What kind of associations do you have when you hear the phrase “vacation in the Kherson region”? Probably, the majority will say about hot summer, burning sun, resort towns on shores of the Black and Azov seas. There are famous Oleshkovski sands, the reserve “Askania-Nova”, popular fishing on the Dnipro river and boat tours at numerous river branches in the reed beds. And what if we’ll tell you that there are mountains in Kherson region? They are born on the outskirts of the steppe and flow into the estuary. This location is gaining popularity thanks to a few enthusiasts.
This is a story about the small initiative of two friends who love their land very much and want the whole world to know about its beauty, ancient history, and diversity of cultures.
Oleh Marchuk and Andriy Holinko live in Oleksandrivka village of Belozersky district, Kherson region. The guys spent their childhood and adolescence here. From those times they’ve been friends. Both of them lived in big cities, always remained active, traveled and continue to do so. But at one point they’ve decided to return with their families to their small homeland – they couldn’t accept the character of urban life.
Oleh and Andriy know outskirts and every corner of Oleksandrivka and neighboring villages: Stanislav, Sofiyivka, Shyroka Balka, and others. These villages are located on the banks of the Dnipro estuary, near the border with Mykolaiv region. A few dozen years ago these lands were very rich in fish. Fishing and related industries were booming here almost every family here was engaged in it. But over time there were fewer and fewer fish; the villages were poorer.
However, in recent years, high banks over Oleksandrivka and Stanislav started to attract tourists. Local people call this area “Kherson Mountains”. Someone says “Stanislav” or “Oleksandrivka” rocks. Officially – it is the territory of Stanislav and Oleksandrivka landscape sanctuaries, which together cover an area of about 1,500 hectares.
The area catches your eye by its relief with a unique combination of steppe areas, steep slopes, and caves. Those are steep cracks of the earth with deep depressions several dozen meters long. At the edge of this cliff, there is a magnificent view of the Dnipro estuary. There are different types of plants, mushrooms, and animals, which are listed in the Red Book of Ukraine: Stipa lessingiana, Bug tulip, Schrenck’s tulip, morel of the steppes, floating fern, medical leech, Caspian whipsnake, etc.
In April, on the tops of the rocks irises are blossoming. They paint the cliffs in blue and yellow. Blossoming lasts only a week or two, so if you come here in this period you’re going to have a good opportunity to shoot juicy and rich photos.
Usually, people were going here for a calm holiday in the form of a weekend tour. However, Oleh and Andriy decided to add action to it and open the beautiful shores from the other side – the estuary one. This is how the “Skelka tour” – kayaking down the estuary initiative was born.
The guys ran a certain risk, although they were thinking over their idea for a long time. They had to get into debts to buy kayaks, paddles, vests and all the necessary equipment for recreation on the water. By the way, the kayaks themselves are made by Ukrainian craftsmen from Stryj and Svitlovodsk.
Several months before the start of the season, Oleh had announced a variety of tours around the area by using aerial filming. Beautiful landscapes have attracted the attention of the audience from Facebook. People began to ask: where is this beauty and how to see it? In addition, activists take care of the environment: they are keeping their eye on tourists in order for them not to litter in the mountains and estuary, not to destroy the flora and fauna.
“Once the head of our village said that there is no tourism in Oleksandrivka, and it wouldn’t exist in the future. It hurt me very much. We have challenged ourselves and those who don’t believe in it,” says Oleh Marchuk. “Our cliffs are already quite popular among guests from Kherson and the region, but a few people saw these lands from the water. We offer this opportunity. When we’ve started kayaking at the estuary, shooting more photos and videos, distributing them in social media – even some locals asked us: where is it? And I answered them: it’s here.”
Andriy likes to talk about tourist stories, local adventures on the estuary, and make historical overviews.
“We don’t have to invent any legends to lure tourists. In fact, there are many historical wonders,” says Andriy Holinko. “This is the settlement of Olbian times: “Skelka” and “Golden Horn” were winter shelters for the Zaporozhian Cossacks who controlled these waters; Prognoiv Palanka (the administrative unit of cossaks’s state – translator’s note), the highest in Ukraine Stanislav-Adzhigol lighthouse, fishing stories, the incredible Kinburn spit… We want to show all these to people. ”
Guys admit that the interest of people in this type of activity exceeded their expectations. At the beginning of the season, there were dozens of people who wanted to go kayaking. During the summer, guests from Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Mykolaiv, Pylypets, Kherson, Kakhovka, and even Ukrainian immigrants from Spain have visited Oleksandrivka.
Activists say that the local youth really liked such active recreation because there are very few kinds of entertainment in the village. And this initiative made schoolchildren to learn more about the place where they live.
“We were offering different routes: long and short, with and without guidance. We were going on overnight tours, treated the guests with a local soup, told them about our land. But mostly there were short tours in the direction of Mykolaiv, Stanislav and to the Kizomy Reed beds,” says Oleh. “Everything just turned out somehow harmonious. We were gaining the experience, studied the demand and needs of our guests. All this will be considered in the future.”
“One of the main tasks for the upcoming season is the creation of a camping site,” says Oleg. According to him, Ukrainians began to travel more – internal tourism’s share is growing. Although, the estuary, rocks, and kayaking are some kinds of extreme recreation, still, some certain amenities must be provided to the guests. So you can stay for one night, take a shower, cook food, and so on. Also, guys are planning to increase the fleet for group tours.
“We will continue, and we are very glad that interest in beautiful locations of the Kherson region is growing. We are going to work with friends from neighboring villages. We want them to be involved in our work,” says Oleg. “Local authorities do nothing to help us; on the other hand, they don’t interfere. And in our realities, it’s a plus. Locals treat all this positively, they cheer us up. It inspires us.”
By Ivan Antypenko