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14.12.2006 | Oleksandr Stepanenko

Notes from the “Tashlyk” tour, or National places of significance and civil rights sacrificed to energy independence

   

On 16-17 2006, as part of the project “Monitoring observance of environmental rights in Ukraine” an environmental fact-finding tour took place to the regional landscape park “Granite-Steppe Pobuzhya” and the construction site of the Tashlyk Hydro Accumulating Power Station [THAPS].  The tour was organized by the Chortkiv (Ternopil region) branch of the civic organization “Zeleny Svit” [“Green World”] and the Ukrainian National Environmental Centre.

The visit to “Granite-Steppe Pobuzhya” was to find out about the unique natural and historic landscapes of the Canyon of the Southern Bug (River).

This is not the first time that these natural reserve lands are in danger of being flooded by the Alexandrovsky Reservoir.  The raising of the water level at the reservoir was already begun during preparation for launching the first aggregate of the Tashlyk HAPS. Work was activated after the adoption of the Basic Principles of Ukraine’s Energy Strategy up till 2030 which envisages priority development of nuclear energy. In order to store surplus nuclear generating capacity it was decided to accelerate construction of the hydro accumulating power station.

The tour participants wished to ascertain the real consequences of the flooding of the reserve lands, the attitude of the local population, the state authorities and bodies of local self-government, as well as the point of view of the administration and construction staff of the Tashlyk HAPS.

According to the Law “On the development of a National Environmental Network by 2015” land which is particularly valuable for preserving historical and natural heritage, as well as in terms of possibilities for developing tourism, must become part of the national wildlife park.  These landscapes are unique in their origin, their beauty and they contain more than 100 species of plants and animals which are listed in Ukraine’s Red Book. A number of these are local and to be found only in Ukraine, and a large number are the last surviving.  The Canyon of the Southern Bug River within the region of the small town Kostyantynivka in the Arbuzynsky district, the village Bohdanivka in the Domanivsky district and the city of Yuzhnoukrainsk provided the last authentic landscape linked with the history of the Zaporizhyan Cossacks. This is where in the Middle Ages, in the Gard Tract the Boho-Gardivska Palanka [a fortified unit] of the Zaporizhyan Army stood. Here on the Gardovy Island stood the Cossack Church of the Holy Mother of God. The Cossacks did not retreat from Gard even when the Tsar’s forces devastated Zaporizhya in 1775.  The Gard Tract which gave the name to the administrative centre of the Free Zaporizhyan Forces on the Southern Bug, the largest Cossack Palanka or fortified unit of the XVIII century is one of the most famous objects of cultural heritage in Ukraine’s history.

In the spring of 2006, despite 18-year long protests from history and cultural, environmental and tourist organizations, regardless of the appeals from members of the Ukrainian scientific and cultural communities, and in contravention of a ban by the Ministry for Environmental Protection and Ministry of Culture, the reservoir’s level was illegally raised by 14.7 metres. On 17 March the Mykolaiv Regional Council gave permission for the first part of the lands in the valley of the Southern Bug, spanning 27.7 hectares, including the Gardovy Island where the Cossack Church stood, to be removed from the regional landscape park “Granite-Steppe Pobuzhya”.  Through this decision the Council exceeded its authority over particularly valuable state-owned land which is within the jurisdiction exclusively of the Verkhovna Rada, by unlawfully changing its landscape park status. Later the Cabinet of Ministers passed Resolution No. 841 from 20.06.2006 on handing over the land for the permanent use of the State “National Atomic Energy Company” Energoatom, with amendments to the designated purpose of the reserve lands.

On 16 October the environmental fact-finding delegation visited the administration of “Granite-Steppe Pobuzhya”, looked around the historic Myhiya Hydroelectric Power Station and the valley of the Southern Bug near the village of Myhiya. At that level, and this is more than 200 km upstream from the  dam of the Aleksandrovka Hydroelectric Power Station, one does not yet feel the environmental consequences of the recent manmade raising of the water level. One still hears the picturesque rapids around Myhiya  The Dam of the Myhiya Hydroelectric Power Station, built over 100 years ago by members of the Polish noble Skarzhynsky family can to some extent be considered an example of environmentally friendly economic activity. The riverbed in this case was not entirely covered, and there was no rise in the water level and flooding of low-lying shores, islands, rapids and rocks.  Of course the power station which has served so long is in need of reconstruction of its buildings and aggregate parts however the actual principle of its work well deserves emulation.

The problems involved in flooding a part of the territory of “Granite-Steppe Pobuzhya” were discussed by the Director of the Park Vladislav Atamonov and the Head of the Ukrainian National Environmental Centre S. Tarashchuk. The formal justification for raising the water level to 14.7 metres was the decision of the interdepartmental committee under the State Ministry of Water Economy to establish a work regime for the reservoirs of the basin of the Southern Bug. The justification of the central water department for the decision as due to the danger of spring flooding seems far-fetched and is easily refuted by the spring figures from the Ukrainian Meteorological Service. It is obvious that in the given case the Ministry of Water Economy caved in to huge pressure from the energy lobby and the Government in agreeing to the flooding of the lands of the Southern Bug Valley. Representatives of the Ministry for Environmental Protection on the interdepartmental committee spoke out against the rise in the water level however their position was summarily ignored. 

Issues were raised regarding the numerous infringements of the Constitution and laws, as well as decision-making procedure, regarding the disregard for the position of the department on the environment and of the public by the Mykolaiv Regional Council and the Cabinet of Ministers in passing their appalling decisions on removing 27.7 hectares of reserve land and transferring it for flooding to “Energoatom”. Protests from the prosecutor’s office were presented against these decisions, and several court cases are still continuing. As is often the way here we were not spared several “grimaces of the justice system”. For example, the Mykolaiv Regional Economic Court on 25 September 2006 rejected a claim against the notorious decision of the Regional Council purely on the grounds – note! – that upholding it would make it impossible to fill the Alexandrovsky Reservoir and to carry out the construction of the Tashlyk HAPS. Is any commentary required?

In the afternoon of 16 October, despite the rain and a biting wind, the delegation travelled to the Yuzhnoukrainsk district and the Gard Tract. It is basically from the level of Yuzhnoukrainsk that the zone of influence of the Alexandrovsky Dam begins: some rapids, islands, areas close to the river banks have been flooded, and the current is significantly slower. Already here the water level since spring 2006 has risen by 1 – 2 metres (over the next years a rise of another 10 metres is planned). At once from below the Gard Island ones sees monstrous construct structures jutting out along the left bank of the Bug, these being the uncompleted Kostyantynivka HES.  Further down there is a manmade promontory and fencing structures of the Tashlyk HAPS. On an 80-90 metre plateau there is the dam of the THAPS reservoir, separated from the cooling pond of the accumulating station at a thin neck. In the places of manmade activities the natural plant and soil covering has been disturbed, and on the sloping areas of the river valley soil erosion is increasing swiftly. No efforts are being made to move species from the Red Book from the flooded areas.

The Gardovy Island (Klepany) where in the time of the Zaporizhyan Sich (XVII – XVIII centuries) there was a Cossack settlement, as well as the Church of the Mother of God, is largely flooded, as a result of which it has split into several small islets and rocks, and has ceased to exist in its entirely as an object of historical heritage of the “Historical landscape of the centre of the Boho-Gardivska Palanka of the Zaporizhyan Army.  The Gardovy rapids at the lower part opposite the Gardovy Island no longer exist, where the Old (Cossack) Gard stood which gave its name to the historic clearing. The historic rapids and granite blocks above the Gardovy Island have partly disappeared under water.  The buildings of the Tashlyk HAPS have totally destroyed, without the appropriate archaeological study, a part of the historic landscape at the Palanka Gorge where a settlement was uncovered from the late Stone Ages, and where at the time of the Zaporizhyan Sich there was a Cossack military camp and cemetery. The communications of the Tashlyk HAPS have destroyed a considerable party of the upper plateau of the Puhach Cliff where in the XVII – XVIII centuries there was a bazaar. A large part of the low-lying terraces and lower part of the cliffs over the area from the estuary of the river Sukhy Tashlyk to the Brama Cliff has been flood, this sharply altering the appearance of one of the most famous points of the Puhach and Brama Cliffs. Archaeological objects of the cultural heritage from various ages in the lower part of the Sokurova Gorge have also been partly flooded. As a result of the changes to the historical landscape, the qualities which defined its historical and cultural value have been largely lost.

If we climb up onto the plateau with cooling pond and the upper water reservoir of the Tashlyk HAPS, one sees a feeble-looking dam from rocks. How this reservoir will behave when twice a day the water level varies, nobody is at present able to predict. And it towers over the Bug Valley at a height of 107 metres!

Members of the monitoring group and journalists at the end of the working day had a meeting with Volodymyr Solovyov, Deputy Director of the enterprise “Atomenergobud” of the “National Atomic Energy Company” Energoatom. From this meeting the members of the group drew the conclusion that the power specialists have ignored all the demands put forward by environmentalists on drawing up an alternative version of the project for the THAPS, i.e. one which would not require the raising of the water level in the Southern Bug. As of today, no buffer dam between the riverbed and the lower THAPS reservoir is being constructed, and therefore after the launching of the first and second hydro гідроагрегатів of the station the level of 14.7 metres will be maintained (at first this was only 8 metres). With the progress of the construction and the implementing of new aggregates it will be impossible to avoid new increases in water level – the Alexandrovsky reservoir will creep ever higher along the Southern Bug Valley and engulf ever more reserve land!

Mr Solovyov confirmed without any hesitation the real prospects of exploitation for the cooling of the reactors of the Southern Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plants of the water of the Southern Bug which will rise to the upper reservoir of the Tashlyk HAPS. Therefore the cooling pond of the nuclear power station will work in an open flowing regime –  the pouring into the Bug of ever greater amounts of water with residual radioactive pollution are inevitable! In 1997 the Ministry for Environmental Protection agreed a plan for the construction of the THAPS as two aggregates and on condition that the level of the Alexandrovsky reservoir was maintained at 8 metres, with a closed regime of exploitation of the cooling pond. Today however, as we can seem, what we are dealing with is a flowing regime, and three, later six, aggregates!

On 17 October we looked over the Alexandrovsky Dam and the lower part of the reservoir, as well as visiting the Domanivsky district the agricultural land of which was flooded as a result of the first rising of the water level. A meeting had been organized with officials of the Domanivsky District Council and its Head V.D. Vlasyuk.

Several years ago the administration of this modest and totally agricultural district seriously discussed a “second way” linked to the development of tourism and recreation in the Bug Valley. Action plans were drawn up, advertising brochures published, films were made about the attraction of rural “green tourism” and potential investors were invited.  Now, when the picturesque landscape of the Bug Valley is under threat of flooding and the quality of water in rural wells is deteriorating, the number of people taking holidays or water sport enthusiasts is falling and such projects need to be abandoned. The heads of agricultural enterprises and farmers of the Domanivsky district are disturbed by the rise in level of subterranean waters and soaked crops in land near the river. On 27 July 2006 a session of the Domanivsky District Council reviewed the “Environmental situation in the district in connection with the end of construction of the launching complex of the Tashlyk HAPS”. The environmental situation was described as critical, and it was decided to approach the Cabinet of Ministers and “Energoatom” seeking compensation for losses incurred by the district’s enterprises and to have budget subsidies designated for the development of the social infrastructure.

Those at the head of the Domanivsky District Council were genuinely outraged by the disproportions in state police and the unfair sharing out of budgetary funding. Why, does the Government not invest a penny from the State Budget in the development of agricultural production and restoration of the родючості of lands, why powerful enterprises like “Energoatom” are built on money from special budgetary funds?  Why in the development of our economic which is the least energy efficient in Europe is the fundamental principle again established of producing ever more energy while doing nothing to save energy?

When asked whether the Domanivka grain farmers hope to be he heard, and whether the completion of the Taslyk HAPS will give a boost to the economic development of the area, there were no confident or optimistic responses. “The electricity will be sold abroad, the profits will be transferred to offshore zones, and here, it will be just as dark as it was before” …

In each of the conversations and interviews in the Mykolaiv region we tried in one way or another to broach the theme of violations of environmental rights and individuals’ ability to counter such violations. Almost 20-years experience of civic opposition and officials’ arbitrary self-will in pushing for construction plans for the “Tashlyk monster” on reserve lands proves that even through the small efforts of groups with just a few civic enthusiasts such opposition is possible.

And, frankly speaking, the topic “rights and values” is not always understand by people and does not elicit a response in conversations, especially if the violations do not affect the specific person you are talking to. I would venture to suggest that intellectuals and people who work on the land do nonetheless understand it better than others.

The most expansive person with whom we spoke during the tour,  the “strong господарник Volodymyr Solovyov was also not very eager to hold conversations on such irritating legal and worldview themes. “Yes, there are violations, but after all, you environmentalists, when you were creating your reserves, also probably violated something. First you created, and then began to study it!”

It’s not easy to talk with people who don’t understand sufficiently what is necessary to preserve, how, and who and what for. And it is virtually impossible to talk about these things with people for whom concepts of law, of places of national symbolic importance, natural and cultural heritage, simply do not exist. They find it equally easy to bypass the laws of the state and the laws of nature. For them the main thing is that there’s financing, which needs to be “mastered (an extraordinarily telling word, is it not?)

The question from our colleague Vadim Nehoda: “Do you know even one nation which is so persistent and resourceful in destroying its own national monuments and why is this happening in our country?” was simply ignored by Mr Solovyov  as pure rhetoric. Indeed, it’s possible to camouflage ones own nihilism with phrases like “we need to fulfil energy development programs, and you just stand there!”, or “What, are you against Ukraine’s independence in energy questions?”

Yet is this “national energy independence” which in the final analysis can be understood in different ways worth anything without  a developed sense among us of national unity?

And have we not lost something incredibly important in our awareness of our bond with this earth and with all upon it since those times when on the Buzky Gard those free brave spirits lived who called this river “BOH” [“GOD”]?

Head of the project and of the civic organization “Zeleny Svit”,

Oleksandr Stepanenko

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