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Going down the Stream
Mykola IVASHCHENKO, a well-known photographer, is an enthusiast of canoeing. He has canoed down many rivers in both Ukraine and in foreign countries too, and has a lot to tell and to show in photographs about his trips.
For canoeing season I prefer the spring. There is hardly anything else that can compare to the joy one experiences watching the vernal revival of nature and inhaling the scents of spring.
In Ukraine, various vessels are used for going down the streams — baydarka (a sort of canoe), kayak, catamaran and all sorts of “riverworthy” boats.
I prefer baydarkas, and like many other enthusiasts of splav — going downstream along rivers, I take a good care of my baydarka, repairing it if need be.
I take trips down rivers not alone but in company of family and friends. When the canoeing season approaches, we get together and spend a whole evening discussing the options — it does take time and a lot of heated discussions to choose a river. When the consensus is reached, preparations begin.
Below are short descriptions of some of my recent baydarka trips.
It is a river that quietly flows among the coniferous forests and grassy meadows of Polissya. It empties into the river Desna north of Chernihiv.
The River Snov begins as a narrow stream overgrown at the banks with the reeds. Storks, white and grey cranes, wild ducks let you come close enough to take good pictures of them. Not far from the place where the Snov joins the Desna, is situated the town of Sedniv surrounded by the scenic landscapes much loved by painters and poets.
It is advisable to make a stop and take a look at Sedniv which boasts, among other things, old Cossack houses and a wooden church which seems to be inviting film makers.
The unhurried trip downstream may take a week — more if you want to prolong the pleasure.
It is definitely one of those rivers which is best to go canoeing on in the spring. The river flows across the territory of Ukraine northwards and then goes into the neighboring country of Belarus. I never ventured there and stopped at the Ukrainian- Belarus border. I heard that the Belarus border guards are best to avoid.
In the vicinity of the town of Olevsk, the river provides an obstacle in the form of rapids which are fun to navigate.
It is on the banks of the Ubort’ that I’ve seen the biggest cheremkha ((mahaleb) trees in my life. Some of the big oaks in the woods are provided with borti — short, hollowed out logs to entice bees to settle in them. The tradition of keeping such beehives has come down from the ancient times and I was surprised to see it still lives on.
On one of the stops we paid a visit to a place known as Kamyane silo (Stone Village) — the local lore has curious stories connected with it — some say that the huge boulders strewn around were left by giants after a battle; others suggest that powerful magicians were involved; more recent stories attribute the boulders to a landing site of extraterrestrials…
The Ubort’ gets too slow and shallow to navigate in summer — that is why it is best to take a downstream trip in April, or in May at the latest.
One should expect sudden drops of temperature while traveling down the Ubort’ — once we were caught in a blizzard — it snowed so hard and so much that we could play snowballs. I must admit though that not all of my friends enjoyed this whim of nature in the spring.
It is one of the “spring” rivers too. I began my canoe trip in the vicinity of the village of Velyka Krucha, not far from Piryatyn in the Land of Poltavshchyna. A good deal of the trip goes through wonderfully wild places inhabited by all sorts of wild animals, beavers among them. Several times we had to stop and haul the baydarkas along the banks circumnavigating the dams beavers made by felling trees across the stream.
At some place, the Uday breaks into many streams and it is even difficult to find the central one. In the vicinity of Lubny, the Uday empties into the Sula. It took us several hours of constant rowing to find a place dry enough to pitch our tents at. The campfire provided a particularly welcome sight and warmth.
River Pivdenny Buh
The Pivdenyy Buh probably attracts most of the canoeists of Ukraine. Usually it is only some parts of the river that are done at one time. There used to be many watermills along the way and some of the mill dams still survive. The current at these dams picks up and you have to be careful not to be thrown by it onto the bank at a sharp turn.
The river provides additional excitement by many rapids and quite a few canoeists find themselves upside down in their canoes or damage their canoes on the rocks.
Unfortunately, the most exhilarating section of the river known as Gard that provided an excellent test of strength and canoeing mastery in navigating the rapids has been lost to a power electric station and its dam.
The Miheysky Rapids remain the only place now which gets adrenalin truly going. Canoeists come to test themselves not only from many parts of Ukraine but from abroad as well. The vicinity of these rapids has been turned into a national natural park that is called Hranitne Pobuzhzhya and tourists can enjoy scenic sights.
Tourists can rent rafts and hire instructors at the Miheysky Rapids to go through the rapids in which the stream gets to be so fast that only the staunchest and most experienced risk to get through the rapids in their own canoes.
When we did it, we were wearing helmets and life jackets, and several times I thought we would never make it through — but we did!
And no one got hurt.
The River Pivdenny Buh is not only cataracts and rapids —
The River Snov is quiet and scenic.
The River Ubort. May 2008.