In 2017, Berdyansk was recognized as one of the best resorts in Ukraine. According to Google Ukraine, the search request for “vacation in Berdyansk” happens more often than other similar requests. And it is not surprising. First of all, Berdyansk is one of the few Ukrainian resorts of the Azov Sea, where you can get by train. Secondly, warm sea and shallow water are ideal conditions for vacation with children. In summer, there are up to 1.5 million tourists. Quite a lot, as for a small town with a population of only 115 thousand people.
The first changes in Berdyansk came with the Maidan and the war. The frontline was moving close to the resort town and most of the guesthouses, hostels and hotels abruptly refused to accept Russians.
The biochemistry of the Azov Sea is changing here. Water becomes clearer and saltier.
Season is the next variable for Berdyansk. Every autumn life changes dramatically. The season lasts here about four months. And in September already most of the tourist infrastructure is freezing. Tourists, as well as trains, get fewer. The direct railway service remains only with Zaporizhia.
However, seasonality does not prevent Olexandr Velychko from doing his own business with pleasure. He tried to become different in the local tourism business. And he seems to have succeeded. From year to year, tourists go for vacation exactly to Diadia Sasha [“diadia” is Russian pronunciation of Ukrainian word “diad’ko” which means “uncle” and is widely used in Ukraine – translator].
The owner of the guesthouse “The house by the sea” has been called diadia Sasha for a long time:
— Why diadia Sasha? It’s a children guesthouse, so all the children call me like that. And their parents started to call me like that. Even the 70-year-old grandfathers call me diadia Sasha. In 2014, local maidanivtsi (Maydan participants) arived and stayed here. They asked how to call me, and I told them to call me “diad’ko”. That’s our native word. So in a family way: diadia Sasha.
Previously, most tourists came to Berdyansk from Russia. Everything was arranged for them here: from the currencies exchange at every step to additional trains from Moscow.
But when in the spring of 2014 first refugees from the east appeared in Berdyansk, local people remembered their motherland. Then the residents of Berdyansk experienced the first splash of patriotism. They realized that the war, though didn’t touch the city, but still it is somewhere here, quite close. From refugees, they heard stories of massacres and looting and realized that this can also happen to them and their homes, if not to resist the separatists. Meanwhile, summer came and instead of the usual Russian tourists, Ukrainians went to Berdyansk. And locals realized that their business depends not only on Russians.
That summer diadia Sasha also said goodbye to Russian guests:
— Nine consecutive seasons “baba Svieta” from Moscow had a rest at my place. She is 8 years older than me. And when she called me in March “Sania, what’s wrong with you? What are you doing there? Crimea is ours… “, then I was in shock. It was the first time I faced with such “dyed-in-the-wool Krymnash” [“Krymnash” is Russian-language neologism that arose and gained popularity in Russia during the preparation and implementation of Russian armed aggression against Ukraine and during the annexation of the Crimea – translator].
In the summer of 2014, children did not come for vacation. Olexandr Velychko then was engaged in volunteering, was providing Azov Battalion with all the necessary things, was collecting funds for this. Meanwhile displaced people, military, volunteers lived for a few months in the guesthouse. Two families from Donetsk lived here for a year.
Olexandr really treats Ukrainian military like a native diad’ko, never says no:
— The guys on the way to front ask to take a shower. When they served in intelligence, they came here to wash their clothes, to sleep properly at night and went further.
Olexandr was born and raised in Berdyansk, then he moved to Kharkiv where he lived for 18 years. He had selling computer equipment business there. He visited hometown only from time to time for fishing. After traveling like that for several years, he decided to buy here boats and a land plot on the coast. At some point Olexandr realized that he was tired of Kharkiv, and Berdyansk for him becomes not only a city for recreation, for the soul, but also a city for life. Afterwards, his whole family moved to Berdyansk. And for all these years they have never regretted such decision:
— Absolutely incredible people live here – southern, marine, sincere and frank. Sometimes too much. They did not accept me here for a long time. In Kharkiv, I could live with people 18 years in one porch and not to know their names. Here I live like in a village. They have already accepted me, I’m already inside man, it’s fine already. Here is one way, we greet each other.
During the season, Olexandr Velychko takes his guests to a small motor boat called “Tramp “. Sea trip helps guests to relax, get to know each other.
diadia Sasha repairs and improves the boat by himself:
— The age of the ship is determined by how often it was repaired or redone. He has been welded many times, the engine is new. The steering wheel here is from Tavria, the windshield is from Gazelle.
When it is necessary to regain strength, Diadia Sasha sits on the “Tramp” and goes to Dzendzyk island, near the Berdyansk spit. It takes about 5 hours to go by the sea. During this time, he has time to rest, to stay alone:
— Sometimes I need isolation. Especially in the summer. A lot of people come. People are good, but they are like fire in the oven. And near the hot oven, as you know, you cannot stay for a long time. Therefore, even from such a positive energy, I sometimes want to hide.
Olexandr says that the sea biochemistry here is changing: water becomes more transparent, saltier. Due to this, the haarder disappeared from here. Fish is forced to seek food in other places. One of the reasons for such changes may be a significant flow of water from the salty Sivash lake to the Azov Sea. However, there is a positive side in this: the fishermen began to go out into the sea less and no longer try to massively catch everything that just gets into the net. Mussels appeared near Berdyansk again. Recently, the goby fishing on an industrial scale has been officially banned. Poaching has long been one of the major local problems.
Goby is considered to be one of the symbols of Berdyansk, the breadwinner of the city, there is even a monument installed in its honor. However, massive fishing of this fish also hurts the ecosystem of the sea:
— Goby is very flucky. There was a week of normal fishing, and then there was storm. And after May 1, a strict ban on its industrial fishing was introduced. They very carefully ontroled this for two weeks. I saw something like that for the first time: nobody went to the sea, everybody stood by the coast. It is probably better for the sea like that. If only they could “nail” them all, the sea would renew. Now fishing is less and, I hope, the there will be an order.
— Berdyansk is, indeed, a pearl of the Azov coast. It has been and will be. And now, this pearl can be just cleaned, let it grow, open up. But for this purpose, it is necessary to invest a lot of money here.
Diadia Sasha’s guesthouse was opened in 2005. The guests came here mainly drinking and rampaged. After such a season, Olexandr was ready to give up. There was a feeling that it should not be like that, “Budynochok” is not for this:
— At the end of the first season, I was depressed. And it’s not even about money, I earned almost nothing. I was thinking: I can’t believe that I’m going to look at this nightmare all my life. Winter of 2005-2006 was very severe. У It was -27°C in Berdyansk, the sea was frozen, all the moisture in the air was frozen. I was thinking then how to live on. I started to remember the brightest moments. They appeared to be people who came to a guesthouse with children. It is closed territory here, with a beach, shallow waters. I realized that I had to make my site and make it with the right “message”. Then there will be no casual, undesirable customers. I remembered that children are wonderful. This idea arose from despair. And it worked.
Thus, work on the creation of a family-type guesthouse began. And next summer only families with children came for a vacation at diadia Sasha. Every year Olexandr improved his service to make family rest more and more comfortable. Educators, teachers of physical culture, nurses, service personnel appeared in the guesthouse. As a rule, 50/50 adults and children usually were among the guests of the guesthouse.
Parents next to children try to be on their best behavior. Children’s scream here is perceived as a background, because everybody is equal: today somebody’s child is screaming, and tomorrow it can be yours. In the evening, the educator plays with children. Modern children here forget about tablets and smartphones, and run to play hide-and-seek and “Vybyvnyi” [“Vybyvnyi” is active game with ball – traslator]:
— The guests synthesize all of this. It is quite normal for us here to have a situation when the father, who plays with his child in the sea, eventually plays with four or five other children. He can not just say no to children. Or the mother walking with her child becomes an entertainer for other children as well. This is the way it turns into group raising. Probably this is because a certain cultural layer of people comes to have a rest here. Again, it’s not accidental. I expressed the “message” and people perceived it.
For Olexandr the first task is to create an atmosphere of relaxation and tranquility for the guests. Every detail is important here. The rule is not to smoke near the house, not to “honk” at the bar. Personal host presence in the guesthouse is important for guests. Even it is short evening get-together, or cleaning together of seaweed on the beach. They come here like to their own country house: everyone knows each other, say hallo to each other.
— It is absolutely normal situation here when the maid is standing on the stairs, cleaning and telling guests what is worth to visit in Berdyansk.
Thanks to diadia Sasha’s work – whose working day starts in March and ends in October – the feeling of a genuine, carefree rest appears.
The best way to thank you for everyday work it is not only when guests come back again and again, but also when previously unknown to each other people here becomes friends, come with families at the same time. Their children grow up here, in the eyes of diadia Sasha. It is more valuable than money and any other material goods:
— Some things really are a reward for me. When, for example, a spoilt, naughty child, brought up on tablets and shopping malls comes here for vacation. And in two weeks of staying here, this child is able to play in a team, forgets about the technique and dreams of active games. Children find a real childhood here.