The pain of changes
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.