8 SECRET SITES IN UKRAINE
Sunny days are without a doubt the best fit for an entertaining trip, so all you have to do is choose a destination. About two or three years ago all my friends picked the seaside, presumably Crimea, for their summer trips. However, during our recent chat in a small coffee house, a lot of my friends pointed out a larger list of places for a journey – Turkey, Egypt and… Ukrainian towns and villages. It’s a new tendency in fact. Year after year tourism in Ukraine becomes more and more popular, not only among foreigners, but also among Ukrainians, searching for lesser known spots that are only being slowly discovered by tourists. Besides, exploring Ukraine is rather cheap – just get in a car and get whisked away to some small, unexpected place for a weekend.
Pochayivsko-Uspenska Lavra (Ternopil Region, Pochayiv city)
Apparently one of the most well known Orthodox spots in Ukraine is Pochayivsko-Uspenska Lavra, which is actually the second monastery (the most holy and significant monastic complex in Orthodox religion) in the country after the local Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra. Pilgrimages to Pochayivska Lavra began in the 13th century and continued even through Soviet times. According to legend, in 1240 when Kyivska Rus was plundered by Mongol Tatar nomads, two eremites and a shepherd suddenly saw the holy Virgin Mary appear in the blazing flames of fire. In the place where she stood, her footprint remained, giving birth to a salutary spring, which was later encircled with church walls. Another artifact that made the Pochayivska Lavra one of the most frequently visited places, was a healing icon of the Holy Mary granted to the church by a local aristocratic family in the 17th century, after it was said to have restored the health of several people. The monastery’s construction was accomplished only in the 20th century by the well-known Soviet architect Oleksandr Shchusev, who paradoxically was also the creator of Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow. Another peculiarity of the monastery is the mosaic over its southern entrance, made up according to sketches by the Russian painter, theosophist, and spiritual teacher Nickolas Roerich, who took his first painting classes together with Taras Shevchenko.
Vilkovo village (Odessa Region)
Vilkovo, a small settlement with a population of 11,500, is commonly referred to as a “Ukrainian Venice,” since almost all of its territory is covered with water channels. The reason is simple: Vilkovo (Slavic for “a Fork”) is situated right at the spot where the Danube flows into the Black sea, splitting into three branches. Yet when you see the picturesque banks, covered with bushes and shaggy houses, you barely think about its Venetian namesake, but to the contrary, Vilkovo more resembles a Vietnamese settlement or a village on a marsh. The citizens of Vilkovo can save on cars and gas, since almost all transportation is possible by boats that float along the two main channels, Belgorodskiy and Gorkogo, and numerous tiny ones. The water from the channels is used for washing dishes, cooking, and fishing all at the same time. Besides, I was told by one of the village dwellers that Vilkovo produces the tastiest salt herring in Ukraine. Except for herring and other fish, Vilkovo is a real paradise for all kinds of birds – 265 different species. For comparison, there are 382 species in all of Ukraine. Near Vilkovo you can also visit Izmail fortress, which is closely connected to the military history of the Russian Empire through the storming of Izmail conducted by the Marshal Alexander Suvorov during the Russian-Turkish War in the 18th century.
The Museum of Strategic Rocket Forces (ICBM)
As the museum was once a part of Soviet military forces, it isn’t so easy to find, but don’t be afraid. It is located on the crossing of two oblasts, Mykolayivska and Kirovohradska, in the Pervomaysk region of Ukraine, near Pobuzke village. The 46th rocket division of 18 launch control centers was reduced in 2001 and became a museum. Among its personnel there are officers that can give detailed and professional answers to all your questions. Among the exposed armory is machinery for rocket service, installation, removal, and transportation. There are no more real rockets, but the basic elements of the construction and rocket models are on display. Such structures as household, store, and guard buildings are preserved and open for visits. As a friend of mine told me, the army habits are partially preserved on the territory of the museum, and at the entrance you may even be asked about your occupation and place of living. Having a good memory of Cold War spy hysteria, some veterans are still suspicious of foreigners. However preposterous it may seem, foreigners are sometimes prohibited to enter the command center, where the launch control panel is situated. The excursion (which according to the latest data is Hr 15 for Ukrainians and $15 for foreigners) is only allowed with guidance, and it is prohibited to walk around the territory on your own.
Nevytskiy Castle (Zakarpattya Region, 12 kilometers to Perechin)
A visit to a half-ruined castle in the west or south of Ukraine is a regular element of a trip across Ukraine, and the most popular among them are those of Hotyn, Kamyanets-Podilskiy, and Bilhorod-Dnistrovskiy. Yet there are some castles that may be less impressive in terms of size, but are more romantic looking, like the one near Nevytskiy village. Its ruins stand on top of a mountain that was once a volcano. One side of it borders a wide plain, another borders a deep gorge with a flowing torrent. The image is completed by a narrow path that leads you through the forest up the mountain. Like most castles with old traditions, the place is linked with many legends and creepy stories. One of them dates back to the 14th century and tells about Pohana Diva (Vile Maiden), a cruel princess and witch, who ordered the castle to be built and constantly terrorized the local population. Yet, according to more pragmatic historical facts, in the 13th century the place was a fortification constructed against Mongol Tatars, which later became one of the Hungarian empire’s strategic strongholds, constantly besieged and seized either by monarchic armies or the rebellious aristocracy.
Wehrwolf (Vinnytsya Region, near the village Stryzhanivka and the railroad Vinnytsya-Kalynivka)
Hitler’s military headquarters, or rather their remains, are claimed to be the most secret military base on the territory of Ukraine during WWII. The base, which was first intended to be built in Poltava region, changed names several times during its construction, including Wehrwolf (“Werewolf”) and Eichenhain (“Oak Grove”). It was finished by 1942 and was maintained by local people, foreigners, Germans, and captives, whose number and occupation, were documented and controlled by the Nazi soldiers. All armories were thoroughly masked under the cover of a sanatorium for German officers. The central zone, which was intended for Hitler himself and his commanders, was constructed by the Germans only. This central zone included Gestapo, Wehrmacht, a telephone station, hotel, casino, tea house, cinema, sauna, gym, swimming pool, officers’ and generals’ canteens, houses of generals, and Hitler’s personal lodgings with a bomb shelter.
The headquarters were visited by almost all members of the Nazi command office, including Hitler, who was there five times (May-June and July-September of 1942, January, March and July of 1943). During the army retreat, the headquarters and practically all documents were destroyed – no interesting artifacts were found on the territory in any case. Now the headquarters look like a peaceful field mixed with scattered concrete remains. However, like all war sites, Wehrwolf is sometimes mentioned in connection with the Third Reich treasures and hidden artifacts.
Eski-Kermen and Chufut-Kale (Crimea, Bakhchisaray, near Kholmovka village)
These two places with strange-sounding names are actually the remains of two cave cities built in the Crimean Mountains in the 6th century. Eski-Kermen, Tatar for “Old Castle,” doesn’t look like a traditional city or fortification. The plateau was dug through so smoothly that it could be accepted as a delicate work of nature. Only one area of the place looks like a real city. You can see the remains of walls, forming rooms, separated by narrow streets. Walking across the plateau, be careful so as not to accidentally fall into one of the openings, which in ancient times served as windows, hatches, chimneys and wells. In the southern part of the city, the remains of a temple were preserved, carved in a huge rock with frescoes of three horse riders painted inside. Around the temple you can see destroyed tombs from the 10th century. Travelers of the 16th century wrote about Eski-Kermen as a devastated but still beautiful city embellished with marble, whose true name wasn’t remembered either by Tartars or Turks.
From the Eski-Kermen plateau one can observe the remains of a tower named Kiz-Kule (Maiden’s Tower). If you decide to visit it as well, don’t be so optimistic about the seemingly short distance – the road will take you from one to two hours.
Another cave city, Chufut-Kale (Jews’ Fortress), located several kilometers from Bakhchisaray on the plateau over the gorge Maryam-Dere, dates back to the 6th century. I first visited it when I was 10 and admired the serenity and desertedness of the abandoned city. Lizards crawled briskly along the low fence and speckles of sun reflected on the bare walls. No one knows who built the city, but during the rule of the independent Crimea khans the city became the residence of royalty. Until the 16th century, the city was inhabited by various religious and cultural groups – including Muslims, Christians, and Jews – but after khan and his court moved to Bakhchisaray the city became a military fortification. One of the remaining buildings is a mosque and a mausoleum of Dzhanike-Khanym, khan Tokhtamysh’s daughter. You won’t find a tour guide in Eski-Kermen and Chufut-Kale, so if you want to hire one to show you around you will have to do it at one of the tourist centers in the big cities nearby.
Park Kachanivka (Chernihiv Region, Ichnyanskiy region, village Kachanivka)
The village Kachanivka has gradually gained popularity for its huge manor and the park and beautiful landscapes surrounding it. In different times the manor was owned by aristocrats, tradesmen, and mercenaries, supporting of painters and composers – Rumyantsev-Zadunayskiy, Tarnovskiy, Kharytonenko and Oliv families. The place was frequented by well known Ukrainian and Russian artists, including Taras Shevchenko, Nikolay Gogol, Marko Vovchok, Panteleymon Kulish, Opanas Markevych, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin and Valentin Serov. The manor was always open for all spheres of art and housed a large library and collection of paintings, sculptures, and traditional Ukrainian artifacts, which were later donated to a museum in Chernihiv.
The main attraction of Kachanivka is its park. After you walk along the narrow paths you should come up to the Great Lake. There you will see a vivid looking old sugar factory, situated on the opposite bank of the lake. The building is designed and painted like a classical-style house, and if not for a high rising chimney, the building could hardly be called a factory. Unfortunately, like all manors, after the revolution Kachanivka was transformed into an orphanage, which lead to the slow destruction of the building. Actually, now the manor is considered a national reserve and little by little has gained popularity among local travelers.
Khersones Tavriyskiy (Crimea, near Sevastopol)
Ukraine can boast not only castles in Western-European style, but its connections to ancient Greek history as well. Near Sevastopol, right on the bank of the Black Sea, stand the remains of a Greek colony, once the rich city Khersones, referred to as a “Russian Troy.” The image of lonesome columns standing against the background of the sea is a familiar picture seen on the back of the one hryvnia bill. Some decide to hire a boat at the Sevastopol berth and see everything on their own. Around 2500 years ago, Khersones was inhabited by Greek colonists and people of various nations, and later became the Christian capital of the peninsula. Multitudes of monks formed hermitages and monasteries near the ancient city. Khersones is built according to the traditional plans of Greek and Roman settlements and if you have already been to Italy or Greece and visited the ruins of the old cities, you’d find Khersones very similar.
by Olga Kovalenko, Kyiv Post Staff Writer