© 2022 KASU
Welcome to Jonesboro - Website Header Background - 2880x210.png
Your Connection to Music, News, Arts and Views for Over 60 Years
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

How blowing up a dam in Ukraine flooded a village but stopped Russian forces


When Russia invaded Ukraine early this year, the Ukrainians blew up a dam just north of their capital, Kyiv, to keep Russian forces from making it to the city. It worked, but blowing up that dam meant flooding a small village. And nearly seven months later, the people who live there are still pumping out the water. NPR's Elissa Nadworny went to that village and sent this report.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: I'm standing on the edge of what looks like a huge lake, except I've never seen a lake where you can see the top of trees and bushes nearly halfway submerged.

ANDRIY SCHERBAKOV: (Through interpreter) Everything that you can see, there was no water here.

NADWORNY: There isn't usually water here, explains Andriy Scherbakov, the assistant to the mayor in Demydiv. This lake used to be vegetable patches, a place where cows grazed. Now, he says, there are beavers and otters, birds that live near lakes, a whole new ecosystem. Beyond the lake, down a dirt and sand embankment, Volodymyr Artemchuk is standing in about a foot of water, shoveling the garbage and debris.

VOLODYMYR ARTEMCHUK: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: He's making a path for the water that's still flooding his house to flow towards the pumps. It's estimated up to 100 houses were flooded here. You can see the line several feet high on people's yard fences.

Have you heard the phrase that this place helped save Kyiv?

ARTEMCHUK: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: "We are the authors," he says. He tells us this village, this water, has a history...

ARTEMCHUK: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: ...Of protecting the people in front of it - in the 13th century and during World War II, to stop the Germans. We leave Artemchuk and walk along the top of the dirt dam. From there, you can see all the houses beyond have huge ponds in what used to be their backyards. Everything is water back here, says Halyna Kostiuchenko. She's out salvaging what she can in her backyard garden.

HALYNA KOSTIUCHENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: She points out the beets and carrots.

KOSTIUCHENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: And then points out the water. Reeds and tall grass grow where her cabbage and berry bushes usually are.

KOSTIUCHENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: "Everything back here has died," she said. And now she's got to dig up the beets and potatoes quickly so they don't rot with the soggy soil. Across the dam from Kostiuchenko's backyard, we come across a group of people fishing.

VASYL RYBAKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: "I've got carp and perch," says Vasyl Rybakov. His last name translates as fisherman, though he doesn't usually fish and certainly not here.

RYBAKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: "It would have been better if there was just dry land here instead of water," he says. Even with the fish.

RYBAKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: "You can buy them at the market," he says. Watching us from his backyard in his swim trunks is Serhii Starunskyi. He says the biggest issue is the water underneath the ground.

SERHII STARUNSKYI: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: He's been calling on local officials to do more, he says. He and other residents staged a protest in the middle of summer to draw attention to their plight. A month later, the Ukrainian government promised to give out cash payments to the residents whose homes flooded.

STARUNSKYI: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: But Starunskyi says just pumping out the water isn't enough.

STARUNSKYI: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: He's worried about when winter comes and whether the soaked cement foundations of his house and his neighbors' will crack. An hour later, Volodymyr Artemchuk is still shoveling.

ARTEMCHUK: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: "The water, you can pump out," he says. "It's better than fighting the Russians."

ARTEMCHUK: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: "We're still fighting the water," he says. "But we'll get through it."

Elissa Nadworny, NPR News, Demydiv, Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.