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Ukrainians go to the poles in Arctic and Antarctica


If you look at the map, you will discover that Ukraine is situated in Eastern Europe, and most of this country lies in the temperate zone; the southern coast of the Crimea boasts a subtropical climate. There seems to be nothing that connects Ukraine with the Arctic or Antarctica in any way. Nevertheless, Ukraine has been sending scientific expeditions both to the Arctic and Antarctica to conduct research and observations for several years now.



In 2000, a Ukrainian airplane, an AN-28, piloted by Volodymyr Hrybanov and Ruslan Myhunov, flew all the way from Kyiv to the North Pole, and landed on ice at point zero, that is at the place where the earths axis, were it a material thing, would be sticking out.

It was the first Ukrainian expedition of such kind, initiated by Arctic exploration enthusiasts, Liliya Shepel and Serhiy Mykhalchuk. The AN-28 can carry up to eight passengers and the passengers on that flight were Liliya Shepel and her film crew. On the way to the North Pole, the Ukrainian plane made several stops, one of them at the Russian town of Khatanga, in Taymyr, Siberia, beyond the Arctic Circle. It turned out there were many Ukrainians who worked and lived there, and at the mine of Kotuy practically all the miners were of Ukrainian descent.

In the soviet times, many Ukrainians went to work in the northern areas of the former Soviet Union in search of higher wages. Among the work migrants were many pilots who were trained at the Antonov Design and Aircraft Building Centre in Kyiv. Some stayed for good, others returned back home. The severe northern climate is always a trial of perseverance for those who come from milder climates, and not everybody can pass this test successfully.

The AN-28 was not a hermetically sealed plane, and during the flight the temperature in the cabin was below zero. Liliya Shepel had a number of gifts for the Ukrainians in Khatanga on board, including Ukrainian black bread and salo (hard pork fat, staples for many Ukrainians in the past and still a very popular food). Both the bread and the salo froze solid, but upon arrival in Khatanga the loaves of bread and pieces of salo were unfrozen and consumed with relish.

Liliya Shepel later said that she had met many Ukrainians in Khatanga who had been living and working there for many years. Some of them had preserved Ukrainian cultural traditions which they passed on to their children, most of whom had never been to Ukraine but spoke surprisingly good Ukrainian. The most popular dish remained borsch with pampushky (soft rolls with garlic). The ABC book of the local Dolgan language, had been translated into Ukrainian, and one copy of the book was presented to Shepel.

In Khatanga, the plane was fitted with skis and the expedition continued on their journey. The next refuelling stop was at the Island of Sredny where one of the workers turned out to be a Ukrainian. The plane could not carry enough fuel to go all the way to the North Pole and still one more refuelling stop was needed. It was a temporary base on ice which had a landing strip and several tents which housed several people who kept the airstrip in a working condition, serviced the aircraft that landed there, and conducted meteorological observations. The wife of the radio operator who kept broadcasting weather forecasts, turned out to be a Ukrainian.

It took the AN-28 plane several more hours to reach the North Pole. Though there is no airstrip there, the ice was so flat and smooth that the landing was no problem. The members of the expedition and the pilots walked around the North Pole  literally, across all the meridians, those imaginary lines that are drawn from the North to the South Pole, in several seconds.

Liliya Shepel, in describing the time spent at the North Pole, said that their faces were momentarily covered in rime and that, probably, because of lack of oxygen, she and others experienced a very unusual psychological state. The strange behaviour of the sun added to the sense of unreal that enveloped her. She kept thinking about polar bears that could be lurking somewhere there, and of the ocean water, four kilometres deep, beneath the ice. She longed to get back to a place where there were familiar sounds and smells. It was a relief, she admitted, to leave the North Pole and start on the way home along the 90th Meridian, down the globe, back to Ukraine.



Five years later, the TM Shturman company sponsored another polar expedition within its Ukraine: From the Arctic to Antarctica project, this time to the North Pole. A film crew and journalists flew to the Island of Galindez, 15,000 kilometres away from Ukraine, which lies fifteen kilometres off the Antarctica coast, rather than to the South Pole itself. It is on that island that the Ukrainian Antarctic scientific research base, Akademic Vernadsky Station, is situated.

There has already been ten Ukrainian scientific expeditions that stayed at the Vernadsky Station. In the latest, tenth expedition, researchers from about 50 research centres of Ukraine took part. They carried out seismic, magnetic field, ocean tides, hydrology, biology, ornithology, climatology, meteorology and ozone research.

Radomyr Ilyich, Vitaliy Rusov and Volodymyr Pavlovych studied the concentrations of radon (colorless, radioactive, inert gaseous element formed by the radioactive decay of radium) which change depending on the seismic situation. They wanted to establish the correlation of radon, emitted by the earth crust, and earthquakes. Such information could be helpful in predicting earthquakes but so far no reliable correlation has been established.

According to Volodymyr Pavlovych, some progress has nevertheless been made. He is optimistic and is of the opinion that the mathematical methods and actual findings will provide enough material for arriving at well-grounded conclusions about a possible correlation between the amount of radon emitted into the atmosphere from the earth crust and earthquakes. He says that Antarctica is a very suitable place for carrying out such research because there is very little interference there from all kinds of seismic and radioactive noises that you find in more civilized areas and it makes it possible to achieve better results.

The Vernadsky Station, in addition to all the scientific equipment, boasts a gym, which is frequented by members of the expedition in their off-duty time, a billiard room and a library. Some go fishing or skiing. A ski lift was built to take the skiers up the slope of a glacier in good weather.

The Vernadsky Station is even paid visits by occasional tourists. These tourists are treated to traditional Ukrainian dishes and told stories about Ukraine. The journalists, who found the station to be cozy and even quite gemutlich, made a documentary about the life of the researchers.


Reported by Elizabeth ROSENDORF

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