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A nostalgic visit to a southern town
Ukraine is blessed with two seas that wash its shores in the south — The Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. Berdyansk is a town which sits on the northern shore of the Sea of Azov, offering its beaches to hundreds of thousands of vacationers. Nature has provided Berdyansk with a remarkable geographical feature — a long extension of land projecting into water, which, in English, can be referred to as spit, point, sandbar or promontory. It seems to have been purposefully designed to accommodate beaches and provide ample opportunities for sunbathing and swimming in the shallow and warm waters of the Sea of Azov. This extension of land is called Berdyanska Kosa, or Berdyansk Point. Volodymyr SUPRUNENKO was there to have a look — and now he tells his story.
I’ve been to Berdyansk many times and my latest visit proved that my infatuation with it is not over. I think many people are attracted to certain places, other than their native lands, for reasons which are often far from obvious. Such place may lack in picturesqueness or any special features that may be called “special” or “attractive,” and yet something in that place makes us come on visits over and over again.
Berdyansk, being a southern coastal town, has a lot to offer to a northern urbanite. But it is not so much the town itself but its Kosa that has this “something special” for me. Whenever I find myself in Berdyansk, I make it a point to take a walk all the way to the very tip of the Point where a lighthouse rises high above the sand and water (incidentally, Berdyanska Kosa has two curving promontories of its town which are situated about halfway from the landmass to the tip, but they do not extend into the sea too far).
On my last visit I took my customary walk along the Kosa as it is usually referred to in Berdyansk. The locals distinguish Blyzhnya Kosa — Near Point, Serednya Kosa — Middle Point, and Dalnya Kosa — Far Point, but none of these divisions is marked in any way on the Kosa itself. At the very tip of it a small hamlet is situated. But it’s not the human habitat that I’m interested in — it’s an old lighthouse that once captured my fancy and that remains the central purpose of my visit to the Kosa.
The locals call the lighthouse “shpil” — that is, “The Spire.” I climb to the very top of the lighthouse and spend some time just absorbing the vast panorama that is offered by the vantage point — the great expanse of the sea dotted with little islands; beaches along the coast, lagoons, promontories. But it’s best to be staring straight ahead, into the sea — then you get a feeling that it would take but a little effort to soar high and then fly over the waves…
A bit of history
I did some reading into the geological and into more recent, “human” history of the coastal areas of the Sea of Azov. Kosa is not the only extended promontory that juts into the Sea of Azov — there are many of them, situated at various places of the coast. Berdyanska Kosa with its twenty three kilometers is not the longest either; there are kosas that stretch into the sea for thirty and forty five kilometers. The longest formation of this kind is Arabatskaya strelka (Arabat Spit). Its total length is about one hundred and thirteen kilometers.
The Sea of Azov is a relatively “young” body of water. It is about 340 km (210 miles) long and 135 km (85 miles) wide, and has an area of about 37,600 square km (14,500 square miles).
With a maximum depth of only about 14 m (46 feet), the Azov is the world’s shallowest sea.
The climate of the Sea of Azov’s basin is continental and temperate; it is rich in marine life. The sea’s fauna includes more than 300 species of invertebrates and about 80 species of fish, including sturgeon, perch, sardines, anchovies, bream, herring, sea-roach, gray mullet, minnow, shemaja, and bullheads. Unfortunately, recent years have seen a considerable depletion of the quantity and varieties of fish.
The ancient Greeks sailed into the Sea of Azov and explored its shores but they did not seem to have established any cities or permanent settlements the way they did it on the southern coasts of the Crimea. But references to Berdyanska Kosa that date to very early times have been found, and the Amazons — whether mythical or historical women-warriors — are believed to have lived somewhere on the shores of the Azov.
Sun and sea bathing
In much more recent times, the Azov sandbars and beaches turned into major centers of vacationing tourism. Resorts there were cheaper than in the Crimea; this and the shallowness of the sea made Berdyansk and other similar places on the Azov shores partially popular with families with children.
A great number of people used to (and in a fewer numbers but still do) come as “wild tourists” — that is, they did not stay at what was called “sanatoria” (which were a cross between a rest home and health center) or at tourist bases but preferred to rent rooms or apartments from the locals. Apart from sunbathing and swimming, fishing is a popular pastime both with the vacationers and locals.
The kosas are sparsely populated as far as humans are concerned, but many species of animals find those places to be good enough to live there permanently or stay for some time, the way migratory birds do. Some of the kosas boast such animals as deer or even camels which have been brought there to “live and propagate.” And they do!
The locals who live on the kosas mostly get their fresh water from not too deep wells which provide, surprisingly enough (considering the local conditions) very delicious water. Even in the hottest seasons the amount of water in the wells does not get reduced too dramatically. After you’ve been treated to a meal of thick fish soup, air-dried and sun-cured salty fish on a warm evening, it’s a blissful pleasure to drink this fresh well water!
On my last visit to Berdyansk, I took my usual stroll along Berdyanska Kosa to the lighthouse. It was a very warm day; billions of tiny shells which cover large areas of the land and beaches made crunching sounds under my feet. I passed by hundreds of anglers who patiently waited for fish to bite — the long stretches of the water edge were bristling with fishing rods of various lengths and sophistication. There was no surf to speak of — small waves were leisurely licking the beaches. Sea gulls floated in the air or soared above my head. The closer I was getting to the lighthouse, the fewer were the anglers and sunbathers strewn around.
At the lighthouse I was welcomed by the lighthouse keeper Yakiv Fedyrko whom I’d known for years. He showed me his morning catch — two big fish and several small gobies, locally called “bychok” (little bull”).
I inquired whether my host considered it to be a good catch. His answer was in the negative, “Our Azov seems to have lost most of its fish,” he added. “But what we have here will make a good dinner.”
The bigger fish were boiled and the smaller fish were fried in tomato sauce. I was invited to stay the night. The southern stars at night once again enchanted me by their enigmatic magic. And early in the morning I climbed to the top of the lighthouse and surveyed the sea. The matinal quiet and peacefulness were so soothing I felt a twinge of regret that I would have to be leaving soon.
Though the changes I’d observed in Berdyansk did not seem to be quite for the better, I knew I would come back. “The sea heals,” the ancient Greeks were reported to have said.