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Hot summer, hot emotions: Kalina Varbanova in Varna on war and peace in Bulgaria

This story is not about tourist entertainments and attractions, nor about tourism statistics. This is a story
about war and compassion and human reaction. But by the end of this story, it’s unlikely my country Bulgaria will be a winner no matter what happens.

After the war in Ukraine started on 24 February, Bulgaria was one of the countries to immediately accept refugees from Ukraine. Varna is the first big city to accept and give aid to refugees. Officials organized their efforts including a center for Ukrainian refugees. In fact, in every big city across our country there are centers organized to help Ukrainian refugees.

Official information about help for Ukrainian refugees is available here on the Bulgaria for Ukraine website (in English and Ukrainian.)

Vоlunteers and municipal and state authorities give help. Charity campaigns are ongoing. Ukrainian
refugees were accommodated in seaside hotels till 31 May, after which they were moved to government housing and even state holiday houses.

So far, about 325,000 Ukrainians have entered Bulgaria, with about 79,000 remaining here, according to official government data.

No good deed goes unpunished

Because of its support for Ukraine, Russia and Putin view Bulgaria as an enemy country. Gazprom stopped delivering gas to Bulgaria on 27 April. On 5 June, Bulgarian officials refused permission for Russian Minister of foreign affairs Sergei Lavrov to fly in Bulgarian air space. On 6 June the chair of Roscosmos, Dmitryi Rogozin threatened to hit Bulgaria with a Sarmat nuclear missile.

Bulgarians aren’t frightened by any of this. After all, we survived the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear plant blast on 26 April 1986, after which the cloud of radiation reached Bulgaria.

Russia a fact of life for Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a strange country. There are still Russophiles and Putinphiles who raise the Russian banners and follow the cult of Putin. There is one nationalist and Putinophile party, Vazrazhdane, in the Bulgarian parliament. The other nationalist Putinophile parties could not enter Parliament.

Vazrazhdane resembles Q-Anon – they believe in conspiracy theories and in the all the Russian propaganda. But overall, they’ve haven’t influenced the majority of Bulgarians. Most of the Bulgarians accept Ukrainian refugees with open hearts and compassion and demonstrations in support to the Ukrainians are happening in every Bulgarian city. An alley next to the Russian embassy in Sofia is now designated Heroes of Ukraine.

One song became symbol of all the anti-war protests all over the world including in Bulgaria. “Chervona Kalina” is the song sang all over world in support to Ukrainians. Boombox singer Andryi Khlyvnyuk posted video of his performance of “Chervona Kalina” in Instagram and the song went viral on social media.

Rock giants Pink Floyd did their own cover called “Hey Hey Rise Up!” Many more rock and metal stars support Ukraine from the very beginning of the war. Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider gave approval for “We’re Not gonna Take It” to be used as battle song by Ukrainian army.

Dee Snider has released video called “Stand with Ukraine.”

Top gun in the skies over Varna?

Of course, this isn’t just about music videos. Fighter jets fly from time to time over Varna, part of Bulgaria’s security and combined military training with the United States and other NATO air forces. Bulgaria is NATO member and close ally of America.

Because of our strategic geopolitical location, Bulgaria has a lot to lose if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drags on.

Odessa, Ukraine and my city of Varna, Bulgaria are two cities on both sides of Black Sea. Both cities are important ports and cultural centers. One hundred years ago, Varna was declared the summer tourism capital of Bulgaria. Sea, spa and cultural tourism in the city and nearby seaside and spa resorts St. Constantine and Helena and Golden Sands are a crucial part of our local economy.

Russians own tens of thousands of properties in Bulgaria, especially around the Black Sea resorts including Varna. But Bulgarian officials announced on 26 February a ban on Russian air carriers, leaving hundreds of Russians stranded.

So 2022 could be yet another year – following the pandemic years – of Bulgaria’s tourism sector struggling because of the European Union travel ban and because the Russian economy is collapsing under U.S. sanctions. We shall see if Europeans and Americans support us the way we’ve supported them.

If you decide to support both Bulgaria and Ukraine, here’s a list of great destinations and cultural events in Varna and other cities.

Sun, spas and spies: Post-COVID, health-and-spa tourism is the new focus in Bulgaria

Getting married in Bulgaria (updated): ‘A wedding like something out of a movie’ … literally

Bulgaria is sitting on a gold mine of spas, mineral springs and holistic health centers

In summer,Varna is cultural center.

Numerous arts and culture festivals are held in the city including:

International Theater Festival Varna Summer

International Music Festival Varna Summer

International ballet competition

International Film Festival Love is Folly

Opera at the Summer Theater

See more about Bulgaria here in Dispatches’ archives. See more about Varna here.

+ posts

Kalina Varbanova freelance journalist based in Varna, Bulgaria. Kalina’s interests include culture, tourism, archeology and politics. She's been a Dispatches contributor since 2017, and has written some of our best-read posts.

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