Kayaking Ukraine: You Say It’s Your Birthday?

Episode Six of Jeffrey and Giulio's Ukrainian Odyssey

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.

Farther downriver, we spot a group of children on a beach under an umbrella. Beyond them more children can be seen moving behind the bushes. Have we gone from the Island of the Hornets to the Lord of the Flies? We decide to stop for tea.

The first adult we spot is roaming the beach wearing only his Calvin Klein underwear. It’s about 8:30 in the morning. We ask the man, whose name is Artyom, if we can use his fire to brew tea. He answers by handing us each a beer. As we make our tea there is more movement on the island, and Ura emerges from his “house”–a wooden framework covered in clear plastic. When we mention we need to buy food, Ura takes Giulio to a county bazaar in his speedboat, while Jeff takes a beer nap on the beach.

Once they return we are loaded with delicious local veggies, fresh salo (lard), and vodka. In the meantime the news has spread that it’s Jeff’s birthday: everybody feels obliged to celebrate with salo, raw onions and 3 shots of vodka each. Friends of Artyom and Ula show up. We pose for pictures, visit their impressive dwellings and learn how every year, they and other friends take turns living on the island to keep the self-made village safe from squatters. We all lunch together on delicious kasha and finally we depart, trying to keep the rudder as straight as possible.

We had hoped to make it to Cherkasy by evening but after numerous random drunken swim stops we stop on an island about three-fourths of the way there. Just before we collapse on the beach, Alexander comes out on a jet ski to say hello and take our picture.

Irina, Slavic and Zhenya are in the next camp site when we wake up from our stupor and invite us for “peasant’s soup”. We set up the tent and then try to explain that we have our own food, but it’s no use; Ukrainian hospitality is impossible to refuse. Zhenya, dressed in camouflage down to his underwear, gives us advice for the trip and mentions vipers. “Don’t worry about the yellow ones, but if you see a gray one stay away, don’t touch it or it will attack.” He adds, “Especially when they venture into the water” at which his friends burst into a guffaw but, as we’ll see in next dispatch, Zhenya was right.

Jeff makes the mistake of mentioning that it’s his birthday and countless shots ensue, followed by a drunken wife-husband fight which gives us an excuse for an early sleep – although not a very relaxing one as the shouting continues into the morning.

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

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