Is it possible in three days to get lost in the green maze, get to the center of the Earth, make the camp near the burial of the Scythian kings, go down to the Devil’s Canyon and swim in the dead water on one of the most ancient sites in Eurasia? Sounds like the beginning of a fantasy story, the protagonist of which may become almost every Ukrainian. This only requires a reliable car, comfortable sneakers, and desire. Well, of course, you need a camera, because you want to keep this incredible beauty and save the impression for all of your life.
Let’s use an allegorical magic compass, and go to a fairy tale, called the National Natural Park ”Buzkyi Gard”. It is located in the Mykolaiv region. It covers an area of more than 6 thousand hectares and stretches for 70 km along the rivers Southern Bug, Velyka Korabelna, Mertvovod, and Arbuzynka.
Of course, covering such a large area in a short time is rather difficult, and frankly speaking, it’s not necessary, because each corner of these protected areas is worthy of special attention. So, we choose the southern part of ”Buzkyi Gard” – canyons Actovsky and Arbuzynsky, as well as the natural boundary ”Labyrinth” in the village of Trykraty.
Our starting point is a small city Voznesensk in the Mykolaiv region. Half an hour by car – and we get to the summer estate of the ”patriarch of the forest in the southern steppes” Count Victor Skarzhynsky in the village of Trykraty. He was from an old Ukrainian Cossack family, a veteran of 1812 war. In the first half of the nineteenth century. Skarzynsky was a true innovator in the field of forestry and agriculture.
The Trykraty Forest is a green masterpiece by Victor Skarzhynsky, a fruit of the titanic work of the Count and locals. The artificially planted park was very cleverly designed, with winding paths from the main channel of the river Arbuzynka canals, bridges and gazebos, 150-year-old giant oaks; it is a refuge for many species of birds and animals. It’s in no way inferior to Sofia Park in Uman. In 1972 the park received the status of a state-protected tract and was called the ”Labyrinth”.
The local virgin-wild turtle (about 30 cm in length) slowly crosses the river.
After getting through the green labyrinth, we got to the old cobbled road and move to the next destination – the Arbuzunsky Canyon.
The small river Arbuzynka – the tributary of the Mertvavoda River, finds its way among the enormous granite-basalt boulders, covered with dried from the summer heat mosses.
The plant with an optimistic name ”molodylo” (the one that makes you young) is blossoming in the middle of an August – a trunk is raised from the tiny rosette, topped with pale yellow flowers. Reminds of some kind of exotic palm.
Among more than 1000 species of plants of a local flora, 34 species are in the Red Book of Ukraine. Among them, there is a unique relic Moehringia Hhypanicus, for which the granite rocks of Pobuzhya are the only place on Earth where it can grow. So, look carefully under your feet – maybe, some dinky flower is the last on our planet.
Even though Arbuzynsky or Small Aktovsk Canyon is not big, it is extremely picturesque. It is difficult to descend from the rocks to the water. It’s necessary to have certain skills of rock climbing and comfortable shoes. Not surprisingly that these places were chosen by mountaineers.
The highest point of the area is considered to be the rock ”Pup Zemli” (Centre of the world), on the top of which proudly flies the Ukrainian flag. It overlooks the village of Aktove and the river Mertvovod.
In the distance attention is drawn by the white rocks – it’s a quarry, where the chalk was mined. We’re going there. Now it looks abandoned. Almost alien-like white rocks, like dragon teeth, can be wonderful scenery for a photo shoot.
A variety of birds is flying over your head. We even managed to ”catch with the camera” a playful couple of bee-eaters.
Little by little the day is passing by, the night comes. The bottomless sky, the glowing band of stars, the stripe of the Milky Way above the head and the granite stones that are billions of years old are under your feet. This land is considered to be one of the oldest in entire Eurasia! The ocean hasn’t flooded it over the past 60 million years. Once upon a time, there were mountains, volcanoes, but over time they disappeared, leaving behind only granite-basalt ”sole”. The ancient tribes, Scythians, Ulychi, Chumaks, Cossacks, and now local shepherds and tourists are laying out paths along this eternal land.
The village of Aktove is a small settlement on the Mertvovod River. There you can see houses neatly painted with blue (southern Ukrainian folk architecture style). There, we’ve planned to rest before the next canyon and refill our water supplies.
However, it became clear that the inhabitants of the Aktove themselves suffer from a shortage of fresh water – the only well in the whole village has a bitter water. Locals drink bottled water. So, it is worth taking care of your water supplies before, so as not to give any troubles to the locals, or just buy water at a local store.
Walking down the main street of the Aktove village from the beginning to the end, we’ve finally reached the main landmark, which indicates the proximity of the canyon. The locals say – go to the stork’s nest, and then down – there will be rocks. Here it is, a handsome bird sits in the nest and shows the way for travelers. Many witty sparrows also found shelter in a stork’s home. Every year a family of white storks returns here and give birth to chicks. This is some kind of a guarantee of peace and happiness on this land.
Actovsky Canyon, or Valley of the Devil. We hadn’t seen anything infernal there – on the contrary, it was a divine beauty! To fully enjoy it, you should come here when the sun goes down. The pink rays gradually push the night shadows in the bizarre ravines, opening to your eyes an incredible chaotic pile of granite boulders covered with a hawthorn and thorn. It seems that some ancient giants had worked here.
Granite is vulnerable to temperatures – rocks, warmed by the sun, cool down at night, microcracks appear there and get filled with water. During the cold season, these water canals freeze, and the ice further expands the cracks. This way, year after year, century after century, the forces of nature split relict rocks, scatter the fragments to the bottom of the canyon, and then straighten out and round off their silhouettes.
At the bottom of the canyon, there is a river with a mystical name Mertvovod (direct translation: “the dead water”). There are various hypotheses regarding the origin of the name, and each one is similar to the truth.
The water is saturated with the hydrogen sulfide that has a high mineral salting index and has a bitter taste. In quiet backwaters, covered with reeds, calamus, duckweed, and lavender, the water barely moves and seems to be black. Nevertheless, it is very pleasant to swim in it. The water is warmed by the sun. It is saturated, except for hydrogen sulfide, with juices of medicinal herbs, aged on the leaves and bark of oaks, a lot of which grow here, furthermore the water is filtered by the rocks.
It’s hard to believe, but once, this little river that hardly reaches the cow’s knee was navigable. One of the reasons for desiccation of the river is unsuccessful management – in many places, it is blocked by dams, water is not cleared, and the coastline is broken. Another problem is the garbage tossed in the river – it’s a shame to watch how people who are able to enjoy the natural beauty of Pobuzhya spoil it with their own wastes.
Nevertheless, the journey is coming to an end; the magic compass leads us down the Mertvovod river back to Voznesensk. A bit further the river flaws into the Southern Bug. In the place where two rivers meet, once was the Cossack winter base Sokoly. Back in times of the Nova Sich (1734-1775), it was a part of the Bugograd Palanka, an administrative-territorial unit of the Zaporozhian Cossack Army. Before that, there was a Turkish fortress Chychakley, earlier than that – the settlement of the East Slavic tribe Ulychy, before which was the pre-Slavic tribes of the Bronze Age, and so on for centuries.
That’s the end of the fairy tale. It is time to come back home, to the present, and tell this story to all adventurous researchers of beautiful Ukraine.
Photo by Yulia Kryzhevska
Text by Darya Garmyder