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Chaos In Kerch: Russia Struggles To Ferry Tourists To Crimea

A long line of vehicles waits to use the Kerch ferry line to Crimea at the port of Kavkaz, Russia, on August 18.
A long line of vehicles waits to use the Kerch ferry line to Crimea at the port of Kavkaz, Russia, on August 18.

Since annexing Crimea from Ukraine in March, the Kremlin has said it is Russians' patriotic duty to spend their summer holidays at the peninsula's resorts.

But Russian tourists taking up the call have found that actually getting to Crimea for their Black Sea vacations is no easy task.

With the tourist season hitting its peak, thousands of Crimea-bound vehicles have been forced to wait in line for as long as 40 hours for the ferry crossing the Kerch Strait, the only point -- other than by air -- where Russians can cross into Crimea.

According to Russia's transport authorities, at any given time more than 2,000 vehicles are lined up on both sides of the Kerch Strait crossing. Just five ferries sail between Crimea and Russia's southern Krasnodar region.

Photos and videos posted on the Internet depict angry tourists complaining about the heat, the dust -- and each other.

The summer heat has forced many to strip down to their swimwear. Others sought shelter from the scorching sun behind cardboard shades on their windshields. And some try to attack cars trying to skip the queue.

"I've been waiting for 20 hours with a sick child inside the car. Please, let me pass," cries a woman in a video posted on YouTube as several men and women block her way.

"Call the ambulance, we all are tired and feeling sick," another woman says. "There is a pregnant woman also waiting in the line."

The heat and long hours of waiting proved too much for one man, who died – apparently from a heart attack -- on August 16 while waiting to be ferried to Crimea, Russian media reported.

Russian media later identified the man as 58-years-old resident of the southwestern city of Bryansk, who reportedly passed away shortly before the ambulances arrived.

A video recording shows four people trying to resuscitate the man lying on the roadside, as several women argue with medics.

Holidaymakers also attacked and seriously wounded a woman, who attempted to skip the line, Russian media reported.

The woman was taken to a nearby clinic with head injuries.

The backlog of the tourists in Kerch has prompted Russian authorities to slow down their campaign to attract tourists to Crimea, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported on August 19.

ITAR-TASS quoted Oleg Safronov, the head of the Federal Tourism Agency as saying Crimea's transport system is overstretched and that "airlines have already increased the possible number of flights" to the limit.

Safronov said he expects three million Russian tourists to visit Crimea this year.

Shortly after annexing Crimea in March, Russia launched new flights to the peninsula via the Dobrolyot airline, a sister-company of the national flag carrier, Aeroflot.

The budget airline, however, suspended its flights on August 4, citing "unprecedented pressure" from European partners as a result of economic sanctions against Russia.

Moscow has also announced an ambitious plan to build a massive bridge connecting Crimea to mainland Russia.

The project, however, will cost up to $7 billion and take several years to complete. In the meantime, the chaos in Kerch shows no signs of abating.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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