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Yury Kostyak, an instructor at the Yalynka tourist complex in the Carpathians
The tourist complex Yalynka (Fir Tree) is situated in one of the most charming places in Zakarpattya (Transcarpathia). There are not only wonderful sights to see but very interesting people to meet. One of such people is Yury Kostyak, an instructor, tour guide, and head of the mountain rescue team. Yevhen BUDKO, senior editor of the Mizhnarodny Turyzm magazine, met Mr Kostyak and talked to him during his recent vacationing at Yalynka.
Yury Kostyak who is of Hutsul descent, is one of those men who can be described as “jack of all trades” in a very positive, literal sense. There is hardly anything that he would not know how to do or deal with. Among his amazing skills, he posseses the gift of a great story teller. You can’t help getting mesmerized by his stories, no matter where or under which circumstances he is telling them. He invariably becomes “life and soul of parties” he is invited to join.
I felt I just had to interview the man and he kindly agreed to talk to me. Seeing edelweiss he was holding in his hand, I asked him,
Mr Kostyak, does the flower you are holding mean something special to you or you’ve just happened to pick it up somewhere?
Edelweiss is indeed a very special flower. Locals often refer to it as “a silk flower.” It grows at places which are very hard to get to and for me it symbolizes courage, perseverance and beauty, the properties that the Land of Hutsulshchyna is known for. And for our team of mountain rescuers it has an additional significance — we give these flowers to the team members on special occasions, like marriage. In fact, one of my teammates is getting married. And he will give an edelweiss to his bride too.
Please pass my best wishes to the newlyweds. But isn’t this flower on the endangered species list?
It is, but I know when it’s OK to pick them — only after they’ve been pollinated. And I don’t gather bouquets — I pick just one flower.
Which comes first for you — being a guide or a rescuer?
Rescuer. I’ve been working as a rescuer since 1978, and since 1982 I’m the head of a team. But there is so much beauty around that I felt I wanted to show it to people who came here and I decided I wanted to work as a guide too.
What’s your family background?
I was born in Zakarpattya. I had five brothers and three sisters. My father, a hunter, died in 1958, on a rescue mission, so you can say I’m a sort of a hereditary rescuer. My mother, thank God, is alive and well, though she is over 80.
In my childhood, my life was closely connected with the forest. In summer, I spent a lot of time picking berries or just wandering about barefoot. I loved mountain climbing too. In winter, I did a lot of mountain skiing. I think I was quite good at skiing, maybe better than others, and the school where I studied encouraged me to take part in competitions and I did win some prizes. Also, I was interested in the history of my native land, read a lot of books about it, listened to the stories the old people told. Plus, I knew the Carpathians well. All of this turned out to be very useful when I began working as a guide. I pass on what I know to my younger colleagues. Most of the tourist routes from the Yalynka tourist complex have been traced and established by me, and new routes are being explored.
Is there any route that you like best?
Yes, it’s the route that takes to one of the mountain rivers with very impressive waterfalls on it. In addition to scenic beauty, it provides good chances for mountain climbing.
Do you do any special training?
Training? My life gives me a lot of opportunities for physical training. I have to do haymaking for my household, storing firewood, plus so many other things that require physical effort… Incidentally, this morning I did some jogging in the forest, barefoot, and picked some mushrooms too.
Do you do some sports?
No, not really — but my work as a guide and rescuer keeps me in good shape. I used to do some weightlifting and some boxing. And karate too… Because of my short stature I was often the target of aggression from taller boys but I learnt how to defend myself well. In fact, I still do some karate… I served in the navy at the Black Sea and won some prizes at the navy competitions. These days I do a lot of climbing, looking for possible tourist routes and just for fun.
You did some sailing when in the navy, didn’t you?
I sure did. The mountains and the sea give you a different feeling but there are some things that are sort of similar — the feeling of enormous space, maybe. When the fog envelops the mountains and only the peaks remain visible, they look like islands in the sea.
Did you do mountain climbing anywhere else besides the Carpathians?
Yes, I did. I’ve been to the Pamirs (a mountainous region of south-central Asia mostly in Tadzhikistan with extensions in northern Afghanistan, northern Kashmir, and western China; the Pamirs rise to 7,500 m — tr.), the Caucasus Mountains and to the Tatras (A range of the Carpathian Mountains in the east-central Europe along the Slovakian-Polish border).
How do the Carpathians compare, say, to the Caucasus Mountains?
They are very different. Sometimes you hear those who have been to both the Caucasus and the Carpathians say that the Carpathians are too low and hardly mountains at all. I completely disagree. The beauty of the Carpathians is no less striking than that of the Caucasus — it’s just a different kind of beauty. The Carpathians are overgrown with trees, they are “green mountains”, their silhouette is mild and soft, they bring peace to your soul; they give you a feeling of being kind and hospitable, whereas the Caucasus Mountains make a somewhat forbidding impression.
The Carpathians are much safer to climb, and with exception of certain places, you don’t have to be specially trained to do the climbing. Unfortunately, there are hidden dangers in this seeming accessibility. There are places which require training to climb and once in a while people get into trouble. In winter, snow avalanches are dangerous and take lives and in summer some people take unnecessary risks. Primarily they are those who have never been to the mountains before.
Photos byYevhen BUDKO
The tourist complex Yalynka
An exclusive representative — the centre
of youth tourism Pivdenna Liga
20, Chernyakhovskoho Str., Odesa, Ukraine
Tel.: 048 787 9230, 787 9240
Fax: 048 719 8449
License of DKMPSTU No 321551 dated 18.04.2004