June 22, 2024

Muddy Memories: Zaporizhzhia, a Ukrainian City by the Riverside


In Zaporizhzhia, the residents braved the dreary skies and relentless rain, forsaking the pleasure of riverside bars and resorts to confront a vast expanse of mud.

The breach of the Kakhovka dam, widely believed by Kyiv and its allies to be an act of Russian sabotage, caused a significant drop in the upstream level of the Dnipro River.

Now, the once sandy beach in Zaporizhzhia has transformed into a putrid mudflat, leaving onlookers to witness the environmental devastation inflicted by 15 months of war. Despite the desolation, some find solace in the riverside’s contemplative ambiance, like Andrii Vlasenko, a 32-year-old who strolled alone, sweeping the mud with his metal detector.

Andrii and his family escaped a Russian-occupied area to the south of the city a year ago, but he continues to struggle to find employment. Adding to his woes, his 63-year-old father fell victim to shellfire in their hometown five months ago. For Andrii, the newly exposed riverbed provides an opportunity to momentarily forget his pain and indulge in his peaceful hobby as a metal detectorist.

“I came here hoping to find something. Even during my search, my soul finds solace. That’s why,” he shared.

His morning’s search yielded meager results—a Ukrainian coin and a Soviet-era kopek, but no gold or silver. Prior to the war, Zaporizhzhia’s residents enjoyed access to beach resorts along the Azov Sea coast. However, those areas are now occupied by Russian forces, rendering them completely inaccessible.

With the Dnipro River receding, even the small family resorts in the forests south of the city no longer offer sandy riverbanks, but rather slimy silt.

Wading through knee-deep silt, Yuriy Kara, a 39-year-old IT specialist, sought refuge from the rain under the hatchback of his car while sipping his coffee. He bitterly contemplated the scene before him.

“I was here on the first day when the water began to recede. On June 9, the water was much closer. It continues to drop every day,” he lamented, observing a seabird splashing into the shallows in search of sustenance.

“I was just discussing with my friend that soon, there will be no Dnipro River left for us.”

Opinions regarding the extent of the river’s decline vary, but Gennadiy, a retired steel worker, provided a clear answer while standing knee-deep in water beneath a towering jetty. Pointing to the tide marks on the towering stone structure above him, he estimated:

“So the water level was… How can I show you? It was up there. Look, see that brick? It was up to the higher one, three meters,” he informed AFP reporters.

The changes to the Dnipro River serve as a sobering reminder to the city that, despite Ukraine counter-attacking Russian troops in proximity, the war can still impact them in unsettling ways. Anna Lashuna, a 28-year-old employee at a cellphone company, and her sisters fled Russian-occupied territory in June of the previous year, expressing concern for their elderly grandmother left behind.

“No one could have anticipated such an occurrence,” she said, referring to the diminished river.

“We are uncertain about what they might do next. The situation could worsen. We hope for a swift resolution.”

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