Top 7 threatened tourist attractions in Belarus. Hurry up and see!

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‘Restoring’ Old Castle in Hrodna, phot. by Vasil Malchanau, Belsat

Belarus is one of the cleanest countries in Europe. However, its authorities have a specific approach to the country’s natural and historical heritage. If some place of interest does not look attractive and the renovation is too expensive – it can be ‘set in order’. This is also the case of natural environments – if their protection costs the state a lot.

Belsat.eu has made up a short guide about Belarusian tourist attractions that may soon disappear, i.e. they may be ‘put in order’ or used up.

Since recently, tourists from the West have the opportunity to get there without a visa. In late July, Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a decree extending the term of visa-free stay of foreigners in Belarus to 30 days, provided that they enter and exit the country via Minsk Airport. Moreover, tourists choosing a land road are allowed to visit Brest and Hrodna frontier-free zone and stay there for up to 10 days.

1. Almany marshes

Europe’s Lungs in danger: Belarus authorities destroying unique swamps (ENG subs)

The largest swamp reserve in Europe is under threat of destruction. Almany marshes are Europe’s largest untouched wetlands with an area of ​​over 900 km2. An array of wetlands is located on the territory of Belarus and Ukraine. But Palessye forestry has recently building 14 km of road straight through the untouched territory. The road will form a dam, violating hydrological regime. One part of the bog will collect water and turn into a pond, and the other one will dry out.

This complex of swamps is special, since it was not affected by the reclamation. In Soviet times there was a military training ground where secret weapons were tested. The territory has become a major breeding site for the most cautious bird of prey in Belarus — Spotted Eagle In total there are 151 species of birds, 25 of which are listed in the Red Book of Belarus There is also a bog turtle recorded in all Red Books.

The specialists of ‘APB-BirdLife Belarus’ call to suspend construction, revise the project and make the environmental impact assessment. But officials insist that the road would not do harm, becoming a good natural barrier.

One will soon have to stop calling Almany ‘virgin marshes’ due to the would-be unsurfaced road. Sand for construction is taken from glacial dunes that build the landscape of the neighbourhood. Accoeding to the authorities, they took into account the needs of promoting fire safety and harvesting timber. However, environmentalists state that fires in swamps happen mostly due to human aspect; as for forest industry development, it would be enough to expand the old road around the islands.

Localization: Stolin, Stolin district, Brest region

2. Military Cemetery in Minsk

The Military Cemetery was originally designated for burying tsarist soldiers, but later it became a final resting place of the Minsk Orthodox elite. Many Belarusians consider the historical cemetery in the centre of the capital as a national necropolis – among others, the fathers of the Belarusian poetry Yanka Kupala and Yakub Kolas rest here.

This year, however, its alleys and graves have become a battlefield between activists and municipal services. The city authorities gave a distinct command – to clean up the old graves. As part of ‘beautification’, pre-war wrought-iron fences and old crosses are being removed. The city does not seem particularly eager to invest in maintaining small architectural monuments – they are just being substituted by identic plates.

Lokalization: Minsk, Kazlou Str., 11

3. Belarusian Maldives in Hrodna region

According to locals, ‘Belarusian Maldives’ are turquoise lakes that were created in the former openpit chalk mines not far from the Polish border. The reservoirs of Sinka and Zyalyonka near Hrodna might be well known, but the lakes near Vaukavysk with an area of about 300 football fields are even more popular. The beautiful lakes still remain wild since the neighbouring villages do not have well-developed infrastructure for tourists. Despite that, as many as 100,000 individual tourists came to Krasnaselski village in 2012. One can also feast their eyes upon flint mines that go back centuries.

But from year to year, the situation is deteriorating – unsteady shores crumble into the lakes, which can be up to 40 meters deep (there were also cases of people falling into the water). The Hrodna authorities decided to take drastic measures, i.e. turning the water reservoirs a rubbish dump, which may then lead to contamination of groundwater. Being aware of their popularity, Vaukavysk bosses opted for a provisional solution – no bathing and repairing adjacent roads.

Belarusian Maldives may soon disappear from the list of Belarusian tourist attractions unless one finds a way to secure the shores and make the area an agrotouristic paradise for Belarusians and guests from abroad.

Localization: Sinka i Zyalyonka, Dambrouski Street, Hrodna. The other lakes are situated near Krasnaselski village (Vaukavysk district, Hrodna region)

4. The Radziwill Gate near Lida

At the end of the 18th century, the most powerful magnate family of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania began to build their new residence between present-day villages of Vyalikaye Syalo and Zhyrmuny in Hrodna. However, the foundation of the palace was not completed; a two-story triumphal arch with two side wings – residential and housekeeping – was erected.

Unfortunately, very little remained of the Radziwill Gate – the communists dismantled the first floor of the noble family’s building. The remains of the arch and its wings still exist – a school and shared flats were established there. For locals, it is also a symbol of the great past of their place, one of the most important monuments.

Moreover, time and negligence conquered all the things that had been not destroyed by the Bolsheviks. At present, the local authorities in Krupava are set to take the gate to pieces. According to them, it is too late to restore the monument; and its current state may allegedly pose danger to lives of residents and tourists. However, many locals have made a stand for their heritage – so, the fate of the Radziwill Gate is not yet sealed.

Localization: At the road from Zhyrmuny to Vyalikaye Syalo, Krupava, Lida district, Hrodna region

5. Dzitva boggy interfluve

Not far from the Radziwill Gate there is another unique place. These are bogs that were formed between the branches of the Dzitva river, which is a tributary of the Nyoman. There are 67 species of birds nested here, 5 of which were added to the Red Book of Belarus, and 18 others are considered to be potentially endangered.

Dzitva boggy interfluve is the only territory in Lida region which was not affected by the Soviet reclamation. However, in 2016 the Belarusian authorities decided to drain the floodplain of Dzitva to extract peat as part of the programme okayed by president Alyaksandr Lukashenka . As a result of the swamp draining, hundreds of wild animals, plants and birds will be at stake. Even nests of White-tailed Eagle, one of the rarest birds of prey in Belarus, might be destroyed. Aquatic Warbler — a bird, which is protected in Europe, will also lose her home.

In a few years Belarus may lose a unique swamp that protects Lida region against fires, sand storms, and provides the area with clean air. Locals have gathered almost 400 signatures with the request to make it a reserve.

But the authorities seem to turn a deaf ear to the protests. They do not learn from past experience either – the groundwater level fell after earlier draining some bogs in Lida district and peat fires started.

Localization: Dzitva, near villages of Tarnava, Vyalikiya Kanyushany (pl. Koniuszany Wielkie) and Minoity.

6. Kurapaty

In the 1930-40s, the forest in Kurapaty near Minsk was a place of executions and burials. According to historians, Stalin’s secret police could execute and bury up to 250,000 ‘enemies of the people’, including Polish officers from the so-called Belarusian Katyn list and representatives of the persecuted Polish minority.

Discovered in 1988, 510 collective graves in Kurapaty became a symbol of Stalin’s terror. After Belarus declared its independence, the authorities of the young state officially recognized Kurapaty a place of remembrance. There were also crosses set by activists and families of the murdered.

However, during the rule of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the authorities keep pretending that the necropolis does not exist. No monument to NKVD victims has been set here, no deliberate archaeological research has been carried out. The protected zone is also being gradually cut – located near the ringroad, Kurapaty is a sweet spot for investors. Over the recent years, two facilities have started to be built close to the memorial site. In 2017, the protests of activists stopped the construction of an office building. However, in the summer of 2018, the restaurant Let’s Go And Eat opened here. Kurapaty defenders keep protesting against ‘dancing on the bones’. Activists first asked the authorities to interfere with the situation, and then decided to act independently. They have been trying not to let cars to the territory of the restaurant for almost three months.

Localization: Near Minsk ringroad, to the north-east of the centre of the city, 500 m of Zyalony Luh bus depot

7. Wooden architecture in cities and villages

Although we find them in many places, wooden houses often meet the same fate. As soon as one can replace them with new buildings, old residential houses are destroyed in Belarus. Media outlets are often informed of cases of displacement of entire quarters of wooden urban buildings to the media – in 2016, the Minsk authorities decided that a district inhabited by 12,000 people should be demolished. In the same year, the Minsk metropolitan decided to destroy three historical buildings ando build a new church and administration facilities at this place. The same things occur in other cities of the country – the state stop restoring wooden houses, which leads to their decay, and then take them to pieces.

From this perspective, the picture of old Belarus is dying. Once today’s big cities were provincial centres of empires: the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Tsarist Russia and the USSR. Along with new homes, another Belarus is being built – modern and independent. But is it more authentic?

The villages are also disappearing, young people flee to cities and abroad. And since most of the land belongs to the state, as a rule, abandoned villages enlarge the area of large collective farms. It is worth visiting such villages – as long as they are still alive. But it is even better to get to full-of-life settlements during holidays and feasts.

This time we will not suggest any location – we encourage you to look for such places on your own

Piotr Jaworski/adapted by MS belsat.eu

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