Sakura boom in Transcarpathia: festivals, selfies and scandals

Tetyana Kohutych, photos by Serhiy Hudak, Ukrinform  16 April 2018 20:51  287176061 0177708
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The cities of the region are competing for the attention of connoisseurs of the Japanese cherry, - the Ukrinform writes, and the stake is high: the crown in the Sakura capital.

With the magnificent flowering of the Japanese cherry, the sakuramania has started in the region: social networks became pink - people are posting selfies and landscape photos with sakuras from the Transcarpathian cities.

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The cities have launched a marathon, that can be called "Who has more sakuras" - almost all city councils publish news with lists of streets where the Japanese cherries are blooming, invite tourists to visit them, tourism activists create sakura maps, in Mukachevo, they even put a camera near one of the trees, so that people could watch the flowering online. In short, every city in Transcarpathia wants to look "the most sakura".

Against all that, the sakura scandal in Uzhgorod is especially upsetting: last autumn, in the historic part of the city, despite the protests of the local people, the city utilities cut the oldest sakuras planted by the Czechs in the last century. The new ones were planted there immediately, but they, of course, do not yet look attractive, and these streets used to be the best historical sakura locations. Because of this, some experts this year do not advise tourists to go to Uzhgorod, instead they name Mukachevo as the main sakura city.

The peak of the sakura flowering will begin in two to three days, therefore, experts advise to visit Transcarpathia for this purpose the next weekend - April 21-22.

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UZHGOROD LOST THE LEADING POSITION

This year, the sakura season in Transcarpathia began with a scandal: a number of tourist experts and organizations of the region officially named the city of Mukachevo as "the sakura capital" in Transcarpathia instead of Uzhgorod. They also listed other cities - Khust, Irshava, Vynogradiv - where Japanese cherries grow, and on behalf of the Regional Tourist Organization, Tourinform Transcarpathia, the Association of Tourism Experts of Transcarpathia, officially recommended tourists to visit these cities to admire the sakuras.

Experts named three facts to prove that the official sakura capital has moved from Uzhgorod to Mukachevo: the "crazy sakura", which blooms the first in Transcarpathia, grows in Mukachevo, the oldest sakura of Transcarpathia grows in this city (on Filatov Street), the longest in Transcarpathia sakura alley - 1.3 km - is also located there on Uzhgorodska street.

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The city council reported that in total over the past 10 years more than 6 thousand sakuras have been planted in Mukachevo - entire alleys, in the last 2 years alone, 1674 trees have been planted.

Currently, a photo zone has been arranged in front of the city hall - for making selfies on the occasion of sakura blossoming. Local confectionery, which, incidentally, is located right next to the city hall, baked thematic pink cakes called "Branch of sakura", and you can watch the flowering of the sakura, which grows near the Mukachevo castle, online (though this option sometimes is not available - technical, so to speak, flaws).

THE ADVANTAGE OF KHUST SAKURAS IS... NARCISSI

Other cities, such as Khust, have also joined the sakura competition. The second longest sakura alley - only 200 meters shorter than the one in Mukachevo (1.1 km long on Voloshin Street) - is located there. Another advantage of Khust sakuras is... narcissi. They bloom en masse on the streets of the city, and they are about to blossom in the legendary Narcissus Valley near the city. In addition, in Khust, a local philanthropist has announced a competition: he'll buy 500 trees and give them to residents of any street, who will agree to dig planting holes and care for the plants without involvement of utility companies.

OTHER CITIES HAVE SQUARES AND ALLEYS, AND VYNOGRADIV HAS PARKS

In Vynogradiv, the warmest city in Transcarpathia, where sakuras blossom earlier than in all other cities of the region, the peak of flowering has already begun.

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- Indeed, in Vynogradiv, sakuras bloom earlier than in Mukachevo and Uzhgorod, - Valentina Hornetski, the head of the tourism and cross-border cooperation sector of the Vynogradiv District State Administration, says. - Most likely, they were planted during the Soviet period - so say the old-timers (although some ethnographers claim that they date back to the Czechoslovak period). There are a few dozen trees in the city, they are 50 or more years old. The main advantage of Vynogradiv sakuras is that they are planted closely together (except for several lone-standing trees) in two parks, near the old buildings of the 15th and 16th centuries. Actually, our city is the only in Transcarpathia that has sakura parks, other cities have alleys, streets, squares.

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UZHGOROD MAYOR: THE CITY WAS, IS AND WILL BE THE SAKURA CAPITAL

Meanwhile, Uzhgorod does not recognize any other city as the "sakura capital".   

The mayor of the city Bohdan Andriyiv, for his part, challenged the opinion of the tourist experts and on his Facebook page called it biased.

"As of the beginning of 2017, there were several thousand sakuras in the city, the oldest of which were planted in the 1920s-30s. In accordance with the current legislation, the average age limit for trees and shrubs in green plantations of settlements is 45 years for streets, passages, squares and 70 years for parks. Thus, the oldest sakuras on the streets of Uzhgorod have exceeded the age limit more than twice and, according to all rules of care for green plantations, should have been long replaced. In the autumn of last year, within the framework of the arrangement of green spaces in the central part of the city in the "Galagov" quarter, with a meticulous approach to assessing the condition of each individual tree, only 12 (!) dry or semi-dry sakuras were cut, while more than 200 trees were planted, including over 100 sakura saplings.

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In view of the above, I think it is quite obvious that the current authorities approach the issue of preserving our unique feature - the green face of Uzhgorod - very cautiously and reasonably. And to those, who dream of moving the capital of exotic trees from our city, I want to say - Uzhgorod was, is, and for many years will remain the sakura capital of not only Transcarpathia, but all of Ukraine!" - the mayor of Uzhgorod assures.

Uzhgorod residents and tourists agree with the last statement - and indeed go to see sakuras primarily to Uzhgorod.

But they argue with the mayor about all the rest.

- Blossoming of newly planted trees, by the way, 3-4, and not 6-year-olds, as told by the press service of the mayor's office, is not yet comparable with the replaced ones, - Valentin Voloshin, a resident of Uzhgorod, the chairman of the Public Council at the State Ecological Inspectorate in Transcarpathian region, says. - And the only reason for cutting these trees is the fact that the contractor received large amounts of money from the municipality for the maintenance of green spaces, and now can not do all the work. Therefore, the old sakura trees were cut down in order to write off the whole amount. Cutting old trees in the historic area just because they are old is nonsense, the imaginary danger from them is just a fiction. Especially since they were the highlight of the city during the sakura flowering season. In the future, I would leave the old sakuras on the streets of Uzhgorod. Only completely withered ones should be replaced, - the expert says.

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ADMIRE SAKURAS THROUGH THE NOISE OF STREET REPAIR

But the mayor of Uzhgorod is accused not only of cutting the old trees. In the midst of spring flowering, the garden city looks as if it has sufferred enemy invasion - road repairs are being conducted on the central squares and streets, instead of bird singing and street music, people hear the noise made by machinery and workers. It does not create the best impression, to put it mildly.

- Uzhgorod is the most western point, the gem, the city of European civilization. With these thoughts and expectations, we came last year from Kyiv to Uzhgorod during the period of sakura and magnolia flowering, - musician of the National Opera of Ukraine Mykhailo Zheleznyak recalls. - Without exaggeration, watching the flowering of sakura is a real pleasure, especially if you focus exclusively on this beauty, because the surrounding realities remind of the Soviet-era, rather than Europe. It seems that roads in the city have not been repaired since the times of the USSR, it is difficult to park a car in the city center, rubbish everywhere around... In short, we liked Uzhgorod sakuras, but nothing else.

- Indeed, not everything is so optimistic, - Oleksandr Koval, tourism expert, the director of the tourist portal Tourinform Transcarpathia, says. - It should be noted that in Uzhgorod the sakura has already become a symbol of the fight between good and evil. After all, sakura trees appeared here back in the Czechoslovak period and should have become a standard of harmonious development of urban infrastructure. And what do we see? The square in front of the railway station has been in terrible condition for two years, ​​Petofi square, which is visited by numerous groups of tourists, have been without pavement for three years, there are no parking places for tourist buses in Uzhgorod at all. At the same time, the attractiveness of the city somewhat decreased when some of the oldest sakuras in the historic part of the city were cut.

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Other cities of Transcarpathia began to actively plant sakuras 10 years ago. So today, the scale of "sakurazation" of Transcarpathia is really impressive. And such cities as Mukachevo, Khust, Vynogradiv seized the initiative and stole some flows of tourists. We cannot ignore the activity of Mukachevo, which encourages tourists to visit it. Today, the arrangement of sakuras in Mukachevo is very interesting, they have young trees, that begin to bloom a little earlier. The first sakuras of Transcarpathia are in Mukachevo, so the city seizes the opportunity to capture the attention of the tourists.

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UZHGOROD CELEBRATES DESPITES THE SCANDAL

However, despite the scandals and the loss of the title of the sakura capital, Uzhgorod is preparing to take tourists.

Traditionally, the festival "Sakura Fest" will take place here in April-May. This year, it will begin on April 18 and will last until May 6. According to predictions, it will be the period of the flowering peak. During this time, Uzhgorod will be expecting many tourists, who will come from all corners of our country and even from abroad to admire the lush flowers of Japanese cherries. According to the representatives of hotels and hostels, the guests have booked almost all rooms for the next 2 weeks, - the mayor's office informs and reminds that during this year's "Sakura Fest", the "New National Cinema Days" will be held for the first time, as well as the second festival of chamber performances "Under the cherry blossom", the rose wine festival, international dance sports and hip hop competition, 8th festival of contemporary sacred music, numerous sports competitions, KVN games, Laboratory of Creativity, Festival of Fire and Show Programs, and more.

According to the Ukrinform, sakura tours to Uzhgorod from Lviv start from 800 hryvnias, from Kyiv - from 2.5 thousand hryvnias.

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The main tourist portal - Tourinform Transcarpathia in Uzhgorod - recommends to enjoy the beauty of blooming sakuras in the old part of the city over Uzh, starting the tour from Pushkin, Dovzhenko or Rakoczi streets.

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