It’s been a year now since Belarus launched a programme aimed at
development of Pripyat Polesie. The unique area embracing seven districts
in Brest and Gomel Regions along the Pripyat River is sure in for dramatical changes of its appearance
The state’s great interest in the River Pripyat area is easily explainable: Belarusian Polesie is unique in Europe for its flood plain oak forests and for having the largest bog lands — the ‘lungs’ of the continent. Meanwhile, it has rich mineral deposits. No other place on the earth is quite the same.
Undoubtedly, century old oak forests are a true local treasure; most of the trees are 80-200 years old while the Tsar-oak is over 800 years old and the Tsar-pine tree is 500. During the spring floods, when the River Pripyat overflows its banks for dozens of kilometres, numerous islands are created, necessitating the use of boats. You can even catch fish with your bare hands among the trees…
This true wilderness of rare animals and birds attracts hundreds of scientists and tourists from around the world, each lured by the area’s diversity and beauty, as well as its historical and ethnographic traditions, which have been preserved in isolated Polesie settlements.
The town of Turov is a true ‘pearl’. The ancient capital of Polesie was first mentioned in 980; called the ‘second Jerusalem’, it boasted around 80 churches. Today, the most memorable local landmarks are all connected with the Christian faith — such as the stone cross at St. Boris and Hleb’s cemetery, which attracts hundreds of pilgrims from around the globe. It’s said to radiate warmth and to have healing powers. The local population (of around 3,500) honour it as a sacred relic. Naturally, legends abound regarding such sites.
The mission of the new state programme, running until 2015, is to inspire the development of this unique land. Its key aspects are the comprehensive use of natural resources, efficient land reclamation, the creation of new manufactures, the development of tourism and the improvement of the quality of life for the local population. The programme includes hundreds of actions, reinforced by serious financial injections from the state, enterprises and investors.
Picture a year after
The first year of the programme has already passed, so I recently set off to Polesie to gauge progress. Zhitkovichi District, within Gomel Region, is encompassed by the development programme. I last visited it in spring, when the district centre looked clean and well-cared-for. Only a few grey ruins of buildings which once surrounded the town square caught the eye. I hardly expected to see external changes, as so short a time has passed and financial constraints must surely have affected the plan, but the town certainly surprised me.
“What’s this new building?” I asked, not recognising a five storey building near the square.
“Earlier this year, a hotel opened here,” explains Sergey Tobolich, Deputy Chairman of Zhitkovichi District Executive Committee. “It’s called the Chetvert Veka (Quarter of a Century) Hotel. We’ve wanted to build it for almost 25 years; now, the programme has allowed us to construct this contemporary hotel. Recently, its restaurant opened for business, boasting new design and new equipment. It’s unique across the region. We’re breathing new life into ancient local recipes to create our own flavour.”
Total renovation of local communal transport has been another achievement, bringing a completely different approach towards town services and their development. I spot some local women chatting beside a colourful flower bed and ask them how they view the improvements. Olga Telegina tells me, “They’re significant: a hotel and a restaurant have appeared and a long awaited kindergarten has thrown open its doors in the village of Khilchitsy.”
In Turov, construction is rapidly underway at Turovshchina, JSC, funded by a loan from Belagroprombank. Warehouses are being built for a future dairy factory, which will specialise in cheese production. “We plan to launch the first stage of the enterprise next summer,” notes Alexey Denisov, Director of the enterprise. Meanwhile, Nikolay Bambiza, Director of Turovshchina, JSC, tells us that an automated commercial dairy farm for 1,000 cows is also planned.
New jobs are being created for local residents, with money flowing into the district budget; naturally, this will be used to bring external and internal transformations for Polesie area.
We walk along a good asphalt road to the ‘heart’ of the legendary town, passing a church, museum and wonderful views over the River Pripyat on our way. Tourist specialists agree that Pripyat Polesie is one of the few regions of Belarus to have preserved its authentic cultural traditions, making it truly fascinating to visitors. There’s so much to see, while great efforts are being made to provide comfortable accommodation and easy travel. Hotels have always been a ‘problematic issue’ for Turov, as it lacked enough beds during the peak season. The local hotel enjoyed substantial repairs inside and out a year ago while a completely new hotel complex is soon to be constructed on the river bank.
There’s also a floating Polesie Hotel, which smells of timber inside. Its rooms are made from natural materials, offering all possible amenities: a cosy cafй and places to sunbathe on deck. By the time the next tourist season begins, it will be fully operational, as will camp sites along its route. Tourists will have a wealth of excursions to choose from.
“There’s no doubt that we’ll have enough guests,” notes Fiodor Kuzmich, captain of the ‘Pripyat’ tow ship. “On arriving in Turov from the CIS and beyond, guests immediately notice our hotel on the river bank and ask when we depart.”
Tourist infrastructure in Polesie area is being expanded, as is its cultural wealth. The unique traditions of the Pripyat River regions are celebrated in the Polesie Call festival — a highlight of the year. Last autumn, it was held for the first time in Lyaskovichi agro-town, in Petrikov District. It proved so popular that it is set to become a regular event. The forum brought together over 500 amateur artists and folk masters, who preserve our ancestors’ ancient crafts and creativity. It was recognised as one of the brightest festivals in Belarus.
Of course, this is only the beginning, with so many plans ahead. We still have four years to transform our Pripyat Polesie.
By Violetta Dralyuk
[b]It’s been a year now since Belarus launched a programme aimed at development of Pripyat Polesie. The unique area embracing seven districts in Brest and Gomel Regions along the Pripyat River is sure in for dramatical changes of its appearance[/b]The state’s great interest in the River Pripyat area is easily explainable: Belarusian Polesie is unique in Europe for its flood plain oak forests and for having the largest bog lands — the ‘lungs’ of the continent.