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Ukrainian nature is rich and diverse: we have a full right to be proud of our deep forests, full-flowing rivers, blue seas, and beautiful mountains. And we enjoy going to the countryside, rarely reflecting over the fact that not all residents of our country have such an opportunity. Nevertheless, children from specialized educational institutions have to enjoy the beauties of nature only on pictures or while watching TV programs.
Staff members of Zaporozhye “The Happy Child” Foundation are trying to fix the situation through arranging interesting and informative journeys for orphans, children from low-income families, and students of specialized facilities. Thus, not so long ago children from Zaporozhye led by experienced guides conquered Hoverla Mountain. And from 23rd to 26th of October 2011, eleven students of the Molochansk comprehensive orphanage school and three children from large families stayed in one of the most picturesque places in the Crimea – Baydarsk Valley.
The group arrived to Sevastopol on October 23rd. This city has always had something to surprise its visitors. The children got a chance to attend famous Diorama and Panorama sites, learned about the heroic past of the city and its acts of bravery, which are known all over the world. But children are children: they were equally happy to see the powerful Moscow cruiser entering the bay and almost domestic pigeons at Primorsky boulevard, trying to make tourists give them something tasty.
After the tour, they went to Pavlovka village in Baydarska valley. Here owners of the Lesotel Hotel were waiting for the guests. Here the children were to spend the next three days. The world is small as we are told but there are people with hearts of gold, and Timur and Lena Shyrokih are a brilliant proof of this saying: they gave the children so much warmth, so much care and attention, that no words would be good enough to express how sincerely we are grateful to them. Absolute strangers made all their efforts to make the children feel at home.
On Monday there was the first hiking trip to the forest. For many children it was a real challenge. Those kids used to living within four walls felt tired after the first thirty minutes of their walk. But they soon understood that their whines and complaints would change nothing, and the charm of forest started to cover them: the forest was tempting them with blackberries, smiling to them with a sudden flower, and their tiredness was slowly going away. A real present for boys was a ‘rope swing’ – a strong liana was hanging down a tree, and our ‘cossacks’ were riding it recklessly.
After several hours walking, they saw the Foros Church. From the yard behind the church there was a great view on the Black Sea, which was quite dark as always in fall, and on the right one could see the Mshatka-kaya rock, dangerously hanging over the visitors, with huge float stones lying around at its foot, which was the result of downfalls. Anton Bondarenko, who leads this trip, diverts the attention of the guys magnetized with the miraculous view, telling them about the rules of visiting the church, showing them how to cross themselves, and explaining what it means. Coming out of the church, boys and girls have small icons in their hands.
After having a bite in the forest, we go back to the guest house, where Lena is waiting for us with home-made borsch and dumplings. The evening is ahead with its games and talent shows. The children are demonstrating their abilities to the audience. Someone’s singing, someone’s dancing or reciting poetry, and someone’s even moving their ears, which is not a piece of cake! The adults do not remain uninvolved, and perform together with the boys and girls. There’s time to play, but children are really tired and go to their rooms, as tomorrow a new journey is waiting for them.
Tuesday route is kind of unusual – we go to the Object 221, which is also known as Alsu. At the end of 70-s of the last century, not far from Sevastopol construction was started of special underground headquarters of the USSR Black Sea Force, where, in case of a nuclear explosion, about three thousand people could find a shelter and live there for three years. Ventilation, sewerage, and food stocking systems – everything was carefully planned, and creation of this mega shelter demanded huge investments. In 1992 the construction was frozen, and the security was no longer protecting it. Now any visitor may come to this place, which is nevertheless rather dangerous. It is easy to get lost in the endless dark labyrinths full of deep caves. One false step may lead to a big tragedy.
Our group protected ourselves by inviting an experienced person to be our tour guide in the bunker. Ivan Petrov was happy to show this remarkable site to the children and chose the easiest possible route. By the way, one of Sevastopol-based tourist agencies offers tours to this place for everyone interested. The price of the tours is pretty high, but there are always people longing to take this extreme underground trip. As for ourselves, we are not afraid of difficulties as well. So, holding our hands, we go to explore the Alsu. Our voices are echoing in the tunnel. The children are trying to joke to overcome their fears, though not forgetting about the security measures and telling each other about any holes they see on their way. At last we come out of the tunnel, far from the place we came into it.
After saying goodbye to Ivan, we go further to Chernorechensky canyon. This place is really wonderful, and we understand very well why Sevastopol residents often come here to relax or to go mushrooming. Though this is not exactly what we were going to do, so we gathered some wood, made a fire, and cooked a real field meal. It is really the best way to spend time for children – first of all, they are busy, and at the same time they have an opportunity to enjoy being outside. The children became really close now: if earlier one could feel certain distance among them, now they were interacting in a free and natural manner.
Then we go back to the hotel. This time the night program is even shorter than yesterday. Everybody wants to get some sleep to be ready for tomorrow. Thought, we still find some time to play ‘dog and pony show’.
Wednesday is the day of departure. We start it from the morning exercises. Anton shows some simple exercises to be repeated by children. The cold morning wind takes the rest of our sleepiness away. Timur and Lena offer boys and girls to take some hazel nuts with them, so some children start gathering the tasty stuff. At the same time, Lena carries out a master class on how to draw on small round stones. All covered with paint, but very happy, the children are creating their small masterpieces. After leaving our best wishes in the Guestbook, we say goodbye to the hospitable hotel owners. Lena and Timur promise to invite us to come to their place next spring, as soon as the weather becomes warmer.
In Sevastopol, after leaving our heavy backpacks at the railway station, we go to a sea tour on a double-decker. The guide is telling us in great detail about the Russian and the Ukrainian Fleet, about troopers and flagmen, towing hawser and boat hospital, Konstantinovsky and Mikhailovsky half-moons, and the sea gate to the hero city, for almost forty minutes…
The train slowly sets in motion. Journey time is over. Tomorrow the children will wake up in their own beds, and only the bright photos, hazel nuts, and small stones bearing their masterpieces will remind them of the time spent in the Crimea…
We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Timur and Lena Shyrokih for their warm welcome and open hearts. The children will remember their kindness for many years, as these hospitable owners of Lesotel Hotel shared a part of their hearts with us.
Besides, we want to thank Ivan Petrov, the mountain climber, tourist, and participant of the Seven Summits – Seven Continents Program, for the interesting tour to the specialized facility. By the way, Ivan has been to more than 40 countries, and almost in each of those 40 he conquered the highest geographical point, including Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, and Adam’s peak.
We would also like to express our gratitude to the yachtsman from the Russian city of Gelendzhik Vitaliy Yelagin for his support in organizing this trip.
Funds to cover the trip of those 14 children from Zaporozhye region to the Crimea have been raised during the campaign to support children’s tourist program of "The Happy Child" Foundation which ran in Amstor supermarkets from 7 to 9 October 2011.
If you have an opportunity to provide financial support for this unique program of tours and excursions for children or if you would like to become a volunteer and take part in a new adventure with the young tourists, you can get more information here.