Zatoka – Vylkove, Ukraine

Ștefan Cândea
We finally left behind us the beach of the Black Sea. But we weren’t done with the sea because we stopped for a few days in Vylkove: the Ukrainian attraction of the Danube Delta where tourism consists mainly of trips at the periphery of the Delta and through the town also known as ‘the Venice of Ukraine’. Despite its name, the town isn’t throbbing with tourists. The greatest numbers are those of foreign tourists who take one-day trips, boat and ship rides and indulge themselves in sturgeon steak and even caviar.

‘I cannot understand what they’re doing here. What is it they find so attractive here?’ Viacheslav says rather surprised while washing himself in the river. He is a young Ukrainian of Romanian origin who has worked in constructions in Western Europe for several years. Viacheslav, born in this region and settled in Vylkove, saw many hardships and had quite a few adventures until he could leave the region to work in the West. When he returned home, he saw the prices in the local markets (even for basic foods) had sky-rocketed because of tourists, especially foreign ones.

While taking a walk through the harbour, we came across the only Romanian speaking guide, a former teacher (on the verge of retirement) who is making a living from tourism. Mrs. Alexandra is from Izmail and had a great deal of stories and information she was willing to share with us in Romanian, so we decided to take her on as our tour guide for one hour. She’s got relatives on both sides of the Danube and she firmly believed our side is much poorer. Her stories were sprinkled with traces of state propaganda, among which the fact that Romania is responsible for all the bad things in the region, including the continuing destruction of the Delta, the increase of taxes and the expansion of waterways. Moreover, our guide seemed to be suffering from a rather aggressive nostalgia of the Soviet Union days. Apparently, everything was better then, the state took care of everything and there were no thefts.

The boat ride on the aquatic boulevards of the town opened our appetite for a ride on narrower canals, three times more than asphalt streets. One cannot gain access other than by means of special, narrow, flat-bottomed boats. We moved on endless, wooden walking boards to the racket of tiny dogs which guard every yard. Little reed and old adobe houses are fewer and fewer – apparently, decorating the walls with plastic wainscoting and installing double pane windows is what’s in now.

Although this is a settlement of Lipovans, very few bearded men in their traditional costume can be seen on the streets. Even among their neighbours, all kind of myths regarding growing a beard circulate – the most idiotic being the one about Romanian Lipovans who would castrate themselves when turning thirty. At nightfall, a stream of young women in mini skirts and wearing high-heeled shoes begins to permeate downtown Vylkove. The central bar houses pool and ping-pong tables around a grandiose aquarium. Young couples are irritated at the army of mosquitoes which are intent on ruining a possible romantic evening. So, many focus their attention on drinking – one of the merry young men learns we’re from Romania and won’t let us leave before drowning us in kisses and hugs.