Science - May 14, 2009

‘THREE HUNDRED EUROS IS A GOOD SALARY IN THE UKRAINE’

Thirty students on the Master's in Marine Ecosystems did field work on beach quality on the Crimea peninsula in the Ukraine from 20 April to 1 May. They were participating in a European Workshop that was developed together with the University of Kiev and led by Dr. Wilko van Loon. Student Bastiaan Vermonden kept a diary.

Master’s students of Management of Marine Ecosystems on a guided tour of the Mus-Martian nature reserve during their fieldwork week on the Crimea.
Day 1: ‘The customs officers didn’t know what had hit them: thirty students with different passports from all the corners of the globe. So that took a while. Then we got our first taste of Ukrainian bureaucracy: everyone was allocated a room – no free choice. But they were not the impersonal Soviet barracks you might expect: we had luxurious triple rooms.’

Day 2: ‘After warnings about pickpockets and guard dogs, we had a guided tour of the vast Nikita Gardens, which go back to 1812. I was struck by the many beautiful old trees. Traces of communism are evident in the statues of Lenin and Molotov (yes, of Molotov cocktail fame).
After lunch it was time for my first field visit to the town of Alupka, where we had to study the quality of the beaches. We were accompanied by the Ukrainian students, as you don’t get far here without speaking Russian. At first glance I saw a beautiful beach with large natural rocks. But further along it turned into what is called a developed beach here, covered in concrete and ugly constructions. Our hearts sank at the thought that we were supposed to come up with advice about this mess.’

Day 3: ‘Two of us visited the local school. It’s one big block and the whole of the inside looks as if everything was made with just a hammer and a hatchet. But the view from the classroom is stunning: I would never be able to concentrate in class with a view like that. From our interview it was clear that they are doing a lot to tackle environmental issues. We could learn from them in the Netherlands.'

Day 4: ‘An ecologist from the local council painted a very rosy picture. When we asked questions it quickly became clear that the council isn't keen to be open. That made it hard to raise problems – because this town doesn’t have any! They have a big coast project, we were told – but we didn’t get to hear anything about it. We then conducted surveys on the beach, which went much better than expected, as nearly everyone politely filled in our questionnaire…’

Day 5: ‘We went out for a meal in Yalta: very different to Alupka. Yalta has wide, smart boulevards full of boutiques and restaurants. There was some disagreement about where to eat, as it’s really too expensive for the Ukrainian students. Three hundred euros a month is a good salary here.'

Day 6: ‘We ate out again. The food was fine but there was too much drink, so the less said about Day 7, the better...’

Days 8 and 9: ‘Spent in the botanical gardens working on the data. The aim of the European Workshop is to see whether the beaches of the Crimea qualify for the Blue Flag. To get the flag, beaches must be accessible, meet certain water quality standards, have facilities like toilets, and display safety warnings. We were also looking at who is responsible for things like water quality and coastal development.’

Day 9: ‘In the morning there were presentations by stakeholders such as the regional water company. Unfortunately, not many people could understand the interpreter, but luckily for us, Nara could – she is a Mongolian student who is fluent in both Russian and English.’

Day 10: ‘The moment of truth. It was lucky that we only had to present to our own groups, since my group found it very hard to come up with something. Feelings ran high, and we needed some help from Wilko and Simon.’

Day 11: ‘A day off on the last day. I bought a Matryoshka doll for my girlfriend. And we went to the palace where the Yalta treaty was signed by Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt when they divided Europe up after the Second World War. Very impressive to be at such an importance place in world history.’

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