While this spot is naturally rich in exotic plant life and has been home to a wide range of beasts since time immemorial, the nature reserve dates back to 1889, when German landlord Friedrich Eduard Falz-Fein established it as an acclimatisation centre for wild animals, birds and flora from across the globe.
Confiscated from the family by the Red Army in 1919, the last owner (the mother of Friedrich Falz-Fein – Sophia-Louise Bohdanivna (Gottlieb) Knauff) refused to vacate the property. Her punishment? Summary execution by two Red Army guardsmen.
In 1921, in the wake of the Bolshevik seizure of power, the nature reserve was nationalised and it has ever since been divided into two elements – zoo safari and flora parks.
The Last Frontier
Today, the park serves as a reserve to preserve and study the environment of the virgin steppe. Among the more unusual elements of the Emerald Oasis flora park is a small island featuring one of the oldest hydroelectric mechanisms still operating in the world today, which serves to power the plant watering operations. You will also find a wide range of plant life here that features in the Soviet era Red Book, which is not a collection of Stalin’s wisdom, rather a selection of endangered species as designated by the Kremlin.
However, the real highlight of any trip to Askania Nova is the abundant wildlife, making this one of the finest safari parks this side of the Rift Valley. Two-hundred-and-ninety-five different species battle it out for the Askania Nova stamping ground, with zebra and antelope rubbing shoulders with lamas and deadly water buffalo, while 120 ostriches from Australia give the park a sense of speed. Overhead you may see the highly symbolic steppe eagle soaring across the sky, or a flock of flamboyant pink flamingos coming to rest in any one of the reserve’s lakes. And you’ll also want to keep an eye for the largest group of Przewalski horses kept in captivity running across the plain.
With a total area of 825 square kilometres, the reserve boasts an acclimatisation zoo, arboretum and virgin steppe sanctuary – the last of its kind in Europe. Protected by UNESCO since 1985 and becoming one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Ukraine in 2008 has kept it from getting into the hands of the wrong oligarch, so as yet there are no plans to build a second dacha palace for any mistresses here, but you can never say never in today’s Ukraine.
As one of Europe’s last great untouched zones it is well worth the trip – and open for excursions until early November, your next weekend away just got a whole lot more exciting. Travel south and enjoy the continent’s last great frontier before it closes for the season.
Askania Nova Nature Reserve
(Frunze 13, Chaplinski region, Kherson oblast)
Excursion season: 1 April – 10 November
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