi-use environments. In addition, problem solving skills will be developed by looking at the opportunities available to the Crimean Tatar in the national park scenario, and discovering alternatives to the environmental impacts that are incurred in a development without modern infrastructural support.

Vesyolye, Crimea, Ukraine
Vesyolye, Crimea, Ukraine
Squatter Camp, Moskoye, Crimea
Squatter Camp, Moskoye, Crimea

Coastal Development: Personal Preference or Environmental Responsibility?

The coast of Crimea is one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the former Soviet Union. The site of Lavadia Palace near Yalta served as the summer residence of the Czars, and was also the site of the "Big Three Conference" between Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. Sanatoria line the coast, and during the Soviet period were owned and operated by unions and government ministries as a reward for exemplary work. Dachas of Kremlin officials and ministers also showed the importance of the Black Sea to the Soviets. In some coastal communities, small, tightly packed, seaside dachas were made available by the government to residents of the nearby cities of Simferopol, Bakchaseri, Sudak and Yalta for holidays and rest. Hotels were available to tourists and workers who could afford the luxury with entertainment, food and recreational activities made available in the cost of the room.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the properties that were owned by the Soviet government, its ministries, and unions became the properties of the Ukrainian government. Without the unions and ministries to provide holiday opportunities to workers from across the Soviet Union, these properties were underused, and often closed. They fell into disrepair and were ultimately sold to business interests by the Ukrainian Ministry of Finance to provide much needed government revenues. Foreign visitors found the accommodations to be below western standards, and expected revenues from investors and tourists from the west failed to materialize.

In the past five years, the Crimean coast has experienced a construction boom, both in new construction and renovation with property values increasing by 20% in each of the past 3 years. The "upwardly mobile" segment workforce have been able to purchase both land and the dachas used by local residents. More expensive properties, purchased by foreign companies or investors for pennies on the dollar, are rapidly being remodeled to contemporary designs for personal use or as a speculative investment.

Each property is purchased, designed and developed with no cooperative interface between developers, or between developers and the government. With no formal regional development plans and with no consolidation of resources, each small plot of land and each dacha and hotel constructed or renovated relies on the expertise of the owner and the contractor, often Soviet trained engineers with little knowledge or interest in the environmental consequences of their action, or in a uniform strategy for development.

Focusing only on minimizing labor and material costs, this rapid, unplanned development is having serious impact on the inadequate sewage treatment, water and transportation infrastructure. With the Crimean Mountains often plunging directly into the sea, sites for construction must be cut directly from the mountainside. Barriers for siltation protection and erosion control are unknown or unused due to the extra time and expense. In addition, the lack of aesthetic detail in the design that creates a jumble of styles and colors, with unconsolidated rooflines and plumbing causing long term problems for owners.

Through this exercise the students will be able to assess the:

  • effects of inadequate and nonexistent pollution protection processes,
  • affect these practices would have on environmental quality if they are adopted,
  • cost of installation versus the cost incurred for failing to use available technology, and
  • necessary architectural integrity for the built environment to assess runoff and drainage requirements.
Black Sea Coast, Crimea, Ukraine
Black Sea Coast, Crimea, Ukraine
Coastal Construction
Coastal Construction


Crimea, Ukraine provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate the best and the worst of planning strategies. By focusing on the most egalitarian needs of the people through abundant and functional park space, it was possible to invest marginally lower amounts per capita to achieve a higher rate of utility than would be found by providing the money to improve individual living spaces.

However, the opposite side of this argument can also be seen. Because planning in the Soviet Union governed all aspects of the planning and development process, and the needs of the whole were greater than those of the individual, housing and personal preferences were only marginally considered in their construction. Only what was adequate to meet essential needs and could be provided to all citizens across the entire Soviet Union was included in design for the masses. Creativity (as western thought defines it) was considered lavish and bourgeois, preferring standardization to ensure the maximum utility for minimum resources.

In the US, building contractors are responsible for following the laws necessary to protect the environment on their construction sites, and the government is responsible to ensure these laws are followed, at a cost to the contractor which is then passed on the buyer. In the Soviet Union, contractors are responsible to the government for the costs incurred in construction. In theory, the environmental quality is monitored by the Ministry of the Environment. The buyer and seller of the property, however, was the government and a priority of the costs and demand for construction projects resulted in only minimum consideration of the environment.

Crimea provides an excellent laboratory to assess the Soviet system of urban and environmental planning from the perspective of history and the contemporary affect of unenforced environmental laws. Contractors currently working in Crimea only have a marginal understanding of the environmental principles by which best management practices are designed, and place only a minimum value on environmental quality when considering the overall delivery of housing to the public.

Balaclava, Crimea, Ukraine
Balaclava, Crimea, Ukraine
Gurzuf, Crimea, Ukraine
Gurzuf, Crimea, Ukraine


Through this visit to Crimea, Ukraine I was able to explore significant areas of construction, urban development, and environmental planning that will aid me in better collaborating with colleagues at Taurida National Autonomous University in Simferopol. Further, this information provides a wealth of learning tools for students to better understand a culture and dynamics of a developing economy, and provides insights into the economics of decision making in the built environment.

The current economic situation in Ukraine and Crimea are very promising. Through the study of Soviet parks significant progress can be made in creating livable communities in the US. By rethinking the function of park space as being an integral part of the city as a whole, we have the opportunity to retool or urban areas to make them more sustainable. With regard to indigenous Crimean Tatars, concessions of the Crimean government continue to provide them with less environmentally sensitive land, thus opportunities to improve environmental quality of the ecologically fragile Crimean Mountains. Although the housing explosion creates an almost "boomtown" environment of disregard for detail, the effects are being seen quickly, and corrective actions are being put in place.

Without the funds provided through the Russian and Eastern European Studies Program, the depth to which this project explores the issues of Soviet planning and post-Soviet economic priorities would have not been possible.

Children's Park Simferopol, Crimea
Children's Park Simferopol, Crimea
Gagarin Park, Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine
Gagarin Park, Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine