Kayaking Ukraine: The Dam

Episode Nine 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.

By Jeffrey Andreoni

We camp next to Velyka Lepetykha, which lost its raison d’etre with the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent shutting down of commerce throughout this river. The once lively harbor is basically abandoned. One lone bar stands in a large square surrounded by buildings in decay. An immense human and monetary investment to build one of the longest and largest water-routes in the world is left to no use, and without infrastructural maintenance it will soon be impossible to use.

Local fishermen come to our camp to share the fire. We offer them some vodka, some tomato juice and then some meat. To all this they say no, each time pulling out and offering us their homemade vodka, their homemade tomato juice and so on. They ask us what the average salary in Europe is and (to cushion the blow) we say it’s roughly $1,200 per month. For them, used to $200 monthly wages, it can only sound like the promisedland. And we continue to drink their homemade hooch that in London would cost about as much as their monthly salary.

But then of course the true scale of freedom strikes us, as one says: “yes but you can come to Ukraine in a baidarka, you can go to India or South America with your money, while with our living standards we can live well here, but only dream about the rest”. We have neither the will nor the means to argue about it and after another round of samogon, go to bed.

Soon we are at the next dam and once again must employ the help of locals to get around it. Andrei crosses our path not far from Nova Kakhovka and with his supped-up Lada sedan takes us and the baidarka (strapped to the roof) around the dam. He tells us about his life during the ride. He bought his house just before the crisis and now it’s worth a tenth of its value. His lover moved in and things aren’t going well between them. Everyone he knows is abandoning the area and going abroad to find work. He wants to do the same. We give him 500 Gryvna ($60) for the transport and say goodbye as he drives off into the night leaving us on the bank of Dinpryany, the start of the most beautiful part of the river. The home stretch begins.

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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