Jeffrey Andreoni and Giulio D’Eramo paddled the length of Ukraine’s Dnieper River in 2012. As the country they came to love faces its greatest crisis of this century, we take a look back at their journey and the people they met along the way.
Part IV: Jeffrey and Giulio dock at Rzhyshchiv on Ukraine’s Dnieper River and hit the town.
By Jeffrey Andreoni and Giulio D’Eramo
Four kilometers down the river from Ukrainka, we decide to stop in Rzhyshchiv to stock-up on some supplies and charge our phone/netbook batteries. Unsure of where to leave the baidarka, we spot two ladies doing yoga on a dock in front of one of the many three-story mansions scattered around the entrance of this peaceful village. One of the women is named Lyudmila, and we accept her charming invitation to leave all our stuff tied up to the dock and wander around the city center. It is here we find a museum about Trypillian culture.
The Trypillians were an agricultural society preceding the Egyptian and Mesopotamia civilizations that built two-story houses in the area sometime around 5,000 B.C.E. Many modern archaeologists think that it was actually the Trypillians that invented the wheel. No one knows exactly what happened to them though—where they went or why. So we are left wondering as well.
Back at Lyudimila’s, right after the borscht lunch she had offered us, she shows us the interior of her unassuming –from the outside– summerhouse (dacha in Russian). Inside, however, we find an entire floor dedicated to an enormous swimming pool and sauna. The next floor hosts a billiard and ping-pong table. Air-conditioning runs throughout the house. She points at one of the many rooms and says, “Tonight you can sleep here if you want”. After the rough night spent sleeping on the dock, it is an offer we can’t refuse.
In reality, the dacha is being used as a fisherman’s lodge. It used to be a summer home for friends, but now they are looking to attract more tourists, Lyudimila says… perhaps even paddlers.
In the evening we all pile into Sascha’s minibus for a sight seeing trip around Rzhyshchiv. First, we see a war memorial built to honor those who died in the Second World War, which had some of its biggest battles along the river we are paddling. They tell us the true number of casualties was unknown for many years, and was actually covered up by Soviet authorities, because the death toll was so incomprehensibly high—In the millions, they tell us.
Next we go to see the famous “Sunken Church,” which is, as you might guess, partly under water. We’re told its soggy state is due to the entire valley being flooded when the hydroelectric dam was built in Kaniv in 1964.
Many people in the area were told that the river simply “changed its course,” but the truth of the matter is that the Soviet authorities just told the people to leave their villages and they flooded the area. The sunken church happened to be high up on a hill and when the water level rose, it was still partly visible. The rest of the villages (thousands of them some say) are still there below the surface. A sort of Soviet Atlantis.
We leave Rzhyshchiv early so we can avoid the wind, but it is in our faces again. We paddle like mad to get down the river and can’t find anywhere to stop for lunch, so we tie up to a buoy and make lunch in the boat.
Later on we find an ideal place to camp, but there is a family already there. We ask if we can share the space for a night and we are welcomed with fish soup. Andrei, one of the kids takes us up the hill and shows us a Cossack tomb… we are getting into Cossack country now.
Follow Jeffrey and Giulio’s Ukrainian River Odyssey
Episode 1: Olympic Refugees
Episode 2: Setting Sail
Episode 3: Welcome to Ukrainka
Episode 4: A Day in Town
Episode 5: Hornets
Episode 6: The Yacht Club
Episode 7: The Shortcut
Episode 8: Snakes
Episode 9: The Dam
Episode 10: Take Out