How domestic tourism is developing in Donetsk region

In 2014, Yana Synytsia moved from Donetsk to the village of Kryva Luka, which is part of  the Lyman Territorial Community. Thanks to her efforts, the place is already called the tourist heart of the Lyman district. This is because Yana organises original tours and excursions here and rafting along the river for tourists.

I know for sure that I will not fly to Portugal or Spain immediately after quarantine. I will not go the beautiful routes of Greece or France. But I can try to go to the Donetsk oblast. To visit Yana Synytsia.

Because you can see and take a view of a certain region only with a person who is in love with his land and his business.

Yana has been in the tourism business for 18 years. She lived and worked in Donetsk. She focused on domestic tourists and developed this area of business.

And then 2014 came, and Yana and her family moved to the small village of Kryva Luka, where she had a country house.

– I don’t like it when people mention me everywhere as a displaced person: “She had a business, but now she has not, how poor, unhappy she is….,” Yana comments.

Yes, that year was a turning point. Now I understand that that move gave me a lot of good. It gave other good people. It gave new challenges and new opportunities.

At first, like everyone who left the occupation, Synytsia planned to return. She hoped that everything would pass like a heavy dream.

And then she started building a new life. And first she took on social activism.

– How else would I meet people? That is why I became utterly absorbed in public work, which allowed us to unite people, develop communication between us, and together create values that are important for us and for life on our earth.

And only last fall, having what I already earned, I decided for myself that I needed to reformat my activities. I became really absorbed too much in activism and no longer understood for whom and why I was doing all this.

It took some time to rethink. Because I needed to see my ambitious goals and my personal gain. And this is normal and fair. That is why I started returning to my business. In small steps.

– I often hear, especially in recent years, that Donetsk oblast is a very underestimated region in terms of tourism.

– Exactly so. The region, mostly industrial, did not develop domestic tourism, certain steps were taken only during EURO 2012. But in general, this sector of the economy was not taken care of.

My travel company has been working in the market since 2004, and even then we made domestic tourism a priority.

However, then there was no special need to work in this area, and now it is. And there is an opportunity to tell, show, do as much as possible to break the stereotypes common about Donetsk.

Now we return to the format of work that we have always had.

Yana Synytsia and her Lazurit conduct signature tours and excursions, developed on the basis of local lore research.

You can order The Path Marked by Salt.

Or walk By the Tracks of Noble Families of the XIX Century or Paths of the Underground World and get to the gypsum mines and the underground part of Artwinery sparkling wine factory.

Or raft on catamarans on the Siverskyi Donets.

She lives in the village of Kryva Luka, which is subordinated to the Lyman Territorial Community. Thanks to her efforts and endeavours, the place is already called the tourist heart of the Lyman region.

Legend tell that the strange name appeared because the village, repeating the course of the river, took the form of a bow.

I ask her to tell about the peculiarities of the Donetsk oblast, and her eyes light up:

– The Donetsk oblast is very diverse and beautiful! We have a unique geological area. And that is why there was such an industrial potential in the last century. This area is like a puff pastry: in a small square, you can see the whole history of mankind.

Why is Kryva Luka a tourist village? Because there is everything around: forests, lakes, rivers, mountains, caves.

In the tourist battle, the Donetsk oblast could compete even with the Crimea. It is important to develop tourism here, because we have all the conditions for that.

I had a burning desire to turn our region into a pearl of tourism. I prepare routes, study history, look for uniqueness.

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Photo: Kryva Luka – a tourist village

When I set about implementing the plan, I realized that not everything depends on me. Because it’s not about my estate and not about my house. The best ideas can break down as a result of nonconformity of infrastructure, for example.

That is why I began to structure my activities in the following areas: infrastructure – what we need to do to improve life in the village; tourism – creation of tourist products, locations, themes, legends, development and preparation of routes; marketing and promo – people need to learn, be interested and come.

However, everything went a little wrong for me. When I shared my plans with the media, people read them as implemented ideas. And started coming.

We had to act in an emergency mode – our advertising was ahead of the product. But we did it! All last winter I worked actively, went to towns of the Donetsk oblast, looked for various places of interests.

For May, for example, group routes were already booked. This spring was definitely supposed to be productive. But it turned out differently. Now we are waiting.

Now I hope that domestic tourism in the Donetsk oblast can really become popular. Maybe this is another challenge for me.

Talking to Yana, you realize that there are really many challenges in her life.

She was born in Baku in the family of a half-Ukrainian mother and an Armenian father. In 1988, after a terrible ethnic conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, the family hurriedly left Azerbaijan. To relatives near Donetsk.

And then, years later, for almost the same reason, Yana left Donetsk.

– Even in 2014-2015, I did not feel as anxious as now.

Maybe it’s related to age? I haven’t grown younger in five or six years. And the further you go, the more cautious you become, you multiply not only positive and successful experience.

It was as if I had stopped running: I had enough strength and knowledge to move on, but I found myself in front of a wall again. And again, I have to sit down and think what to do?

In 2014, at an event, I heard an important phrase: development will lead us to peace. And it became a lifeline for me. That phrase stuck in my head.

Of course, I very much hope for the further development of domestic tourism. That’s why I develop and develop my own business.

What’s next? Something will happen for sure. It never happens that there is an empty space next.

Of course, I’m worried. Because everything seems to have fallen into place for me, so much has already been gained, I could rely on all these achievements. But…

But here we are talking about the country in general. Will tourism survive? And if it survives, in what form? What will happen to it next?

If the quarantine is over, people will have a lot of problems, and with many of them, they will be left alone. Will there be a demand for that tourism at all? I don’t know.

– Yana, but everything has a beginning and an end. Restrictive measures will pass, and people who are tired and miss the simple pleasures of ordinary life, are likely to go to travel around the country – to rest, spend the weekend.

Not everyone will rush abroad and to the coast. Domestic tourism will definitely have a chance. Am I wrong?

– I really hope for domestic tourists! But you understand that we will have to compete with areas that have already worked in this area, and more than one year.

I can develop myself and promote my product, but I can’t build a comfortable infrastructure. In addition to landscapes and interesting routes, tourists need a lot of conveniences: road, hotels, comfort, service and more.

We have a lot of things that start with conversations and end with them. And here it is necessary to act intensively, not to stop.

I am pleased with only one thing: 10-15 years ago, Zakarpattia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv oblasts only began to develop tourism. And they started well. Became attractive for tourists. We are following the same path today. But I want everything to happen much faster.

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Photo: There are many interesting routes through Lyman

– Is it easy to get to you?

 – Lyman and the Lyman region have a fairly convenient roundabout. It is a bit more difficult to get to the village of Kryva Luka, but for an ecotourist who is used to rest actively and walk with a backpack, getting there is not difficult.

However, now I bet not only on the village. This is my center of tourism development, our brain and creative centers are here. Initiatives and projects are born here. But from here we are already spreading our influence in the region like water circles.

For example, we show our tourists the north of the Donetsk oblast, where the Salt Route runs – from Sloviansk to Bakhmut, Kostiantynivka, Oleksandro-Kalynove. These towns are united by a single “salty theme”, for which we develop several small routes. All of them will pass through Lyman.

Unfortunately, I have very limited facilities to take people in for the night. And when we talk about the economy, earnings, the commercial component, we must create conditions so that people can spend the night, have lunch, dinner and use certain services. That’s when we become commercially successful.

We need to build infrastructure. Seasonality matters. From May to September is a wonderful season. But these are only a few months, in which you need to have time for a lot of things.

When I come back from the big city and look at what we have done, it seems to me that it is so little!

– Is it worth looking through the prism of a big city?

– Maybe it is not, but I constantly compare. Although I understand that we are developing well and have worked hard all this time.

I agree that the example of a big city is somewhat demotivating, disappointing, and frustrating. That’s why I think it’s better to do something than nothing.

The only thing when it comes to the development of the territory, I evaluate all the processes in view of the lost opportunities. For five years, when we received the attention of the whole world, when there was a crazy international technical assistance, when the whole world helped, we did not use the opportunities as we could. It was possible to do more than we did.

It is necessary to tell not only about positive examples, but also to speak honestly about the negative, about what and why did not work out. We all work here as firefighters. If there is a problem – we solve it. Nobody thinks in advance, 5-15 years ahead. Everyone talks about strategic development, but few actually work at it.

As long as I live here, I do not see the desire to think ahead to organize my own life, to take care of the development of territories. Business, government, community must cooperate.

– How exactly? Do you have any ideas?

– I spent a lot of time trying to understand this and draw attention to joint projects with the authorities. Later I realized that they were doing something because it had to be done. And I need it to see the result as soon as possible!

I want to earn. What’s wrong with that? I realize that you have to invest a lot before you can make money. I am ready and investing.

My friends once said to me: “Yana, do what you think is necessary, and do it as if no one is around – there are only you and your plans.” That’s what I do. Until that moment, there was a feeling that I was pushing the train, but it was not going. And now I realize that there is no one – there is only me and everything I can do.

It became easier for me. And so much more has been done in the last year than in previous years.

But, to be honest, it’s a pity for those lost years. Although instead I was enriched by experience.

– Yana, you often use the word “we”. Who is your team now?

– These are first of local historians.

Mikhailo Kulishov. Now he lives in Bakhmut, he moved there from Horlivka. He is a mining local historian, he knows everything that is under our feet – to a depth of millions of years.

Oksana Drohomyretska from Ivano-Frankivsk, Nelia Fotina from Shchurovo, Maksym Metsenko from Siversk. Serhii Orlyk, also my colleague and partner from Donetsk. There are a few of us, we are all very serious and a bit boring (smiles).

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I surrounded myself with local historians who are conscientious and professional. After all, local lore work is a kind of foundation. We cannot work superficially. You need to dive in, dig into the details and little things, find some meaning, value, and then take it all and show it to everyone.

When we talk about the uniqueness of our region, what is it? How are we different from others, and what do we have in common? It is impossible without it.

Because why should a person from Kyiv go here and not to Kharkiv, Sumy, Rivne regions? We constantly ask ourselves such questions and look for answers to them.

That’s what happened to me with my village. Why exactly it? What are its unique features?

It is located near Kreidova Flora Reserve, which has the highest level of protection. And this significantly limits the tourism initiative and activity.

Thus, you have to work with such restrictions. You look for other ways, develop and move further, forward.

Restrictions force us to be creative, to look for other ideas. Believe me, I really want the Donetsk oblast to become equal among other tourist monsters.

– Yana, when you talk about your business, your eyes lit up. And I see how important it is for the work you do to arouse such admiration, such passion…

– You are right, it is through a person, through his passion and devotion that ideas can be promoted.

A professional guide, a person with burning eyes, who is engaged in his favourite business, can capture others, arouse interest. But here we, with our enthusiasm, face officials.

And officials, when it comes to tourism development in general, rely on tourist attractions.

Tourist attractions without people who know how to work with them are dead. That’s why it’s important for me to find and attract people who understand the meaning of work.

And then we look for interesting tourist spots and develop routes. For example, Serhii Orlyk, whom I have already mentioned, creates incredible immersive journeys with the help of virtual panoramas.

People are important, and this is exactly what our bureaucratic system does not understand or perceive. And I really want to break this situation.

Do you know about Bakhmut?

– I only know that such a town exists. I drove it by several times.

– Me too earlier. And then I started meeting people. And I realized how underestimated this town is.

It is built on the history of salt. There’s a lot of exciting stuff there. And it was a revelation for me.

And the concentration of interesting people is just incredible! They are related to history, art and other important topics.

Our towns have a unique history and unique people. All this can be connected with tourism. And we are actively engaged in this.

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– I’m sure people who come to you will see another Donetsk region…

– This is exactly what we want. And now it is a great challenge for me to make everything work. We need to give people the opportunity to join and get the most comfortable conditions possible.

If a person wants to come to us, he must do so in the most convenient way. The tourist should know how to get there, with whom you can contact, what programs we have, what you can see or visit yourself and so on.

Let’s say we have Travel to the Donets region tourist offer. I would like to blur the administrative boundaries between Kharkiv and Donetsk oblasts a bit. Separate our northern territory – Sloviansk, Bakhmut and Lyman districts. And show its incredible beauty, the coast. The person will be able to come for two days and join excursions.

We have basic hotels where we accommodate people. Excursions were booked for the May holidays. But you understand… We hope that the situation will change and we will try to catch up.

In the future, for example, we have rafting on catamarans. I have been doing this for over 10 years. And, if the season allows, we will float. This year I want to do rafting in the form of quests. Our main customer is corporate clients. Because rafting tours are more interesting than frying shashlik somewhere at camping sites.

And another interesting thing for me personally: Yana and I spoke Ukrainian, and Yana’s language is beautiful and beautiful.

– I started learning the language in 2014, Yana says.

I did not speak Ukrainian until 2014. Sometimes, when I called my partners in Ternopil, Chernivtsi, I tried, but it looked very funny.

Now I correspond in Ukrainian, and my written language is better. I also try to speak Ukrainian, I practice all the time. When I speak, I am worried, of course. But I read a lot.

My father is Armenian, but I don’t feel Armenian. Ukrainian roots prevail. Because when I hear Armenian music, nothing in my heart beats. But when I hear Ukrainian… I subconsciously feel that this is my music, my language, my soul.

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Photo: Yana Synytsia invites to the Donetsk oblast

Yana Synytsia dreams of resuming work. Tourism is her element and her great love.

Come to the Donetsk region – I’m sure you will feel emotions that you did not even expect.

This site is Yana’s pride, her “baby”, as well as the best demonstration of working with local heritage, her interpretation of the tourist development of the territory.

– Our site is very honest, I mean absolute respect for potential guests and the residents themselves. We did everything step by step: gathering information, analysis, action.

Tours and services came last. After assessing the available potential.

And Yana sent me a link to unique panoramas created by her colleague Serhii Orlyk.

I look and dream to see it all with my own eyes. Because even the impression of what you see on the screen, moving a computer mouse, is incredibly fascinating.

Come to the Donetsk region – it is really worth it.

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If you are worried about your safety, we remind you that since the beginning of hostilities in 2014, special groups of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been demining in the liberated territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

And in 2015, international organizations working in the mine action sector appeared.

The HALO Trust, the largest donor of which is the European Union, is among them.

HALO survey specialists identify and mark potentially dangerous areas, and deminers later clear them of any explosive objects that endanger the lives and health of civilians living nearby or using the land. After demining, the land is again handed over to communities, local authorities or specific land users.

To date, the organization has cleared more than 6 million square meters of land. The scale and pace of work of The HALO Trust is actively growing, and later it will be possible to fully realize the potential of the region.

Ukraine is one of the countries most polluted with explosives in the world. Therefore, demining not only saves lives, but can also help revive entire areas.

The transformation of the picturesque area near the Siverskyi Donets into an ecotourism center by Yana Sinitsia became possible thanks to the work of The HALO Trust.

Zoya Kazanzhy, specially for UP.Zhyttia

Source: Life.Pravda