A Travellerspoint blog

August 2019

Holy Mountains, Ukraine

Sviatogorsk

sunny 21 °C

A view of the cave monastery

A view of the cave monastery

This cave monastery has a special Orthodox title. It is called a Laura, or a merited monastery. The Greek word "laura" implies "a crowded place". Only well-known large and revered monasteries are called Lauras. Only Patriarch can assign the status of Laura to a monastery. There are only two Lauras in Ukraine and only two Lauras in Russia. Laura is subordinated directly to the Patriarch. The Lauras are usually headed by bishops.

A view of the Cathedral

A view of the Cathedral


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Our pilgrims group in the Laura

Our pilgrims group in the Laura


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* There are several churches and cathedrals at the territory of the monastery, among them Cathedral of the Protecting Veil of the Most Holy Mother of God with a large belfry dedicated in 1850. The cathedral has three altars:

  1. the central part is dedicated to the Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God;
  2. the southern part is dedicated to St. Barbara the Great Martyr and St. Tatiana the Martyr;
  3. the northern part is dedicated to St. Dmitry of Rostov, St. Mitrophan of Voronezh and St. Tikhon of Zadonsk.

Our pilgrims group from Luhansk

Our pilgrims group from Luhansk


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The cathedral entrance icon

The cathedral entrance icon


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Cathedral of Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God

Cathedral of Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God

In Soviet times the cathedral was blasphemously turned into a movie theatre. After the monastery was closed by the Soviet power in the twenties of the last century, there was a hydropathical establishment inside the former church, and a mud bath was installed at the most sacred place of the church – at the place of its altar. Then, when the Soviet era was over, it was restored and consecrated on September 8, 2000.

There is an icons store in the passage under the belfry. There are two Cross Fountains in front of the main cathedral. Each cross has an inscription in Old Cyrillic that is not quite easy to read. It's nice to simply sit and ponder near a fountain. You can see three cathedrals on your own.

A view of Assumption Cathedral_14

A view of Assumption Cathedral_14


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The altar of Assumption Cathedral

The altar of Assumption Cathedral


The cathedral entrance door icon

The cathedral entrance door icon


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If you are an independent visitor, without any group, you can have your own program, but many places will be inaccessible then. I mean, you won't be able to enter them, whether it's an old church or a monks' hermitage. As a group member or as a pilgrim, you can take a walk along a one-kilometre-long cave inside the chalk cliff and see the cave churches there and have a wonderful view of the countryside from the top of the cliff. If you are just a traveller, you can reach the top of the cliff, if you turn left at the central gate without entering it. You will walk up the mountain road for about forty minutes to the top of the cliff and then you can take the same road back or walk to Artem Hill.

Virgin Mary's statue

Virgin Mary's statue

Having you, the Most Holy Mother of God, as a wall of salvation, we are saved; do not neglect, our Sovereign, and heed our prayers. These words from an Orthodox prayer are inscribed at the pedestal of the statue of the Mother of God. The statue was erected at the entrance to the monastery in 2003 when the monastery became a Laura (merited monastery).

The emblem of the Holy  Mountains State Reserve

The emblem of the Holy Mountains State Reserve

The entire monastery territory belongs to the State Nature Park called Holy Mountains. This area became a natural park in 1963 as Artiom's Mountains. In 1975 it became a State Natural Reserve. There are a lot of forests around the monastery complex. ”Holy Mountains” National Nature Park became the property of Europe as a member of “Europark” nature protection federation in July 2003. There are 123 kinds of rare plants on the territory of Holy Mountains Natural Park, among them 48 kinds have been entered into the Red Book of Ukraine and 12 kinds – into the European Red List.

  • Svyatogorsk-root icon of the Mother of God was painted by a Greek monk who had come to the dedication of the monastery in 1844. He painted the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God and left it as a gift at the monastery. It was kept in a cave church and survived the fire and the dampness.

Sviatogorsk-root icon of the Mother of God

Sviatogorsk-root icon of the Mother of God

In Soviet times it was hidden carefully by the parishioners and was only returned to the monastery when it was dedicated again in 1992. At present the icon is adorned by golden chains, crosses, coins and other gifts that the thankful people brought to Our Heavenly Queen as a sign of love and acknowledgement for healing and heavenly help to many people. It is a must to approach the icon and to kiss the glass covering it. There is a line of people who want to do it before the service starts. The cathedral opens for service at 4.30 p.m. and people try to get there in time to perform that veneration.

  • Walking Along the Caves

Inside the caves

Inside the caves

The Monastery Caves are ancient caves that have been known for centuries. They belong to the monastery and are a unique place in the entire Donets Basin.
You can have a guided tour of the caves starting at 10 a.m. or at 1.30 p.m. The tour will take you on a 900-meters-long way along the caves. During our tour, each of us took a candle to light the way, which made any photography very complicated. We saw the old cave churches, images of the Orthodox saints and old hermit cells. No photography inside is allowed. Every group has a lay brother to accompany it during the one-kilometre walk, mostly upstairs. The path leads directly to the top of the cliff. There is also an old staircase leading to the top of the cliff above ground: several towers connected by the staircase.

The Cave Pavilion - the entrance to the caves

The Cave Pavilion - the entrance to the caves


At the entrance to the Laura Caves

At the entrance to the Laura Caves


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Inside the Laura caves

Inside the Laura caves


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There are organized groups there, but you often have to stay overnight to get into the caves since the line is very long.
We were privileged to pay a visit to the caves and to see its churches. I couldn't help taking pictures there, although there is a strict photography ban in the caves.
There are two or three cave churches inside the caves. The service is held there regularly and it is usually attended by the monks.
There was no service when we were there, so we could move freely. The cave passages are rather narrow. We were shown the Cell of St. John the Hermit. We learnt a lot about this Man of God. St. John the Hermit of the Holy Mountains (September 20, 1795 – August 11, 1867) is famous for his Christian deeds. He spent 17 years in a monk cell in constant prayers and worship without ever leaving the cell.
August 24 is a big holiday – the Feast Day of St. John the Hermit of Sviatogorsk. There is a cross procession with the saint’s body around the cathedral. His body lies in a special coffin to the left of the altar of the cathedral.
Here is a link for cave tour pictures and a fine 3D tour of the monastery caves.

  • St.Nickolas Cathedral located on a chalk cliff towering above the Donets is another must-see and a place of pilgrimage of lots of Orthodox Christians. The cliff is 120 m high.

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At the observation platform

At the observation platform


St.Nickolas Cathedral (left) and St.Andrew's Chapel (right)

St.Nickolas Cathedral (left) and St.Andrew's Chapel (right)


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As our guide, Father Alexander explained, the temple, like a precious crown, crowns the top of a chalk cliff. The temple seems to grow out of the rock, continuing it with its three domes, crowned with crosses. In this temple, hovering high above the ground, the soul itself rushes to the Heavenly Fatherland. The cathedral dates back to the end of the 18th century. It was built in the style of the Ukrainian Baroque of the 17th century.

St.Andrew's Chapel_

St.Andrew's Chapel_


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St.Nickolas Cathedral and St.Andrew's Chapel

St.Nickolas Cathedral and St.Andrew's Chapel


You can also see and visit St.Andrew’s Chapel that is as old as the cathedral and towers above it on a cliff. You can have a nice view of the town, the river and the hills from St.Andrew’s Chapel.
St.Andrew's Chapel occupies one of the highest points on the cliff and stands above St.Nickolas Cathedral. The chapel dates back to the end of the 18th century. You will see this chapel after you leave the caves and you are sure to enjoy the picturesque view.

  • Observe the Birds at the Aviary

The monks have a special obedience at the monastery: they keep dozens of birds and they are exhibited in the cages that are located behind Holy Assumption Cathedral.

The monastery avaiary

The monastery avaiary


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The monastery avaiary

The monastery avaiary

The aviary is located on the southern side of the cathedral courtyard. It is equipped with cages for rare breeds of overseas, "paradise" birds and animals. In one of their cells, there is a pond with a fountain and a bridge, in others – some vegetation or decent environment for the animals of the monastery: sand, branches, stones, stairs, ropes with rings, etc. There are several kinds of birds: parrots, songbirds, golden pheasants and diamond pheasants, King doves, Mandarin ducks, Coati (Nasua rufa).

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The monastery avaiary

The monastery avaiary

When you walk around the cathedral, you can’t help standing in front of the cages admiring the birds’ beauty and listening to their songs and feeling once again your unity with Mother Nature...
Each time we visited this monastery, we looked at the aviary located behind the cathedral and always received a sea of positive emotions. Several birds are kept there: pheasants, wavy parrots, corals, mandarin ducks, peacocks, etc. The aviary is very beautiful, especially in spring. We admired the peacocks with loose tails. Moreover, the downy chickens were a great sight! There are not only birds, but also rabbits and nasoughs. It was a pleasure to watch the nasoughs that looked like raccoons with long spouts. These animals have rope ladders in their shelter; therefore, they have enough space to frolic. All animals and birds are well groomed and beautiful.

  • A Visit to the Skit (Monks' Hermitage)

All Russian Saints’ Hermitage is a part of the monastery, and it is closed for public. Since our pilgrimage group was accompanied by a priest from Luhansk, Father Alexander, we were given the green light and were allowed inside. I plucked up my courage and took several pictures of the hermitage from inside, although I was not exactly blessed by the chief monk of the hermitage for that. Knowing that I already have the blessing of my dear patron saint Philip of Luhansk, I decided to go on; hence my pictures are quite unique, as it were.

All Russian Saints’ Hermitage_9

All Russian Saints’ Hermitage_9


Our group at All Russian Saints’ Hermitage

Our group at All Russian Saints’ Hermitage


Pilgrims at All Russian Saints’ Hermitage

Pilgrims at All Russian Saints’ Hermitage


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All Russian Saints’ Church located at the territory of the monks’ hermitage was built after the design of the 16th century Russian architecture. The wooden architecture style is often referred to as Kizhi national architecture. This famous style of the old Russian architecture and looks very attractive and nice, doesn't it?
All Russian Saints’ Church is sixteen meters high. It imitates old Russian churches in all details. A higher and bigger church was built next to it. The new church is twenty-five meters high and, of course, can be seen from afar.

All Russian Saints’ Hermitage

All Russian Saints’ Hermitage

The Worship Cross is a symbol of the Russian Orthodox Church. It stands at the main gate of the hermitage. The entire monks' hermitage has a high paling around it, hence you can hardly see what is inside.

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All Russian Saints’ Hermitage

All Russian Saints’ Hermitage


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There are several monks in the another hermitage - St. Antonius and St. Theodosius Hermitage, that is even more secluded than the former one. The monks live and pray in fenced areas closed for public.

St. Antonius and St. Theodosius Hermitage

St. Antonius and St. Theodosius Hermitage


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Since we made our last trip with a priest, we were allowed inside All Saints’ Hermitage where the monks live and pray.

  • Have Fun at the Beach

The beach in Sviatogorsk is a very attractive place for hundreds of holiday-makers from all over Ukraine. The beach is called "Time Out". You can bathe and sunbathe or play beach volley-ball here.
For a change, you can have lunch in one of the nearby cafes such as Banianka or do some shopping at the nearby Souvenirs Market. Allow some time to take a stroll along the promenade located on the left bank of the Seversky Donets. Turn right before crossing the bridge, walk or sit on a bench admiring the views of the Laura from the opposite bank.

At the city beach

At the city beach

Also, you can do some window shopping or some real shopping there. There are a lot of stalls with souvenirs or dried fish (our famous treat for beer).
The beach has several nice facilities for vacationers: a cafe, a bar, sun umbrellas, chaise lounge, safes for storage of things, dressing rooms, a restroom, a trampoline, a shooting range, a WI-FI area and motor boat tours. Enjoy!
Here is a short photo coverage of the beach in Sviatogorsk and a short Youtube video FYI .

  • Colossus of Sviatogorsk

The monument to Artiom (Artem in Ukrainian) can be seen from afar. Artiom was the Communist party pseudonym of the Communist functionary Fiodor Sergeyev (1883-1921). He was the Prime-Minister of DKSR (Donetsk-Kryvyi Soviet Republic) in February – April 1918. The Republic failed to achieve recognition anywhere and was abolished by the Soviet power.

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The monument to Artem

The monument to Artem


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The huge monument was commissioned by the Prime Minister of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic Grigory Petrovsky and created by the Soviet sculptor Ivan Cavaleridze. It was built within two years - from 1925 to 1927 - to replace the cross that used to stand on that hill. The monument was unveiled on September 11, 1927. It is still one of the biggest landmarks of this city.
This huge monument is a monolith designed in a Cubism manner. Despite the generally accepted attribution of Artem monument to Cubism, the art critics say the influence of the avant-garde trend is certainly felt in the figure of the monument.
The height of this impressive monument is 22 meters and along with the foundation its height comprises about 28 meters. The entire monument weighs more than 800 tons.

The monument to Artem_my old Soviet-time postcard

The monument to Artem_my old Soviet-time postcard

The monument to Artem is Europe's highest sculpture in the style of cubism. In addition, it is the world's most massive concrete sculpture. This huge monument was created in just three months without the use of construction mechanisms, which is also a world record. The monument was created in the manner of "layers". First, the piece was cut out from the plywood by parts, and then the concrete was poured into the frame. The monument was made of unique concrete whose secret was not shared with anyone. The recipe was lost, and the patches from modern concrete do not get attached to the monument. During the Second World War, both the Red Army and the Wehrmacht used the fist of the figure of Artem as a viewing platform and as a machine gun nest. And, finally, this monument is the only example in the world, when a statue of a revolutionary dominates a cult building - the monastery.
You can read words carved on the pedestal and painted in gold,

Inscription on the pedestal

Inscription on the pedestal


Artem monument inscription

Artem monument inscription


The phrase are Artem's words that he pronounced in 1918, when the Red Army men retreated in panic before the advancing German army. The Red Army soldiers abandoned everything, but Artem snatched the revolver and stopped the retreat. Hence the phrase became known.

The monument to Artem

The monument to Artem

In fact, this giant monument had to be dismantled within the framework of the new law on elimination of the Communist legacy. After a preliminary assessment, the experts said the dismantling of this monument could lead to the disintegration of a half of the entire monastery since the Bolsheviks had erected it on a sensitive rock, sparing no money and concrete and built it "to last for at least a thousand years"...
Here is a drone video of the monument and some more pictures of it from different angles.

Today, the monument is in an emergency condition and is fenced and is being refurbished. However, the restricting fence does not stop visitors from approaching the famous monument. Firstly, there is a gate in the fence, and secondly, it can be bypassed along the parapet. Is there a risk that one day the monument will collapse, or that the 800-ton concrete monument will fall apart? It is difficult to answer this question even for a specialist. There problems are not in the state of the monument itself, but in the emergency condition of the site on which it is installed, due to the fact that the ground under the giant monument is being washed up.

  • City Sculptures

More than ten sculptural compositions from Inkerman limestone were installed along the road leading to the Sviatogorsk Laura in late October, 2006. All the sculptures were made in this city, in Holy Mountains Land, during the work of "Sviatogorsk-2006" International Sculptural Symposium. Working side by side, the sculptors created compositions of stone. Their theme was not specified, but it turned out that, together, the sculptures formed a single ensemble. They are dedicated to the Orthodoxy, the history of the Ukrainian land and the eternal theme of love. And all the sculptors took home with them the warmest impressions of visiting the cave monastery and the entire Donets Basin. Most of them came to Sviatogorsk for the first time.

Sculpture Park_2

Sculpture Park_2


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Sculpture Park

Sculpture Park


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The Sculpture Park is located at the crossing of Ostrovsky Street and Shevchenko Street. Here you can view a very unusual sculpture called the Comets. It was created by N.Telizhenko in 2006. I think its message is the connection of times. I went round the sculpture park and could not help taking a couple of picture of it.

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Sculpture Park

Sculpture Park


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Lots of holidaymakers and visitors of the city allow some time to take a stroll along the promenade on the left bank of the Seversky Donets. Turn right before the bridge, walk or sit on a bench admiring the views of the Laura from the opposite bank. Also, you can do some window shopping or some real shopping there. There are a lot of stalls with souvenirs or dried fish (our famous treat for beer). In addition, you can relax at one of the numerous bars and cafes here.
You can see and buy works of local artists (pottery, souvenirs, pictures, embroidery, etc.) at the improvised markets:
- at the Embankment located on the left bank opposite the monastery;
- at the Souvenirs Market located near the city beach.

  • City Symbols

The shield on the big coat-of-arms is supported by a Free Village Cossack (on the left) and by a Russian 16-century frontier warrior (on the right).
The shield represents the treasures of the town: the natural landscapes and the merited monastery.

Coat-of-arms

Coat-of-arms


Small coat-of-arms of the city

Small coat-of-arms of the city

The town also has a flag and a hymn. The town flag is also called city standard.

Flag of Sviatogorsk

Flag of Sviatogorsk

The green field of the flag represents the picturesque landscapes with unique kids of flora and fauna; it’s Holy Mountains National Natural Park.
The silver mountain (silver metal is represented by the white colour) shows the Donets Cliff – the unique natural monument.
The five mountains indicate the distinguishing natural environment of the Donets Cliff consisting of five cones.
The blue stripe below the mountain represents the Donets. The stripe is straight and not wavy, which shows the Donets is a quiet river. People have often called it “The Quiet Donets”. The name Donets implies “small water”. The ancient Alans called the river so.
The golden cross is the symbol of Holy Assumption Laura, a merited monastery founded here by the monks. This is where the city sprang from.

One of the emblems of the place

One of the emblems of the place

  • Glorifying the Place

Having visited these hills, a lot of artists and writers have glorified them in their immortal works.
In 1862, the poem "The Holy Mountains" written by Fiodor Tiutchev was published:
Here is an extract from it:
"Quietly and mildly
The July night spreads over the Ukraine.
The stars are so high in the skies,
the skies are so deep in the Universe
and the Donets is so silver
Enchanted by the fascinating mystery of the night."

Greetings from the Holy Mountains_an old postcard

Greetings from the Holy Mountains_an old postcard


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A view of Sviatohirsk Laura_1

A view of Sviatohirsk Laura_1


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The Russian writer Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), who had visited this place, wrote about the Holy Mountains:
"The place is unusually wonderful and original: the monastery is situated on the bank of the Donets river at the foot of a huge white cliff. Gardens, oaks and century-old pine-trees tower, hang over and squeeze one another on it. The trees seem to be crowded on the cliff and some strange force keeps pushing them out towards the skies... The pine-trees grow in such a way as if they are actually in the air and about to fall down..."

A view of Sviatohirsk Laura

A view of Sviatohirsk Laura

  • Some Advice

The picturesque nature, clean air and a beautiful river long before the creation of the national natural park made the valley of the Seversky Donets a favourite place of rest for residents of Donbass and the guests of the region. This National Park boasts unique cableway ecological trails. The cable car has three tracks: 76 m long, 110 m and 215 m long. In addition to the tracks, there is a rock climbing training center with a rock of 12 m height. During the warm season, there are more than twenty children's camps in Sviatogorsk resort and recreation zone. I used to work in one of them for three months when a student. It was my college practice.

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A view of the river from St.Andrew's Chgapel

A view of the river from St.Andrew's Chgapel


A view of the monastery from the opposite river bank

A view of the monastery from the opposite river bank


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There are certain recommendations for the visitors of Sviatogorsk and Holy Mountains National Park.
- High temperature in the city is from May till October. People suffering from heart diseases are strongly recommended to spend the time from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the shadow.
- For people suffering from heart disease staying in leaf-bearing forests is good and for people suffering from respiratory diseases staying in coniferous forest zones is great;
- Visiting the monastery caves, please keep in mind that the temperature inside the caves is stable: about 15 degrees Centigrade, therefore it’s a good idea to take a sweater or a jumper with you for your visit;
- If you are not an expert in mushrooms, please avoid picking or eating them. The “quiet hunting” costs many lives every year.

Hunting Inn

Hunting Inn


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The National Park located in the north of Donetsk region was created by the President's Decree dated February 13, 1997.

Motto of the state reserve

Motto of the state reserve


The motto reads, Nature is God's gift, the violation of which is an exhortation, thrown not only to the Divine creation, but also to the Lord Himself.
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A view of Sviatohirsk Laura

A view of Sviatohirsk Laura

The National Park offers four guided tours for travellers.
Contact them at: +38 06262 5 54 57; E-mail: svgor@onlineplus.dn.ua
Here is a link to the website of Holy Mountains National Park (it is in Ukrainian).

  • Epidemiologists Advise

Sviatogorsk is a city where you feel like coming back again and again. It is the center of Orthodox pilgrims, a resort city and a paradise for forest and river lovers…
However, epidemiologists keep reminding us of the possible dangers you might experience during your stay in Sviatogorsk.
Year after year ticks pester the holidaymakers and pilgrims here. There are dangerous species of ticks here too, those that may cause fever. Most visitors come to Svyatogorsk in summer when those insects are the most active and hence dangerous. They say the ticks are very poisonous in June. What’s more, fumigation is forbidden here since it is the Holy Mountains State Reserve. You can see notices in many places. They read, Beware of ticks! However, many holidaymakers do not pay any attention, thinking they are just another advertisement and totally forget about all precautions.

A view of Sviatohirsk Laura

A view of Sviatohirsk Laura

The tick often remains attached to your skin. Therefore, the sooner you get rid of it, the better. However, do not pull, it may leave a part of it still embedded. What do you have to do? Although all the locals say their insects are not infectious at all, there are some useful precautions:

  • Either "drown" the tick by covering it with a heavy oil like salad oil or machine oil. If it does not separate immediately, leave the oil over the wound for about half an hour and then slowly and carefully remove the tick's body with tweezers;
  • or light a cigarette and apply the glowing end to the tick's body taking care not to burn the skin. It should now fall off.

Use tick-repellent chemicals on skin and clothing, which will considerably reduce the risk of infection in tick-infested localities.

Entering the monastery area

Entering the monastery area

Here is How to Remove Ticks

Local forests

Local forests


A view of the Laura from the opposite rioverbank

A view of the Laura from the opposite rioverbank

Poisonous snakes are among other “natural dangers”. You can come across one of them at a forest glade or anywhere in the suburbs. There are several kinds of adders and vipers in the area. Many of them mutate and look like harmless grass snakes… Be warned and watch your step when you walk in the forest. The main thing is not to step on any viper...
Stray dogs in the city represent a “city danger”. They are mostly peaceful, but their behaviour is often unpredictable. Therefore, leave them alone and try not to notice them, they will do the same to you. Our lesser brothers are not as dangerous as vipers, thank goodness.

My "postcard" of Sviatohirsk

My "postcard" of Sviatohirsk


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Posted by Vic_IV 02:04 Archived in Ukraine Comments (1)

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