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KHERSON - ASKANIA-NOVA (part 7)

Askania-Nova may be reached either by travelling along the highway towards Novoalekseyevka, or along the motor road to Chaplinka. Both routes are interesting in their way, but we will choose the first one.

We have left behind us the level crossing of the railway connecting the Station of Kakhovka with Fyodorovka and Zaporozhye. On both sides of the road you see forest-plantations, boundless fields and a great number of villages. We have just passed by the central farmstead of the sovkhoz "Krasny Perekop". And again it reminds us of the glorious past.

Here, in 1929, one of the largest state farms in the country was established. At its head was placed an experienced Communist, Victor Ivanovich Kravtsov. He proved a good organiser, and in a year's time the sovkhoz gave to the State one million poods of grain. It was unprecedented! For the success in the production of grain many workers of the sovkhoz were awarded by the Government, and V. I. Kravtsov was decorated with Order of Lenin No. 11. Afterwards, V. I. Kravtsov was appointed the People's Commissar of Agriculture of the RSFSR. Now there are seven independent state farms which were formerly part of "Krasny Perekop". The area of the land has been reduced nine-fold, but the grain yield is the same as in 1930.

The bus runs swiftly along the asphalt road. We pass by the villages the names of which conform to this boundless plain: Krasnaya Dolina (Red Plain), Podovoye (like a hearthstone), Kovylnoye (with plenty of feather-grass around).

Now we pass the large village of Chkalovo where the central farmstead of the sovkhoz named after V. P. Chkalov is located. This state farm was once also part of the "Krasny Perekop", but now it is a large independent farm with its fields cultivated by over 100 tractors, about 50 combines, and dozens of trucks. From the village the road turns to the right, and now we are some 20 odd kilometers from our destination — Askania-Nova.

While nearing this remarkable oasis in the steppe, we will try to acquaint you with its history.

And so, a glimpse into the past. On the sides of the road one can see numerous tumuli, the keepers of the hoary past. About two and a half thousand years ago the steppes were populated by the militant tribes of Scythians. They left behind them rich sepulchral mounds or tumuli. Roaming in the steppes rom place to place were also Polovets tribes who erected stone statues on the mounds called "babi" (old women) although they were meant to represent Polovets warriors, not women at all. During the 9th to 12th centuries these lands belonged to the Slavs, but in the middle of the 13th century they were torn away from them as a result of the Tatar-Mongol invasion of Kiev Rus. The Tatar-Turkish domination over these lands lasted until (lie end of the 18th century when the Crimea was joined to Russia. Settlement on these lands was stimulated in every possible way by the Empress Catherine the Second, and especially by the governor of Tauria, Prince Potyomkin.

The tsarist government gave the lands in this province both to Russian and foreign landlords. In 1828 a German duke — Anhalt-Koethen was granted hereditary possession of 43 thousand desyatinas * of land in locality of present-day Askania. Thirteen years later a small settlement appeared in the bare steppe, to which the duke gave the romantic name of Askania-Nova (in honour of the ancient German region of the Askania Principality).

The only thing the duke could do in these steppes was to rear Arab racehorses and breed merino sheep, as the demand for them increased from year to year. The successors of the duke, however, mismanaged the estate and in the end sold it to another colonist, Fein by name, who started raising sheep and soon made a fortune by trading in wool. Soon Fein became related by marriage with one Falz, a colonist like him. The Falz-Fein dynasty bought up land in the vicinity wholesale and retail. They got the title of the "kings of sheep-breeding".

Having made Askania-Nova the centre of their domain, the Falz-Feins strived to make it comfortable, for which purpose large sums of money were spent. The last of the successors of the dynasty, Friedrich, showed an unusual interest in wild animals. This particular interest brought him close together with a peasant boy Klim Siyanko who in 1874 made an open-air cage for local wild birds, a thing unheard of before in those parts. This pleased the young master very much. Soon they were both deeply engaged in this interesting pursuit. Their functions were distributed as follows: Friedrich studied and went on journeys during which he bought valuable and rare species of animals, while Klim was engaged in creating an unusual zoological garden. A very inquisitive and keen person, this gifted son of the people mastered eve-?y branch of knowledge by himself.

From year to year the open-air cages became wider, and more and more animals and birds arrived from different parts of the world. They were aurochs from Belovezhskaya Pushcha, spotted deer from the Ussuri Territory, saiga antelopes from the Astrakhan steppes, bobacks from the Donets steppes. Here were African ostriches and pheasants from Western Europe and the Caucasus, Prjewalski horses from Mongolia and nilgais from India, yaks from Tibet, gnus and ka-nas, bisons from America, and a number of other animals and birds. For all of them almost natural conditions were created, and many species began to multiply normally. To enable wild birds of passage to build their nests, artificial lakes with beds of overgrowth were created in the arid steppe.

Alongside of the zoo grew the Askania's botanical garden. A horticulturist from Odessa, Dufrain, designed a dendropark with an area of 30 hectares, where trees and shrubs from the south of the Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic countries were planted. This work was carried out by a famous Ukrainian gardener Padalka. Soon the dendropark was considerably redesigned as it was decided to grow not only foliage trees in the park, but conifers as well. In a short period of time planted and acclimatised in the park were over 200 species of plants representing the flora of different continents of the world.

Naturally, the creators of the botanical and zoological gardens were guided by no scientific purpose, their chief aim was to arouse the admiration of their guests.

After the Revolution the attitude towards Askania-Nova changed. The task was set to preserve everything in first-class condition, keep on acclimatising animals and plants, and select and multiply species important for the national economy of the country.

The "experimental research stations created in the early years of Soviet Power were reorganised and included in 1932 in the newly established Ail-Union Research Institute of Hybridisation and Acclimatisation of Animals. Working at the Askania Research Institute for many years was the outstanding Soviet scientist Mikhail Fyodorovic'n Ivanov (the Institute was named after him in 1940). He wrote more than 200 scientific works and text-books on animal-breeding, which contain much valuable information on methods of breeding new species of animals and improving the existing breeds. Askania became known all over the world owing to the new strains of fine-fleeced sheep and Ukrainian white pigs raised by M. F. Ivanov.

Valuable contributions to the development of science were also made by academicians V. N. Sukachev, and В. M. Za-vadovsky and A. H. Sokolovsky, zoologists В. K. Fortunatov and A. A. Brauner, botanists I. K. Pachosky and M. N. Shalyt, naturalist M. A. Manteufel, entimologist S. I. Medvedev and others who worked in Askania at different periods of time.