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Russia/Ukraine: Postcard from Yalta, Vacation Spot To New Middle Class

Prague, 14 August 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A can of Coke in the dining room of the Yalta Hotel costs 400,000 karbovantsi while a haircut, with a tip, is 300,000. At the current exchange rate of 175,000 Ukrainian karbovantsi to the U.S. dollar, the Coke is grossly overpriced while the haircut is a giveaway.

These are but a few of the more absurd contradictions one notices while vacationing in Yalta, the traditional playground of the Soviet elite and now favored by the emerging Russian and Ukrainian middle class..

A room costs the equivalent of $40 a day per person, including three meals, which are starchy, but not bad by any standards. A delicious Italian ice cream cone is dessert at lunch. But with no paper napkins for a week, youre forced to wipe the molten ice cream off your mouth with your sleeve.

The Hotel Yalta has a capacity of 1,500 guests, and each room was filled. The hotel is a huge structure built in 1975 for Intourist. It once housed only Western tourists, but many of the Westerners are gone, replaced by a new breed of tourist.

The members of this new breed are from the emerging Russian and Ukrainian middle class. These arent the new rich Russians wearing huge gold chains and carrying mobile phones with them into the Black Sea resort. These are average Russian or Ukrainian families who come by train, plane or car -- mostly Ladas, not BMWs -- from Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Donetsk, Ternopil and Kyiv to relax.

They can afford the price of the room -- and a few Cokes for the kids -- and convert their rubles or dollars into Ukrainian karbovantsi without making any fuss or jokes.

Some claim to have voted for Boris Yeltsin and complain about the crippling tax structure in Russia. The young wear crucifixes while lying on the beach reading their English language self-learn books. Politics is not discussed at the dinner table.

Crimea, it seems, is becoming the resort area of choice for a new middle class of Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet Republics. Still unable to afford holidays in the Canary Islands, France, Spain or Turkey, they come to the Black Sea.

They appear apolitical. They are not interested in the hot issue of dividing the Black Sea Fleet between Ukraine and Russia.

Maybe it will sink by itself from old age, one Russian said on the beach. He seemed to have come to terms with Crimea being a permanent part of Ukraine

These vacationers form a social class which sees Crimea solely as a pleasant and affordable place to holiday with the family, not as a potential battleground between Ukraine and Russia.

This situation is relatively recent. It appears good for the Crimean economy, which largely depends on tourism. And the tourists seem to return by the thousands.