The Rejuvenating Waters of Staryi Krym

Petya Prokhorov’s recollection of his formative summers on the Crimean seaside.

Photographer and craftsman Petya Prokhorov has spent the past few months renovating his family summer home in the small eastern Crimean town of Staryi Krym.  Here he captures the day-to-day life of his town and reflects on the memorable moments of  childhood vacations.

There is a story that my father’s friends like to share about him. When he was a university student, he once disappeared, and nobody knew where he was, except for my grandmother – not even any of his friends. He ran away from Moscow and travelled around Crimea.  While everyone was searching for him, he was traversing Crimea by foot. He made it all the way from Sevastopol to Sudak – which is about a 400 km journey along the coast and over the Ai Petri mountain. He ran away at the beginning of the school year and came back at the end of it – and successfully managed to pass all his tests with flying colors.  When I was a student he would tell me this this story as a lesson of sorts.

We came here for the first time as a family when I was six years old. We rented a house by the sea in Koktebel. My first memory from this place was that there were no houses taller than two stories. Now, there are giant hotels everywhere you look. This very vivid childhood memory serves as one of those typical reminders of “how amazing it was back then” –  like our grandmothers like to begin their stories.

My father’s friend bought a house in Staryi Krym around that same time. He would always invite us and boast about how wonderful the area was. So, a year later my father bought a house and a car here too. Another year or two later, our friends the Krotkovs moved here as well.  From that point on we would to come to Crimea every year. It was always a large group of people, the adults, their friends and their children. The Krotkovs have six kids, and then there was my sister Ania, myself and our nephews too: there were about twenty of us in total. Our homes were on the outskirts of the town, four houses away from each other.  Staryi Krym is arranged like New York in a way: the streets are laid out in a grid, vertically and horizontally. We lived very close to a big field.  On one side the Agarmysh mountain towered over us, and on the other side a cluster smaller mountains. Fields, hills, and lakes made up the rest of the geography.  

We spent our days staging theatre shows and inventing games. We used to play this game called the Mental Clinic: we would wrap one player in sheets and handle his arms as if he was in a straitjacket. At night the “patient” would run out onto a field while the others, pretending they were hospital workers, would chase him. It’s a very primitive game, but it was fun.  There are many second-hand stores in our little town and everything is a bargain. Our daily allowances were spent on sheets and fabrics, that we would color and cut into crusader costumes.

For as long as I can remember, every summer of my life was spent here. All my first encounters with adolescent antics happened here –  smoking a cigarette, my first kiss, learning how to play a guitar, the hikes, the sea. I was discussing with a friend how every person has their element. Water is my element – I can’t live without it. I have this need to put myself water to recharge. Crimea and its waters are irreplaceable for me in this regard.

I had a certain revelation about my relationship to Crimea this year with respect to my perception of the world – beyond the reach of politics, structures and systems. It has to do with nature, evolution and the life that is invisible to the naked eye. This was very liberating.

When I hear people say they would never to Crimea because of what the Russians did, I say, who cares. You are not going to see the power structures, you are going to see the place, and the place is very cool. There are no mountains around it. If you hop over from the Ukrainian side, there will be mountains for thousands of kilometers. Once you get here it’s as if all the mountains have gone underwater and you are on this this little island by the sea.

I went diving here for the first time in my life this year. We would go down for twenty or thirty minutes, and that is when I saw the real underwater life. You can only see it when you actually merge with it. The coolest thing I saw was plankton. We went swimming at night and there were millions of them everywhere, shining their fluorescent light, and when we moved our hands through them, they looked just like falling stars. I strongly suggest this experience to everyone. But you have to go on a moonless night, because that’s when you can really see them.  I was screaming in the water, I think people could hear me from the shore. I just couldn’t hold back this feeling of pure joy.