Kiev Commonwealth of Naturists

"The Australian Naturist"  # 14


by Peter H. Dietrich

Two weeks preparation in Kiev see us off to an early start, once again in Andrii’s faithful old car, our “Golden Antelope”: Andrii, Lena and Karina, two young girls from Odessa, and myself, armed with cameras, dreams and hopes for good weather, as we had last year. We stop on the way out of Kiev to pick up 6-year-old Masha, and then we meet up with the others of our group traveling in two other cars: Hendrik, our “old pirate” veteran driver, Veronika, Zena and her 2-year-old daughter Dasha, Dima, our third driver, and, of course, Gala and her son Pavlik, now 11 years old, and who made last year’s trip and film such a special Odyssey to be a part of. And so we set off towards the Crimea, 12 people in 3 cars this time, a happy band on the way to 3 weeks holiday in this special land.

It’s a long, hot drive, interrupted by the occasional little drama, such as when we lose Hendrik’s car, and when Dima gets a flat tire. But we roll on towards our goal, Pavlik having brought along his own little zoo this year comprising of 3 tortoises and his tame rat, Maya. He is definitely on the road to becoming a serious zoologist, a second Gerald Durrell, as Dima suggests. 

Endless fields of sunflowers as numerous as are the stars, and which deserve a few close-ups, with a hint of tradition after last year’s stop in a very similar field. A few halts too in the local bazaars to stock up on fruit and drinks, and we manage a good 600 km before setting up a makeshift camp off the road as the evening falls. A supper washed down with wine and vodka and a few jokes, then it’s to sleep under the stars, as if a year hadn’t passed since the last time, and I try to count the stars as I tried to count the sunflowers – no hope at all of ever knowing just how many there are. 


Early morning becomes a habit as we hit the road again, passing into the Crimean Republic at around 9 a.m. When we stop for lunch beside the Crimean Northern Canal, Pavlik finds a water snake that is rapidly added to his traveling menagerie, explaining that it will be perfect for my planned “Adam & Eve” sequence. Another small drama when he swims with his 3 tortoises, as the smallest dives into the murky water and disappears. His face tells it all as everyone searches frantically. We’re about to give it up for lost when I spot it trying to scramble up the steep bank. Whew! A close shave. 

We travel on, arriving at the sleepy village of Sun Valley at 4 p.m., where we fill our water reserves and buy our last provisions before heading for Fox Bay, where the dusty, winding road takes us through the vineyards down to the Black Sea, and we’re there again, old friends now. The half-km walk along the shore with all our luggage seems as nothing this time, even after several times in a row, and eventually our camp is installed, old friends greeted, and Fox Bay is our domain again for the next couple of weeks. It feels so good to be back, and Andrii jokes about the lack of cicadas this year: Pavlik caught so many last year there’s a serious shortage now! Pavlik, whose newfound freedom is as beautiful as it was last summer, and who once again becomes the Mowgli of my film in this landscape that no mere words can describe.

A new drama on waking as Pavlik finds his snake has escaped during the night! We search in vain. So much for Adam and Eve! He’s soon off looking for crabs with his friends, Vanya and Simeon from last year, and Anna and Genna, new friends from Moscow. They belong to another of those families in which all the children are born naturally in the sea, and their mother gave birth here to a new baby boy just one week ago! Amazing to see her bathing with the little fellow, then going through the “baby gymnastics” routine. Some might think it an odd way to bring up babies, but the children are so healthy and so happy in water, it’s obviously a very good method to follow. Other families around us have children born in the same way, and it’s wonderful to see them swimming before they can walk. Good material for my film, of course, and a good lesson for a lot of us who are perhaps too set in our opinions. 

 The adults of our group establish a work routine: collecting wood for the stove, cooking, washing-up, etc. A few minor conflicts that make me think of those awful “Survivor – Big Brother” style programs, but nothing too serious. My film advances in great bounds, and I can hardly wait to see it as a finished entity. Still so much to see and shoot though - early days yet. 

A routine is established: up at 5 a.m. to film the sunrise, more incredible and more beautiful each day as it rises slowly from behind the magnificent Karadak Mountain. Then feed the tortoises, happy in their new “stone-age” arena built by Pavlik. Washing and shaving in the sea. Breakfast. Discussion. Shopping, fetching water and wood, relaxing, filming, writing. The civilized world seems a long way off already, and it’s difficult to imagine going back, even if there are small and guilty longings for a few home comforts. Andrii and the children dig a mud pit beside the “flag” hill, so there’s no time for thinking of home as mud-coated creatures prance around waiting to be filmed. Life goes on eternal. 

A conflict between Andrii and myself, about bringing up children. He believes they should be made to work, to help in the collectivity, whereas I insist they should be free to do as they wish in this environment, albeit within reason. Pavlik is at the center of this discussion as he strolls around free as a bird and lives out his wildest dreams. Gala is torn, wanting her son to be happy, of course, but not knowing how to react for the best. I tell her Pavlik is pure poetry and we have no right to destroy that for the sake of servile jobs we can all do. Andrii says he must become “a man”, whatever that means. So we agree to differ. Pavlik goes on regardless, indifferent to our quarrels and as beautiful as are the night and the day, otherworldly as any poor man’s dream. 

It has returned. What? Eternity. It is the sun, the sea, a few friends and a great deal of natural beauty, with the poetry of lost and countless centuries to counterbalance the inherent melancholy of being alive – and so small – in such a magnificent setting. 

An outing to Koktabel, where the beach is crowded with naturists this year, a sharp contrast to last year’s visit. An artist from Moldavia introduces himself and promises to visit us in Fox Bay and treat us to some fantastic body painting. Great fun eating a huge watermelon, which becomes a hat for Karina and Hendrik.  On returning to Fox Bay, it’s time to say goodbye to little Anna and her family. Pavlik is sad to lose his little friend, as they’d become inseparable companions. Exchange of addresses, promises to send the film and photos. Help to carry baggage and babies along the beach. Then they are gone. Pavlik is soon sharing new adventures with his remaining friends, including the recovery of a baby seagull, and they sit around a small fire late in the night, telling stories only they can understand. 

Gala, overstressed, swims far out to sea, getting us all quite worried. She’s a very strong swimmer, but all the same. Pavlik catches crabs, seemingly unworried. Binoculars, scrutiny of the waters. There she is, a small black spot bobbing up and down like a reminder of why we are here. She returns to the shore way up from our camp, and sleeps. She is overtired and I understand that now, as she struggles to be the only responsible adult woman keeping our group together. Later she’s all smiles again, and tells of how she swam with a solitary dolphin out there. Wonderful end to what might have been a tragedy. 

To experience the mud bath for oneself instead of simply filming others in it, an amazing sensation as it oozes warm and fluid all around you. Then to feel it dry on your skin to form a second skin. A kind of rebirth through the elements as you wash it all off in the sea, that seems to sigh in harmony. 

Andrii’s flag invariably attracts all the children to it as it flutters on its hill, and I have a lot of shots of them as they wrap themselves in it or else stand beside it, looking out over the sea to Karadak Mountain. The strong wind of the last few days adds to the attraction as it flaps away. Symbol or plaything, it’s a focal point for all of us. 

A 3 km walk to Korokner with a small group from Kharkov and a few of our group, and we take a boat trip around the base of Karadak Mountain, sailing by “Ivan the Robber” and through the “Golden Gate” rocks, all of which we saw last year from above. Fantastic views of this ancient volcanic site, which still echoes the voices of long-gone millennia. How small we can seem at such moments, and how awfully huge our wild surroundings. 

At last we burn Pavlik’s “Chuchilla”, a symbolic sort of stuffed figure that reminds me of the “Guy Fawkes” of my own childhood. The children dance around the flaming figure, and the pagan symbolism is blatant to my eyes as I film these magic moments. Naked children, a burning figure on a cross, rocks a million years old or more, and the eternal sea like a heaving womb, a breathing lung, a beating heart. Yes, such moments make it all worthwhile, despite the disputes and the awful moments of despair and doubt. 

Cap Meganome revisited today, with the precarious climb down to the sea, the abandoned lighthouse, the rocks and caves, the salt holes. And today, for us, a school of dolphins out at sea that I manage to capture for a few seconds as they leap out of the water. Great landscape, great seascape, great filming. Another good day’s work. Then, after stopping by a lake to wash Andrii’s car, a freak flash-storm takes us by surprise, turning the track into a mud bath, and the car is stuck fast as it slides into a ditch! Soaked and muddy, we wait for the rain to stop then eventually manage to push the car back onto the track. All adventure and experience, as Andrii chuckles, even though he’s pretty tired of the many problems that leading such a group entails. 

It’s decided to reduce our group, Lena and Dima to go off to Odessa, Veronika, Zena and little Dasha to return to Kiev. An unspoken sadness that things haven’t run as smoothly as they could have, and a new tension as I explain to Andrii that I need more time to film in Fox Bay. Difficult moments, with silence at the fall of night as an almost-full moon rises in a clear sky, another symbol I can’t quite grasp or ignore. 

The last day at Fox Bay, as Andrii decides we must move further west to a place called Laspe, although I am not keen on the idea. It seems we’ve just got accustomed to living here, now we must go elsewhere and begin again. We organize a trek up into the forest to collect wood with two new Russian families. A new little Anna, 9 years old, practices her English with me, as they all like to do. I had planned to film her and Pavlik as little Indians in the forest, but Andrii commandeers my camera and films his own ideas, leaving me feeling rather frustrated. It is difficult to work with someone else in such conditions, because it seems no one here understands what I want to create on video this time. But later we organize some children’s games, and I film what I like filming most: happy people having a great time together. 

Goodbye Fox Bay, as we trek back and forth along the beach to load the 2 remaining cars. It all seems pointless to me still, but Andrii is determined, so off we go to Laspe. A couple of interesting stops on the way, at Bakhchisaray, the ancient cultural and administrative capital of Crimea, then at Chufoot Calley, with its 5th century monastery built into the rocks. Then on to Laspe, scene of my great depression last year on leaving Fox Bay. I just don’t like the place, and that’s final. There’s no easy access to the sea, it isn’t a naturist camp, and filming opportunities are rather lacking I feel. Missing Fox Bay immediately, I try to put on a brave face, but it’s far from easy. Everyone notes my dismay, but no one can understand it. Some things are only in the mind. 

The dreadful inconveniences of this place, like having to clamber down the cliff face to the sea far below to wash and shave, no beach, only huge rocks that seem to defy all reason, making you feel so small and insignificant again before these discarded toys of ancient and vanished Gods. This is reflected in my own mood all day, as I lack enthusiasm for filming, even if the landscape is impressive in its own way. Incredible heat and light that remind me of Africa. Pavlik and Gala both ill with bad earache, the sad result of diving too deeply. Yes, it’s hard not to regret Fox Bay and the lifestyle that had become ours forever, or so we believed at the time. So how long is forever? 

Andrii found a baby hedgehog snuffling around his tent last night, and Pavlik’s face as he wakes up to the news is a veritable picture to behold. One I didn’t take, unfortunately. So his menagerie grows yet again: 3 tortoises, a rat, countless insects, and a hedgehog he names Hendrik, after our old pirate friend! It accompanies us on our trip to Semeis today, quickly at ease with its little master. Nothing filmed at all apart from our small group living at Laspe, and I feel Andrii may also regret having left Fox Bay. 

Stricken by a bad “tummy bug”, which seems also to attack my kidneys, I feel pretty rotten all day, but manage to film a few scenes down by the sea. Pavlik as amusing as ever with his animals on a makeshift raft – he now has a second hedgehog he caught himself! – and he alone seems to be the living spirit of what I want to portray on tape. Later, after a slow walk to the nearby resort to get some drinks, tragedy strikes again on our return: Pavlik’s rat has died, apparently stung by some lethal huge insect! Pavlik very upset, as he’d reared it from a baby and they really were inseparable friends. We all try to console him as best we can, but this latest tragedy seems to have reached a peak, and I feel we’re all ready to call it a day and go home. Home? Wherever that may be after such extraordinary experiences. 

Final catastrophe: Andrii falls badly playing volleyball, and breaks a bone in his right hand! He thinks he’ll be okay for the long drive back to Kiev, but it’s still a major handicap. My own stomach troubles continue, but I film Pavlik releasing the hedgehogs back into the wild, although I see he’s very keen on keeping the small one, so I’m not surprised when he recaptures it. He releases it again this evening, after agreeing that it’s better off in the wild. 

No regrets really as we pack up and leave Laspe. It’s a beautiful place to visit no doubt, but not to live in. It’s just impossible for me to readapt after Fox Bay, for there is no comparison. A group of naturist families living in close proximity and harmony is something very special indeed, especially when the lifestyle is so basic and almost primitive. Laspe lacks that spirit, although the sunsets over the sea are magnificent. Let that be enough, then. 

Gala and Pavlik fencing with canes in the early morning, after camping by the road overnight, final scenes for my filming and a few last photos for the book. Then Kiev, where goodbye hurts now, especially for me. Many hours of video tape to look at and edit, and hundreds of photos to select from, the sum of a great and fascinating trip, where all did not run smoothly and according to plan, but from which I feel we all emerge larger in spirit and stronger in mind. The work is done, Crimea has been revisited, until…?


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