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Sevastopol remembers



Except for its location there is nothing remarkable about Malakhov Hill. But with a commanding view of both Sevastopol and its harbour this modest height of land on the south coast of the Crimean Peninsula has witnessed some of the most horrific battles in the annals of warfare. From the Crimean War of 1854-55 through the Great Patriotic War (WW2) of 1942-45 and the white-knuckle years of the Cold War, Sevastopol has been on the front lines of the conflict. And the legacy of those past wars is now an integral part of the city's landscape. More than 1,400 monuments are dedicated to the city's military heritage - some hidden away in secluded parks, others visible from far out at sea.

As the Lomonosov swung into Artillery Bay I got my first glimpse of the Eagle Column standing atop an offshore rock and on Khrustalny Cape to my right the towering "Hero City" obelisk and the giant bronze figure of two soldiers dominate the skyline above the dock. The Eagle Column, Sevastopol's signature landmark, is dedicated to the ships that were scuttled by Russian sailors to block the harbour entrance during the Crimean War and the obelisk commemorates the city's heroic defense against the Nazis during World War II. As for the Cold War, the warships of the Black Sea Fleet, some Russian some Ukrainian, are reminder enough of those tense years when Sevastopol was a "closed city."

We began our tour of the city with an obligatory stop at the memorial honoring admiral Nakhimov, one of the Russian commanders during the Crimean War. That brief but brutal conflict began when the British, alarmed at Russian military conquests in the Black Sea region, formed an alliance with France and Turkey and sent an expeditionary force of 67 warships and 64,000 men to confront the Russians. The Alliance quickly occupied most of the Crimean Peninsula - except for Sevastopol. There the Russian defenders dug in on Malakhov Hill and, despite continuous shelling and repeated infantry assaults held their ground for 349 bloody days.

At the head of South Bay we left our van and climbed up Malakhov Hill to the Panorama Museum, which celebrates the siege of Sevastopol with a giant diorama. From a platform at the centre of the huge circular building viewers have the illusion of standing on top of the hill on June 6, 1855 when the outnumbered Russian defenders repulsed an attack by British and French troops. In the foreground full sized replicas of cannons, dugouts, and the churned up wreckage of war blend seamlessly into a background painting that wraps around the interior walls. The canvas, painted by Russian artist Franz Roubaud, is an incredible 14m high by 115m long and includes more than 4,000 human figures. But the victory depicted in his painting was short lived. Less than three months later the Malakhov redoubt was overrun by Alliance forces and with its collapse the Crimean War ended. At the Treaty of Paris in 1856 the wreckage of Sevastopol was returned to Russia. Only 14 of its original buildings were still standing. On Malakhov Hill every living thing had been destroyed and every square metre of ground contained a ton of spent ordinance.

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