People Need Maps

Trouble’s brewing around the borders of Ukraine. People who don’t make eastern Europe a daily concern need context, and maps help. It’s beginning to look like we’ll be talking about Ukraine for some time to come, so to help orient yourself, and get briefed up on what may be the coming storm, here are a few maps. First, Ukraine itself:

Ukraine borders Russia to its east, Belarus to its north, and to its west, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. Russian troops occupy the Donbass region in the east and Crimea in the south.

Here, Ukraine and its northern neighbors:

Note Kaliningrad, between Poland and Lithuania. It’s an exclave of Russia, a heavily armed artifact of WWII. The short border between Poland and Lithuania is called the Suwalki Gap, an area of vulnerability for NATO, as a Russian move to close that gap between Kaliningrad and Belarus would cut off the NATO Baltic states.

Belarus is increasingly a satrapy of Russia and as of the week of January 17, Russian troops have been moving into Belarus. The presence of Russian forces in Belarus is ominous not only for the Suwalki Gap, but also because Russian troops are taking positions along the Belarus/Ukraine border, ahead of coming war games with Belarusian troops promised for February 10 – 20.

Here is a map from the Belarusian Ministry of Defense showing the locations of the planned war games. Note in particular that the tank maneuvers anticipated in Belarus’s west (arrow) border the Suwalki Gap:

As you can see in the map below, the border area Russia occupies in Ukraine’s east, the Donbass, is much farther away from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv than is the Belarusian border. Kyiv (this is the spelling in the Ukrainian language. In Russian it’s Kiev) is mostly on the west bank of the Dnieper River, so an incursion from Belarus would allow Russia to avoid having to cross the river, although they’d likely to go around to the west of Chernobyl. Nevertheless, the travel time between Kyiv and Chernobyl is scarcely more than an hour.

Now here is Ukraine’s south and the Black Sea:

Russian landing craft recently set out from the Baltic Sea Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. These are now apparently en route to the Black Sea, having been escorted out of the Baltic Sea on Wednesday, January 19th. Transit time to the Black Sea, estimates are plus or minus eight days.

Besides in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region there are three so-called “frozen conflicts” around the Black Sea where Russia has troops:

Chances are we’ll refer back to these maps in the days to come.

State Run Airlines Throw Money

Boeing got a big hug this week from Kazakhstan. At the Dubai airshow, Air Astana’s chief planning officer Alma Aliguzhinov announced plans to order up to 50 737 Max jets worth $6bn, saying

“We are making flying affordable for the people of Kazakhstan.”

Here’s an article.

“Separately, another airline signed a firm order for 10 Boeing 737 Max 7 and 10 Boeing Max 10 jets, a person familiar with the matter said. The airline’s name was not disclosed,”

the article says. Add that to Turkey-based airline SunExpress, which added a firm order for 10 of the planes, worth $1.2 billion at list.

A fine week’s work

“for a plane whose dangerous defects triggered the largest crisis in the aviation industry in years.”

Eyes on Istanbul’s Rerun Election Today

And may the real winner win. Live news in English at TRT News, although be aware that it is a state broadcaster run by the Turkish government.

Update from the Financial Times:

Mr Imamoglu (the opposition candidate) increased his lead in the city of 10.5m voters from less than 14,000 votes in the initial vote to more than 700,000. Those figures were based on almost 98 per cent of ballot boxes, Anadolu said.

385 more photos from all over Turkey here at EarthPhotos.com.

Quotes: In Turkey, Food Police Are A Thing

Municipal elections are coming up in Turkey. Don’t fret, the police are on your side and they’re here to help:

Police officers walk the beat in grocery stores to monitor prices. Inspectors have seized tons of onions from warehouses, fining the owners for hoarding, even though storing the bulbs is common practice to prevent rot.

From Grocery Stores Are at the Front Line of Turkey’s Latest Political Battle.

Road Trip Photo a Day

Our countdown is on now toward a three month+ round the world trip starting in mid-April. I’ll be traveling with my wife, the fearless Finn Mirja Murray. She and I will set out next month bound first for Saigon, ATL-IAD-BJS-Saigon. We’ve rented an apartment for three weeks:

It’s just off Le Loi and just above the Ben Thanh Market. We are coming from the ethnic food-constrained southern Appalachians and looking forward to eating well. Destinations beyond Saigon are up in the air for now. While we’re in Vietnam we hope to get up to Hue for a look at the work my friend Chuck Searcy is doing with Project RENEW. Chuck says, “A visit there brings into sharp focus the continuing legacies of the war that we’re trying to mitigate, unexploded bombs and mines (UXO) and Agent Orange / dioxin.”

Our ultimate mission is to make it to Finland by the time it’s summer there, sometime in June. We have a mökki, a cottage by the lake there. We’ll have to work out the route between Southeast Asia and Northern Europe. Just now I’m keen on flying HAN-IST-Tbilisi and enjoying some fine Georgian hospitality while we wait another few weeks for Finland to warm up, but that is subject to, even likely to change. Any other suggestions?

Meanwhile, from now to then, we’ll try to post a photo a day from previous trips to Vietnam on Twitter, where I am @BMurrayWriter, please follow, and all the photos we post will propagate day by day on Earthphotos.com, too, at this URL: https://www.earthphotos.com/Other/Around-the-World-Slowly-2019/.

This is a wide open, open ended trip. Please help us by lending your expertise. Do weigh in. Or, if you’re local in any of our destinations, please allow me to buy you a beer.

 

Two Worthwhile Photography Sites

I commend to you two photographers, John Wreford, who spent ten Years in Damascus, four in Istanbul and is now living in Sofia, Bulgaria (See his site here), And Martina Korkmaz, whose site, The Depth of Now, explores Istanbul through storytelling and photography. Ms. Korkmaz interviews Wreford about his time in Damascus, among other topics, and features some of his photography, in this article. Worth your time.

Crossing the Black Sea

Because Ukraine is back in crisis this week, with some of its military ships impounded by Russia during an attempted trip from Odessa through the Kerch Strait, this might be a good time to revisit a trip from several years back between Istanbul and Odessa by overnight ferry. Here’s how that went:

Common Sense and Whiskey

Palmyra

From 2007:

Today we’d sail on the Yuzhnaya Palmyra, a ship of the UKRFerry shipping company, on once weekly service Istanbul to Odessa. It was to be an approximately 28 hour crossing of the Black Sea south to north, although we’d have to see about the timing.

Departure was set for 9:00 on the web, 10:00 on our ticket (a hard copy they insisted on sending via DHL for $70 from Ukraine to the U.S.), and 11:00 by the people at the hotel, who made some calls on our behalf. So arrival as well, I suspected, ought to be approximate.

We presented ourselves down at the Karakoy docks shortly past 8:00 a.m. “Actual Time,” as the reception clock had it. We had ample time for a spin up and down ship, stem to stern, and an extended goodbye to the mosques filling the Istanbul skyline, lying at anchor, as…

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Travel Book Recommendation

Nice to see Kapka Kassabova’s book Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe has won another award. She writes evocatively about three months of travel up and down the Bulgarian/Turkish/Greek border, an entirely underexplored corner of Europe. Check it out. Bet you’ll enjoy it.

Tuesday’s award joins previous accolades for Border. It was named Travel Book of the Year back in February.

Travel by Recycling

A nice idea in Istanbul. While ghastly things take place across town, for people with normal lives

“The city is installing “reverse vending machines” at metro stations that allow passengers to add credit to their subway cards simply by inserting a plastic bottle or aluminum can into the machine.”

A 1.5-liter bottle will add 6 cents. Here’s the story.