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Delightful lakes of Ukraine

Cool lakes

As a long hot summer draws to an end, it’s the perfect time to take advantage of the final days and weeks of sunshine by the lake.

And Ukraine boasts two beautiful lakes that it counts among its seven natural wonders – Svityaz and Synevyr.

Svityaz lake is located in Volyn Oblast bordering Poland and Belarus in north-west Ukraine. It is the largest of more than 30 fresh water lakes known as Shatsky lakes, located on the territory of the protected National Nature Preserve. It’s around 26 kilometers in diameter. Its maximum depth is 58 meters.

The coastline is dotted with many hotels and so-called sanatoria resorts, where rooms cost from Hr 90. Many of them are remnants of old Soviet infrastructure attached to research and other state institutions. You might have to share a bathroom and shower for the price, and don’t expect room service. Local residents in the village of Shatsk also rent out rooms. Quality varies widely, but most of the accommodation is for travelers on a small budget.


This is a popular holiday spot for many in western Ukraine, as it’s only a three- to four-hour drive from Lviv. From Kyiv, take an overnight train to Kovel, and then a minibus to the village of Shatsk.

Swimming in the lake’s water – which is full of minerals – makes up for any inconveniences you might encounter elsewhere. The water by the bank can warm up to more than 20 degrees Celsius, while its deepest part remains at around 9 degrees Celsius. Given the lake’s size, you may not want to swim as far as that.

You can rent a boat from villagers for just Hr 30 per hour and row out, or even a small hand-made yacht sailed by seasoned yachtsmen who have been here for decades. A trip will cost you Hr 200 per hour, and a yacht can carry six people.

By boat you can reach a 7-hectare island in the middle of the lake, where a single house stands abandoned, surrounded by pines, weeping birches and oaks.

Svityaz is popular with fishermen for its eels – which you won’t find anywhere else in Ukraine – as well as pike, catfish and beam. Fishing is limited here because it’s a national park, but the locals sell plenty of their catch, freshly smoked and ready to eat. Eels are wonderfully tasty, but also expensive, starting at about Hr 80 per piece. But it’s worth it.

Some locals like Vasyl Hrotyuk make a living out of fishing. “I go fishing every day from dawn till dusk, and my wife sells fish on the market, some 10-15 eels per day. There is not much work here in the village [Shatsk] in winter, so we try to earn as much as possible in summer time,” Hrotyuk explains.


Our next destination is west of Ukraine. This is the place where fresh dewy dawns turn into pleasant warm days, and the air is filled with the smell of forest herbs. It is here in Synevyr National Nature Preserve in Zakarpattya Oblast where Ukraine’s biggest highland lake is located.

Synevyr lake lies in a valley 989 meters above sea level. This is the place to go if you are looking for unspoiled nature, hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, boating or rafting.

The lake is far from main highways, and public transport is under-developed. The easiest way to get there is to hire a car or drive on your own. Don’t expect signs or menus in English, either. This is a true getaway destination.
Maryna Rusnak, who lives in Synevyrska Polyana, the village closest to the lake, said until about two years ago the place had very few tourists.

“We lived very, very poorly here until some two years ago when the lake was named one of the natural wonders of Ukraine.

Some curious tourists from various parts of Ukraine have started coming here, and this year we’ve also welcomed some Europeans. Life’s changing for the better and we’ve started building more wooden private houses for tourists,” she said.

A cozy room at Rusnak’s two-storied wooden house costs Hr 200 to rent. A similar room in a larger, newly-built hotel costs around Hr 300 per day.

The lake is accessible by hiking 1.5 kilometers meters up the hill into the depths of the forest. The path leads along a fresh mountain stream, through trees where birds sing and you can easily encounter hares, squirrels and badgers. There are also plenty of wolves, foxes, deer and lynxes in this forest, but they are not easy to see in the summer.

“Each of us has a gun,” says Rusnak. “It’s a must-have if you want to feel safe, especially in the winter when foxes and wolves come down from the hills into the village looking for food. This winter alone my husband shot five foxes and a couple of wolves.” The trophy skins now decorate the interior of Rusnak’s kolyba, a traditional wooden café.

The lake is well worth the hike. It’s five hectares in area and 22 meters deep, and appeared as a result of a tectonic shift caused by an earthquake. In the middle of the lake there is a small islet of only a few meters in diameter. Locals call it “Sea Eye” as it looks like a pupil in the center of an eye.

The water in this highland lake is clear, but with a strong tint of blue-green. And it’s very, very cold. Even in the heat of the summer only the top one or two meters of water gets warm; the rest remains at around 6 degrees Celsius. That’s why swimming is strictly forbidden.

“Many people have drowned there, mostly because of cramps caused by cold water, and because of small whirlpools that are hard to see, but they catch the brave swimmers that go deeper,” said Vitalyna Rusnak, a local inhabitant. “We, however, have swum in the lake many times because we are locals and we know exactly where it is safe.”

These tricky whirlpools might have given the lake its name: syniy means blue in Ukrainian, while vyr is the word for whirlpool. There is also a beautiful legend that is tied to the name: The local count’s daughter, Syn, cried a lake after her loved one, Vyr, was killed on her father’s orders for his common descent.

A 13-meter sculpture was erected on the shore of the two lovers in 1984. Created by the sculptors Ivan Borodyn and Mykhailo Sanych, the monument is a popular place to visit for lovers.

Fishing is also officially banned in Synevyr, but you can still taste the delicious local trout in local cafes. Locals fish in many nearby rivers.

The most dramatic view of Synevyr opens from Ozirna Mountain, which is 1,496 meters high. It takes about three hours to hike there, but thereward for hiking is a breathtaking view of the Carpathians and the deep blue eye of Synevyr in the middle, surrounded by tall pine trees that encircle it as if they were beautiful green eyelashes.

Staff writer Iryna Prymachyk, prymachyk@kyivpost.com/ Source article Kyiv Post 

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