Ukraine

IS THERE A PILOT IN THE PLANE?

In early June a small plane flew into Bulgarian airspace from the northwest and landed at what used to be a commercial airport near Vidin. Apparently, the aircraft refuelled. It is unclear whether the pilot or pilots got any on-the-ground assistance from anyone or just poured fuel into the plane's tank from canisters. Guards from a private security company that was supposed to protect the ruins of Vidin Airport noticed the activity and alerted the local police. But the aircraft was quicker. It took off before the police arrived.

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WHY DO SO MANY BULGARIANS SUPPORT PUTIN?

Perhaps surprisingly for a country that was once an enthusiastic applicant to join NATO and the EU Bulgaria is now home to a significant number of people who support... Russia's tyrant Vladimir Putin and his war in Ukraine. The pro-Putin Bulgarians even have a political party that represents them in parliament. It is called Vazrazhdane, or Revival, and was quick to abandon, as soon as Russia invaded Ukraine, its anti-vaxxer stance to espouse Putin's propaganda.

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WHAT'S IN A NAME?

A recent example is the Sofia City Council's decision to rename one of the streets around where the Russian Embassy is situated to The Heroes of Ukraine, and a nearby small square to Boris Nemtsov. In addition, they agreed to have an Ukrainian flag hoisted on top of the Sofia City Council building for as long as Putin's war in Ukraine continued. The city councillors belonging to the Bulgarian Socialist Party, opposed but the decision was passed anyway.

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WHAT BULGARIANS GET WRONG ABOUT WAR IN UKRAINE

Though it has been a member of NATO since 2004 and of the EU since 2007 present-day Bulgaria appears not to be very enthusiastic about any involvement in the war in Ukraine. Propaganda, disinformation and that sadly characteristic Balkan feature of obstinately trusting emotions and hearsay rather than common sense and hard facts partially explain this country's current attitude.

What are the prevalent misconceptions about Russia's "special operation" in Ukraine?

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ROUND BLACK SEA IN 3 VAGABONDS PART 2: THE NATURE

What do you need to make a sea? In the case of the Black Sea, you take three tectonic plates between Europe and Asia that clash, divide and subside under the pressure of volcanic activity for several million years, and let rivers and rains fill the gaps. You then add a narrow strait to connect the water basin to the Mediterranean. The end result is a sea with low salinity whose shores and currents still reflect its geological past: on maps and in aerial photographs the two ancient basins that made the current Black Sea are still clearly discernible, divided by a pointy end: the Crimea.

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ROUND BLACK SEA IN 3 VAGABONDS. PART 1: THE HISTORY

It encompasses six countries, with wide rivers, majestic mountains and splendid beaches, and the remains of ancient civilisations and modern developments. Peopled with adherents of the three Abrahamic religions, and redolent of times of splendour, confrontation and tragedy, the shores of the Black Sea combine different nations, geographic and climatic features, and history. In a series of three articles, we will cover the most exiting sites in a region that is still underexplored by Western travellers. We begin with the history of the Black Sea.

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UNDERGROUND UNDERWATER

Balaklava: to the people in the West, the name evokes associations with the knitted facepack seen in Hollywood films about terrorism and bank robberies. The more historically minded would also think of the Crimean War of 1853-1856, when the heroic, but pointless Charge of the Light Brigade took place. If you dig deeper into the history of this small town, which is now a neighbourhood of Sevastopol, you will discover more military connections. During the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale worked in Balaklava, and British photographers took the first 360-degree photographs in history there.

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VINNYTSIA: SURPRISINGLY PLEASANT

At the present time, there aren't – not only because of the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine, but because usually visitors bypass Vinnytsia for the more attractive sites of the Podolia region, in western Ukraine. These include, but are not limited to, the medieval city of Kamianets-Podilskyi and the castles in Radomysl and Letychiv.

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UMAN, UMAN, ROSH HASHAHAH!

Dusty and drab, devoid of any charm unless you count the 18th Century Sofyivka Park and the Georgian cheese pastries at the bus station, the Ukrainian city of Uman would be a strong contender for the most uninteresting place in Eastern Europe.

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ODESSA BEFORE THE RAIN

International news is hardly a good tourism advertisement, and Ukraine is no exception. Even Odessa, one of the country's most memorable cities, is talked about now as a battlefield between pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian forces, a silent ghost of the place which, until a year ago, could easily fit onto any Best-Cities-To-Visit-Before-Crowds-Discover-Them list.

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NUKES UP, NUKES DOWN

The road is narrow and straight, the fields of wheat and corn around spread far and wide under an endless sky. Here and there, huge, recently repainted metal road sculptures indicate that nearby, hidden behind lines of poplars, villages exist.

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