Europe

Crimea crisis: Ukraine-Russia tensions spill on to the beach

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Media captionThe BBC's Tom Burridge has been to one of the crossing points to talk to people making the journey.

Barbed wire, armed soldiers and several hefty concrete checkpoints.

This is how many Ukrainians start and finish their summer holiday in Russian-annexed Crimea.

Queues of cars snake for several hours as people wait to visit relatives or get to the peninsula for a beach break.

Lorry-loads of watermelons are sold by the side of the road while people wait to be checked or waved through, in the southern region of Kherson, next to Crimea, where Kiev's vast Dnipro river enters the Black Sea.

Aside from the odd soldier dug in by the side of the road and the vigilance of Ukraine's border guards, there is little to suggest that the country is preparing for Russian military action from the south.

Image caption Watermelons are welcome refreshment for holidaymakers forced to wait in hot cars at the checkpoint

Most analysts think any such action would be highly unlikely.

But after Russia seized Crimea in March 2014 without firing a shot, Ukraine has learnt to expect the unexpected from its powerful neighbour.

Vigilance is the watchword of Ukraine's National Border Guard.

Spokesman Ivan Shevcov said his colleagues were "prepared for any type of action from the Russian side".


More on Crimea:

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Media captionIs Russia's 'plot' footage real or fake? The BBC's Tom Burridge reports

The war of words between Russia and Ukraine has intensified following Moscow's accusation that Kiev plotted a sabotage attack in Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin promised a response.

Russia has moved more military hardware on to the peninsula. And pictures of the Russian navy carrying out military drills in Crimea to counter the threat of saboteurs were quickly beamed around the world.

This week Russia is carrying out more exercises in Crimea to counter the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has put his military on high alert. He insists the Russian claim of a sabotage attack by Ukrainian special forces was cooked up by the Kremlin to justify future attacks.

Image caption Armed soldiers check cars on their way in to Crimea

However little, if anything, has changed at the checkpoints in and out of Crimea.

One man from the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa said he went there only to visit his elderly mother who lived there and wouldn't leave.

When she dies, he will not travel there any more.

For Igor, travelling to Crimea to visit relatives, the latest rhetoric is "mostly exaggerated".

"Whatever you see on TV, (with) saboteur groups arrested, I think this can be faked by any side. Each side can create provocations."

With his tennis racket bag slung over his shoulder, Artyom, a Ukrainian probably in his 20s, explains how pleasant his holiday in Crimea has been, and how friendly the people there were. And he is not alone.

"The Russians say one thing and the Ukrainians another. I don't know who to trust," says an elderly woman with sunglasses.

The line between fact and fiction is often blurred when it comes to Russia's tactics and actions in relation to Ukraine.

Kiev calls this "hybrid warfare", which mixes propaganda with cyber attacks and semi-clandestine operations.

Tamara is driving across to Crimea, where she owns property, with her chihuahua Charlie.

She might not believe all the rumours in Kiev. However, she does not trust the Russian version of recent events.

"I think [the Russians] did this intentionally. But I don't know why they did this during the holiday season. Everything was fine when I came here in June with my mum."

Image caption Many Ukrainians now prefer beaches opposite Crimea and refuse to travel there on principle
Image caption But Ukrainian border guards keep watch

Tamara's mother-in-law and daughter were going to join her on the trip to Crimea, but because of what they had seen on the news they decided to stay in Kiev.

Across the water from Crimea in the small town of Skadovsk, the melee of swimsuits and food-sellers on the beach is proof that many Ukrainians will simply not travel to Russian-annexed Crimea as a point of principle.

Few seem to notice the Ukrainian National Border Guard soldiers high above in their concrete look-out post at the back of the beach, behind an invisible network of trenches.

For all the political rhetoric of recent days, the fun-loving normality of the summer season in southern Ukraine goes on.

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