Modern Sevastopol (pronounced see-vas-to-pple locally) has an attractive appearance, but it was a different story when the city was making international headlines during the Crimean War. After 349 days of bombardment by the British, French and Turks in 1854–55, it lay devastated by the time of its defeat. Arriving 10 years later, Mark Twain still felt moved to remark: ‘In whatsoever direction you please, your eye encounters scarcely anything but ruin, ruin, ruin!’
History repeated itself in 1942, when the city fell to the Germans after a brutal 250-day siege. Stalin promptly proclaimed it a ‘hero city’ for holding out so long. Only 10 buildings in town today date from before 1945.
In 1997, after long negotiations in the wake of Ukrainian independence, Russia and Ukraine inked a lease for Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet to use the port. Ukraine recently ruled out any extension past 2017. Thereafter Russia says her ships may move to Novorossiysk – or even Syria! There won’t be a complete loss of Sevastopol’s nautical character, however. The port also moors and will continue to moor the smaller Ukrainian Navy.