Lost Rivers by Vlad Kisselev

On April 11, 2012 Vlad Kisselev presented his CC project #6:

Lost Rivers

Take me down to my boat on the river
I need to go down, I need to come down
Take me back to my boat on the river
And I won’t cry out any more

Do you know that we are just a few steps from early history? Yes, literally a few steps from another EPAM office where I work? Here at Kudryashova, and previously at the Microsoft venue – we dwell on the valley of an ancient river – the river Lybed. The sister Lybed of the two brother founders of Kiev – Kyi and Khoriv. The river that once slowly carried her soft flowing waters towards the mighty Dnieper.

What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?

She is now just a dirty gutter with foul and stinky water streaming along the railway line, past the industrial nightmare, past the plastic waste, past the homeless BOMGes, running fast as if in shame for what people have destined for her.

When I first knew this I was totally shocked. We, Epam workers, use to walk out of our office for smoke breaks, to the Thames as we ironically call this, and carelessly throw the butts to the river. We spit into our intimate history. Isn’t it a symbol of how we live now?

No, it’s not communists to be blamed. Kiev has killed his sister river long before the revolution. The valley of the Lybed was too convenient to build the railroad. Soon the whole Lybed valley was overgrown with factories and storehouses. They exhausted the streams that fed the Lybed and turned it to a sewage channel instead.

After some grevious reflection, I realised that the Lybed is not the only one. The shadow of lost rivers has been accompanying me thoughout my life. My early years I spent in Minsk, now capital of a neighbouring country, Belarus. Do you know how this city first appeared on the map? It is due to an historical battle taken place almost a millenium ago on the banks of the river Nemiga. This episode of a fratricidal war between a Kievan price and his rebellious brother was depicted in these moving words from the Tale of Prince Igor’s Campaign masterfully translated into English by Vladimir Nabokov:

On the Nemiga the spread sheaves are heads,
the flails that thresh are of steel,
lives are laid out on the threshing floor,
souls are winnowed from bodies.
Nemiga’s blood-stained banks are not sowed goodly –
sown with the bones of Russia’s sons.

The Nemiga wasn’t that lucky, even as the Lybed. It disappeared completely, it runs secretly under the ground like the Styx, the river of the dead. Or, maybe not, Nemiga is lucky to be buried, rather than laying dead in disgrace?

Then I spent almost 10 years in Lviv. This beautiful old city – and without trace of any river! But the river exists. The Poltva also flows under the downtown, under the Lviv Opera House, under the city’s main boulevards.

These are but a few examples of how we people ruin the most precious roots that had fed us, that had brought us up, the roots we come from. Do you know that every tenth major river on this planet fails to reach the sea? While other rivers have been irreversibly transformed by dams, artificial reservoirs and irrigation? The mighty Siberian river Yenisei on which banks I was born used to be a huge natural highway, ice-bound in severe Russian winters. Now, after the Krasnoyarsk Hydroplant was constructed, the water in the Yenisei near Krasnoyarsk is never covered with ice, even under -40, and stays chill in summer, not more that +15.

I understand it is all done for the sake of comfort and progress, that we could all have electricity, food, fresh water. But, what a price we pay for this comfort!

Fazil Iskander has once said: By idealizing the lifestyle that is gone, perhaps we unconsciously issue a bill to the future. As if we tell it: that’s what we’re losing, and what can you give us instead?

I have a dream that some day people would find the balance between the comfort and the natural beauty. The railway would run under the ground, and we would release and renovate the gracious river. And the Kiev hills would rejoice, and a boat would float on the waters…

Oh the river is deep

The river it touches my life like the waves on the sand

And all roads lead to Tranquillity Base

Where the frown on my face disappears

Take me back to my boat on the river

And I won’t cry out anymore

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