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Podesinnya  scenic lands along the Desna River

 

Oleksiy VASYLYUK, deputy head of the National Ecological Center of Ukraine, tells about Podesinnya  scenic lands on both sides of the Desna River.

 

The rivers that cut across the plains tend to meander, rather than flow in a straight line, and even change their course altogether once in a while. A series of picturesque lakes then form along their previous beds. Every spring, when the water from the melting snow and ice, overfills these rivers, they flood the banks, and the area flooded is called zaplava in Ukrainian.

As a matter of fact, there are only a few big rivers in Europe left which continue to regularly flood the plains (dams, dykes and other measures prevent the flooding), and one of such rivers if the Desna in Ukraine.

The Desna is only one of the six major rivers of Ukraine that has not been dammed the way other rivers have been. In fact, there are no dams across it, no water reservoirs along its course, no canals that would absorb the excess of water. The Desna remains in a sort of a primordial state, meandering the way it chooses, and flooding the plains when the time is due.

The Desna is often referred to as the enchanted River. Probably, one of the reasons for giving it such an epithet, was the Desnas frequent change of course  it seems to get bored with flowing along one and the same route for too long and whimsically chooses a different direction. The one thing that does not change is its final destination  the Dnipro River.

 

Some facts

In the name Desna we can discern, or so the philologists claim, an Indo-European root with the meaning of scintillate, which may suggest the cleanliness and transparency of the water. The Desna has its source in Russia; after crossing the border with Ukraine it finds its wildly meandering way across Chernihiv and Sumy Oblasts to empty into the Dnipro not far from Kyiv, capital of Ukraine. Its entire length is about one thousand kilometers.

The Ukrainians call the land on both sides of the Desna through which it flows Podesinnya. Among the historical places that are situated within Podesinnya, Chernihiv, Novhorod-Siversky and Oster should be mentioned in the first place. Chernihiv, one of the major political centers of the early-medieval state of Kyivan Rus, is an ancient town and a big tourist attraction. Chernihiv boasts churches that date from the eleventh and twelfth centuries and other architectural landmarks that have survived from the times of old.

Novhorod-Siversky is one of the oldest towns in Ukraine, dating from the tenth century. For a stretch of time it was the capital of one of the principalities of which Kyivan Rus was made up. The great medieval epic The Tale of Ihors Campaign is directly connected with Novhorod-Siversky.

Oster was founded by Grand Duke Volodymyr Monomakh in 1098 as a bulwark against invading nomads; some of the landmarks from those times have been preserved.

In many of the villages which are situated in Podesinnya, archeologists have found barrows, burial sites and other signs of ancient settlements; a good number of Podesinnya villages, which are mentioned in old chronicles, are anywhere from five to ten hundred years old.

Podesinnya people have preserved many customs, rituals and habits which go back hundreds of years. Decorative and ornamentals elements that adorn their homes are age-old and go back to the pre-Christian times. Water mills, which used to be a standard feature in Podesinnya, are unfortunately to be seen no more.

Kyiv sits on the bank of the Dnipro River, but as its territory has been widely expanding recently, the urban spread has crossed into Podesinnya, and thus Kyiv now claims both rivers, the Dnipro and the Desna, as part of its geography.

 

Tourism

Podesinnya has always been attractively scenic but it is only in more recent times that tourism to Podesinnya has developed on a large scale. Its been known since the times of old that bathing in the Desna was good for health, but this fact has found a scientific explanation fairly recently  the Desna water contains curative doses of ions of iodine. Most of the people, however, who come to spend their weekends or vacations at the Desna, do so not because of the ions but because they enjoy the scenery and are provided with vacationing opportunities. In addition to sunbathers, numerous anglers dot the banks of the river.

All sorts of water sport competitions are held on the Desna in the vicinity of Kyiv. Canoeing down the river is a growing activity too, and many tourist firms offer canoeing tours of various duration. Those of a more adventurous disposition go up into the air to have a birds eye view of the river and its banks  hang-gliders and other similar modern inventions are at the tourists disposal with instructors taking care of the safety of flights. Once up in the air over Podesinnya, you can glide above the earth for dozens of miles enjoying the beauty of pristine nature not marred by industrial or urban developments. There are not many places left like that in Europe.

A growing number of people come to Podesinnya to spend several days living in tents pitched close to the water, rather than in a greater comfort of tourist camps. Early morning fogs in summer provide photographers, amateur and professional, with opportunities of taking artistic photos. As the sun climbs higher, the fogs lift and the nature sparkles around in its full glory.

 

Nature

Podesinnya is known for its great diversity of animal and plant life. Some of the animals to be encountered there are on the engendered-species lists. Such birds as black storks or ernes (white-tailed eagles) are a majestic  albeit rare  sight. About three hundred species of migrating birds stop in the plains of Podesinnya on their way to and from the south. There are several areas in Podesinnya which are under state protection and have been internationally designated as Important Bird Areas. The number of bird watchers is on the rise; a hill in the vicinity of the village of Mezyn is a particularly popular spot for bird watching. Ornithologists pay frequent visits to Podesinnya as well.

The Podesinnya grasses are lush and plentiful, as well as wild flowers. Fragrant hay, after being mowed, is stacked and these stacks form a ubiquitous feature of the local landscapes (grasses grow fast in Podesinnya and hay can be made several times a year). The hay makers take precautions to keep their hay dry during the floods, providing the hay stacks with a sort of foundations  small earth mounds upon which the hay is piled. During the flood, these mounds with hay on top of them form little islands.

Flower lovers can even find a rare species of orchids in the plains of Podesinnya.

 

Protected areas

Three national parks are to be found in Podesinnya  Mezynsky, Mizhrichynsky (in Cherniviv Oblast) and Desnyano-Starohutsky (in Sumy Oblast). The idea of creating protected areas or national parks in Podesinnya emerged in the 1980s, but it was implemented much later. The President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko initiated the establishment of a large natural park which would stretch along the Desna for 600 kilometers, and the work began in 2009. The park, to be named Podesinnya, will be provided with a state protection status. The hay making and domestic animal grazing will not interfere with the status of the park as these activities are a natural part of the local conditions.

As the work on the park continues, a tourist infrastructure will be developed too. In fact, one hopes that the creation of the Podesinnya Park will be conducive to restoration and preservation of natural and man-made landmarks in that area. Tourists will enjoy the scenery, the peaceful sight of storks, of hay stacks and of grazing cows, and have an opportunity to have a big glassful of warm milk, fresh from milking, and free of any preservatives.

 

Photos of the birds by Serhiy HLADKEVYCH

 

Photo by D. INOZEMTSEVA

 

Photo by A. HREBIN

 

Photo by D. INOZEMTSEVA

 

Photo by D. INOZEMTSEVA

 

Great Reed Warbler, ocheretyanka in Ukrainian;

the name is derived form the word ocheret  rushes

or reeds which are this small birds natural habitat.

 

Coot, or lysukha in Ukrainian; a white patch on the

head gave the bird its name  lysy means bald.

 

Common Tern in flight.

 

Great White Egrets walk majestically in shallow

water looking for frogs, its staple food.

 

Photo by D. INOZEMTSEVA

 

Photo by O. VASYLYUK

 

Photo by A. HREBIN

 

Early morning summer fog.

Photo by O. VASYLYUK

 

Photo by V. KOSTYUSHYN

 

Photo by D. INOZEMTSEVA

 

Photo by D. INOZEMTSEVA

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