SOCHI – Tens of thousands of vacation-goers in Russia and Ukraine have descended on Black Sea beaches, paying little heed to public health measures despite the numbers of reported coronavirus cases remaining high in both countries.
Desperate for a break from the confinement of months-long lockdowns, few wear masks or try to maintain social distance as they bask in the sun on overcrowded beaches in the Russian city of Sochi and in the Ukrainian seaport of Odesa.
While popular vacation destinations in Europe are still closed to visitors from Russia and Ukraine as European nations move carefully to lift restrictions on foreign visitors, Black Sea resorts in Russia and Ukraine are filled to capacity from domestic tourism.
“We usually go abroad: the Emirates, Tunisia, Turkey, and we did plan to go again this year," Tatyana Kofler, a Russian who is spending her summer leave in Sochi, said. "But then our plans changed.”
The owners of beaches that require a fee place lounge chairs at required intervals, but on the city's public beaches few visitors appeared concerned with trying to avoid COVID-19 by maintaining a safe distance.
Hotel owners are happy about the bonanza, and prices for rooms are soaring.
“Our hotel is booked to the max, and the projections are very optimistic, because preliminary bookings indicate the load will remain very good up to November,” said David Vardanyan, a Sochi hotel owner.
In the past, many Russians who live in the eastern part of a country that spans 11 time zones took vacations in Thailand, China or Vietnam to save money on air travel. Those destinations remain off-limits to foreigners, too, for now, helping swell the numbers of people streaming westward to Sochi and the Crimean Peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.