There is such a place on the map of Ukraine, almost virgin, where white sand kisses with the azure waves, where the air is drunk with wind noise and the rustling of red herbs, where the sun appears from the sea horizon and dives at night in the depths of the sea, where the eye begins to distinguish a thousand shades of blue, where every drop of fresh water is precious.
The ancient Greeks arranged sports tournaments here, and the Cossack ”seagulls” (kind of a boat) came here to rest during the marine campaigns to Constantinople and back, Ottoman and Russian imperial squadrons fought for this outpost, the battleship ”Potemkin” for the first time raised the flag of the insurrection next to this place; the Soviet military trained here combat dolphins, and today there is a testing ground and natural reserve, as well as Mecca for photographers, adventurers, yogis, and hermits.
The name of this place is Tendra.
Washed by the Black Sea waves
The Tendra Spit stretches for 65 km along the coast of the Kherson region, Holoprystansky district, almost parallel to the Kinburn peninsula. From the south, it’s washed by the Black Sea, from the north by the Tendrovsky Gulf. In the west it becomes the part of peninsula Bili Kuchurgany, in the east, it separates from the land by a Strait (near the village of Zaliznyi Port, Kherson region).
Land of the natural reserves
Most of Tendra is a part of the Black Sea Biosphere Reserve (the largest in Ukraine). Many species of birds are nesting or resting during their flight here, most of them are in the Red Book of Ukraine. It is a kingdom of martens, swans, pelicans, cormorants, crabs, rapanas, wild horses and cows, jellyfishes, sea rays and other fishes, Black Sea Afalin dolphins and sea pigs (a relic subfamily of the harbor porpoise, author’s note).
Tendra was made of sand and shells but for thousands of years, there was a little muddy layer of soil with poor vegetation, resistant to salt and merciless sun. Nevertheless, thirty plant species of the Tendra Spit are in the Red Book of Ukraine, and another 16 are in the European Red List. They are endangered on a global scale, for example, endemistics alfalfa tendra and alfalfa marine, etc.
From the depths of the centuries
A narrow strip of sand in the middle of the sea has attracted people since the ancient times, although the lack of fresh water makes the island almost uninhabitable. But for sailors of all times, the spit was a desirable place of rest, although it puts the ships in danger of going aground. During the times of Kievan Rus on the waterway, Kyiv-Constantinople Tendra served as a place for vessels to maneuver, and the Cossacks docked here their light “seagulls” to have rest before the next stage of the campaign or to wait for better weather.
Ancient Greek settlers who colonized the Northern Black Sea in the VIII-VI centuries. B.C., ascribed to Tendra a great maritime and religious significance. Pliny the Elder considered Tendra as the peninsula and called it “Achilles Run”. You can also find Tendra in many works of other ancient historians and authors, including Herodotus, Strabo, Euripides.
An ancient legend says that the Tendra spit appeared when the priest of the ancient Greek goddess Artemis Iphigenia fled from of the hero of Trojan War Achilles. Where her feet touched the surface of the sea, a sandy strip was formed. Achilles couldn’t catch up with the beautiful fugitive, and the spit got its name – Achilles Run. In the second century B.C., on the Tendra soil, in honor of the ancient hero sports competitions in running, jumping, wrestling, archery, horse racing, etc. were held. Even the record of archer Anaxagoras was registered. He shot an arrow at 540 meters, and it’s 100 meters further than modern records!
The legend of the glorious hero could have peeled off and fallen away, if not the discovery in 1824 of the Achilles’ sanctuary founded around VI-V centuries. A real fortune was discovered there – more than 800 Greek, Bosporan, Thracian and Roman coins, antique ceramics, marble slabs with inscriptions, etc.
And in a few years, in 1827, near this place was built one of the most important lighthouses of the Black Sea. Until now, the lighthouse has preserved its authentic appearance, only the lighting equipment was replaced.
The lighthouse is the only place on the island where there you can find drinking water and where people live permanently – a lighthouse keeper with his wife and children and a few employees. The border guards are constantly patrolling the Tendra spit because it’s a strategic object. From time to time peaceful silence is disturbed by the explosions of military drills. On the western edge of the spit, you can blow yourself up on a landmine hidden in a sand. Rusty gun shells mixed with shells of rapanas, “scallops”, “mermaid’s nails” (Pacific razor clam – note of the author), and somewhere skeletons of animals and birds bring you some kind of mystical-philosophical mood.
Abandoned meteorological station, the construction equipment deepen into the sand near the lighthouse, the wild horse herds, purple spots of salt marsh, pupils of salty lakes surrounded by a rough withered grass, the radar towers that stick on the slim body of the island, all these represent a strict beauty of Tendra. The transience of time and eternity, war and peace, the struggle between civilization and forces of nature – between these poles is its character.
Tenda Mustangs feel themselves unbelievably free here, their herds travel along the spit in search of fresh herbs, and you can often see them near a lighthouse next to the fresh water. There are different versions of their appearance on the island, one of them is quite dramatic – during the Second World War was issued an order to collective farms to destroy the horses so that the occupiers won’t have them, but one head of the collective farm couldn’t raise his hand on these majestic animals and secretly transported them to the spit. Over time, the horses bred, got wild and now they don’t resemble their own ancestors.
You can also observe a large herd of cows grazing freely, they most likely belong to a few locals.
Tourists are rare guests at the spit, since it’s almost impossible to get here on your own – a group should get a permit to come and to order a boat there and back – from the Ochakov four or five hours by sea if the weather is good, during a storm or a cold period navigation on local vessels is impossible at all.
Sometimes yachts approaching the spit, but there is a danger of taking the bottom.
This is the Tendra Island or the Achilles Run. It is deserted, open to all the winds, hidden from the stranger’s eyes, mysterious and inaccessible. Once you get here, on the boat steadily overcoming the rolling and clouds of mosquitoes, the wind blowing off the tent and the sharp blast of the sand in your eyes, the crazy heat from which there’s nowhere to hide, the thirst and the lack of any connection with land – you understand, that next year you will definitely come back here…
Text by Darya Garmyder
Photo by Yulia Kryzhevska