The pain of changes

The Ukrainian Week - - FOCUS - Bog­dan Logvy­nenko

Kom­so­molsk in Poltava Oblast lived a dull quiet life on the map of Ukraine. No­body could see it spark­ing a heated na­tion­wide de­bate or wel­com­ing hosts of tourists on week­ends. Un­til one day the in­con­spic­u­ous provin­cial town on the Dnipro bank did stir a storm of talks and jokes on so­cial me­dia, when its name was changed as part of the de­com­mu­ni­sa­tion cam­paign from Kom­so­molsk (af­ter the ab­bre­vi­a­tion for Al­lUnion Lenin­ist Young Com­mu­nist League) to Hor­ishni Plavni, an au­then­tic name stem­ming from one of the vil­lages amal­ga­mated into the city. The old name lit­er­ally de­scribes the river val­ley ter­rain where the city is lo­cated. But many, es­pe­cially the lo­cals, lamented that it was too “ru­ral” for their taste.

Nam­ing a set­tle­ment af­ter its land­scape is not unique for this case or re­gion. Across the river, a town called Kami­ani Po­toky, or Stone Flows, stands. Its name, too, is af­ter the river along which the first lo­cals set­tled down. Another vil­lage that formed the nowHor­ishni Plavni is Kele­berda, named af­ter another lo­cal river (whose name trans­lates as “a hill over the river” from Tatar).

“Sounds too provin­cial,” the lo­cals lament about their new name, and don’t get it, why tourists sud­denly started com­ing in flocks. But is it re­ally?

Kuala Lumpur, the cap­i­tal of Malaysia, trans­lates as a “Muddy es­tu­ary”. One of the most pro­gres­sive cities in the world, it started out as a group of tin mines. All dirty wa­ter from the mines went into the river, hence the name.

And what about the un­ex­pected tourist glory? Two years ago, a new train named Hut­sul­shchyna was launched from Kyiv to Rakhiv in Zakarpat­tia. This revo­lu­tion­ary ac­com­plish­ment was made pos­si­ble thanks to the pres­sure of the lo­cals on the Ukrainian Rail­way Com­pany. One other place the new train goes through is Zal­ishchyky, a small town in Ternopil Oblast, Western Ukraine. It had once been a Pol­ish re­sort where Józef Pił­sud­ski used to live, though most Poles no longer re­mem­ber this. In Pił­sud­ski’s life­time, a di­rect train went from Warsaw to Zal­ishchyky. To­day, it is no longer even con­nected with di­rect trains to Lviv, the clos­est ma­jor city in Western Ukraine. The rat­tling newly-launched train that now runs on the old rail­ways and takes al­most 24 hours to get from Kyiv to its fi­nal des­ti­na­tion in Zakarpat­tia started bring­ing more and more tourists to both Rakhiv and Zal­ishchyky. It has rein­vig­o­rated lo­cal busi­nesses. Does this mean that, in or­der to spark the re­newal of tourist po­ten­tial in a num­ber of re­gions si­mul­ta­ne­ously, no ma­jor re­con­struc­tions were needed? All it took was to put old, worn-out train cars on shabby rail­ways and launch the train at a safe, slow speed. Iron­i­cally, the first ticket was sold to a tourist from the Nether­lands. As to Rakhiv, it once hosted the Europe-Cen­ter fes­ti­val (Rakhiv is con­sid­ered to be one of Europe’s ge­o­graphic cen­ters) ini­ti­ated by lo­cal pri­vate busi­nesses, fea­tur­ing well-known Ukrainian bands. But it never got the sup­port of the city coun­cil; some­times it even faced pres­sure, as its or­ga­niz­ers re­ported pub­licly. Mean­while, when the guests came for the fes­ti­val, Rakhiv alone could not house all of them, so they would rent rooms and ho­tels all around Rakhiv County. Even­tu­ally, the fes­ti­val was gone. The city coun­cil is now try­ing to shut down the only re­main­ing night­club in town.

What do Hor­ishni Plavni, Rakhiv and Zal­ishchyky have in com­mon? The pain of all these places is that they don’t un­der­stand or accept a dif­fer­ent time. The time when the most im­por­tant events are those that ag­i­tate the information space, rather than those hap­pen­ing qui­etly be­hind the scenes. The time when any in­ter­est from a jour­nal­ist, any new train, even if slow and shabby, is an op­por­tu­nity.

UKRAINE HAS MANY HIS­TORIC SITES. BUT THE PEO­PLE WHO LIVE THERE AND THOSE WHOM THEY ELECT ARE DIG­GING A GRAVE TO OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES TO MAKE THEIR HISTORY OR THEIR PLACE KNOWN

In Hor­ishni Plavni, the com­mu­nity joined forces with the lo­cal author­i­ties to resist any changes. No to history and tourism, they in­sist stub­bornly. The closes ho­tels are in Kami­ani Po­toky. Hor­ishni Plavni still has none. And yet, it is still too em­bar­rassed to be like Kami­ani Po­toky?

In fact, Hor­ishni Plavni is a snap story of Ukraine’s en­tire tourism in­dus­try – with its for­got­ten and un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated history. It has in­ter­est­ing things to show and dis­cover to those who have seen enough of Euro­pean glob­al­iza­tion, civ­i­liza­tion and as­phalt. Jour­nal­ists who flocked to Hor­ishni Plavni along with the tourists could hardly have thought be­fore how breath­tak­ing the land­scapes around this place are, and how un­der­ex­plored its tourist po­ten­tial is. How many more Hor­ishni Plavni are there in Ukraine? The ones that weren’t lucky enough to catch me­dia spot­light for a cou­ple of days…

Ukraine has many his­toric sites long over­grown with weeds. The peo­ple who live there and those whom they elect are dig­ging a grave to many op­por­tu­ni­ties to make their history or their place known to the wide au­di­ence, be­ing afraid of information break­throughs. The big­gest prob­lem with Ukraine’s tourist po­ten­tial is lit­tle information, or the lack of it.

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