Dniester Canyon is one of the seven wonders of Ukraine. And a cascade of seven Vilkhovets waterfalls is the brightest of the wonders of the Dniester Canyon. But we don’t appreciate what we have. Young and dedicated volunteers organized a cleaning campaign to save the “wonder” from household waste.
A commercial tourist looks “at the last jungle in the centre of Europe” – Dniester Canyon – through the eyes full of misunderstanding and anxiety. He thinks twice before nailing the boat to the shore, avoids travelling along the banks of the Dniester, and even more of its tributaries – because there are mosquitoes, ticks, snakes, cows and local activists.
2019 was warm, slippery and wet. The Dniester is like a small Amazon river by the colour and smell of the water. Last weekend the water rose capriciously by one meter at night and stole a couple of catamarans from our colleagues. Instructors were looking for them until the morning on the overgrown Islands/banks of the Dniester, which are covered with lush jungle vegetation.
I love the Dniester, when it is kurzeme-coloured – the current carry your canoe itself, you don’t need to paddle, the tourists don’t jump and swim in the water, because “the water is dirty”. You bet! They were tempted to the Dniester by edited photos of the turquoise Dniester of 2012-2017 when the river almost dried up because of the drought, and the groundwater level fell by as much as 6 meters!
In the above mentioned 2012, just before the drought, the element passed over the Dniester. On that day, I was rafting with a group of tourists in the area of Zalishchyky. A black cloud was chasing us; I called on the tourists to paddle hard to be a safe distance away from the black sky.
Parallel to this journey, an abrupt heavy rain fell on Vilkhovets valley, the stream was taken over by mudflow and the water hid between the stones.
In the ancient times, the people survived on the banks of the river Vilkhovets (there is a village marked on the First Map of the Ukrainian Lands of Levasseur de Beauplan in the middle of XVII century) thanks to six and a half mills – until one day black cloud and big waves came and took away everything. Two crosses preserved from that period over the waterfall that is closest to the village – one with the legible inscription “1888”, and opposite to him – another cross burrowed into the ground, the tip of which can only give a clue about how many years or centuries old it is.
We discovered two Vilkhovets waterfalls for the first time in 2006 during the “Dniester Expedition”. The leader of our vagabond squad Olena Krushynska led us to the ruins of the Chernelytsia castle by a quick way. A quick way passed the Vilkhovets valley. Later I learned to count better, there were not two waterfalls, but six and a half.
Unizh is a village that is situated opposite to the Vilkhovets valley. “Unizh-fest” and “Artfield/sounds of action in space” festival took place here.
In 2019, the bank of the Dniester River, where we once set up a full-fledged tent city in 2006, was overgrown with weeds – it is visible that people keep fewer cows now, but massively fled to work in Poland.
Vilkhovets stream passes a narrow, wooded valley on its way to the Dniester, and half a kilometre away, open slopes suddenly occur that vaguely resemble the Crimea. Around 2010, I took a group from Dnipropetrovsk here.
For a few more years, I tried to open these waterfalls to the world. The world was not really burning with the desire to open them until an abrupt heavy rain stopped all these attempts in 2012.
And finally, in early June 2019, when the Dniester was high, I was rafting on the Dniester. The leader of the group, a teacher, who analyzed the experience of rafting in summer 2017, and made a route for 3 days “in reserve” – we could have passed this way effortlessly in a day with the hight waters. I was forced to look for all possible options of excursions along the canyon to buy time.
After the most beautiful drop waterfall of the Dniester canyon – Maiden Tears in the village of Isakiv – collapsed, there was an emotional need for a waterfall in this area, which can surprise a tourist in the right place/at the right time. Among 6 ½ Vilkhovets waterfalls there is also one drop waterfall (local “Maiden Tears”).
But before turning Vilkhovets waterfalls into a tourist attraction, one “nuance” had to be taken care of – a significant number of bottles and other garbage floated under each of them. Such places (waterfall + natural bath) are called “bulban” in a dialect; tourists love bulbans, but the trash didn’t let anyone forget they were in Ukraine.
Effectively embodying the principle of “first do, then think” our company was quickly gathering for a garbage collecting action next week – to take plastic out of Vilkhovets stream.
The action consisted of the water party – my friend and I + small efficient company from Tlumach. We started out raft from the village of Nezvysko. We planned to start cleaning up the stream from the Dniester, and the land forces started an action from the village. Previously, our land colleague Viktor managed to get in touch with the representatives of the local intelligentsia; according to the plan and preliminary agreement, at the end of the action, the locals had to take the collected trash in black garbage bags to the landfill with a motor-block or a cart. A few days before the event, the local intelligentsia liked all our posts in the events on Facebook and even threatened to help.
We moved slowly through the Dniester – one of the previously declared companies got scared of the rain (which never happened), we tied the brake-optional raft, loaded by our belongings and my friend who was getting a good sleep after last night, to the base one.
A volunteer Vania, one of the Tlumach activists, was an avid fisherman – instead of paddling, he waved his arms and showed his catches, until they were too big to show. Thus, while we slowly flowed on the waves of the Dniester, the “landers” managed to reach the Dnister shore.
Vania the fisherman was left to guard the raft and catch crayfish. The crayfish didn’t revive, Vania was left with empty hands and safe fingers.
The result: we collected a dozen bags of garbage. At the waterfall, we parted our ways. Viktor went to the village to negotiate the export, and we rafted further.
Somewhere in the depths of my soul, I was warmed by a funny idea that the impossible will happen and the garbage will be taken out. But when I brought the tourists here last week, the bags were still lying where we had left them. The local intelligentsia did not have enough arguments to convince the village head to take out the garbage. The head himself believes that it is not his responsibility to take care of organized/spontaneous dump, but, unexpectedly, the administration of the regional landscape park “Dniester” must do it.
Anyways, at the time when you read these lines, the garbage issue lays in the nettle in limbo.
A volunteer Pavlo from Tlumach, who cheered with all of his 120 kilograms for each of the six and a half waterfalls, brought his family there the next week and learned an important thing – there is no sense in taking the garbage out of the valley to an organized dumpster, because Vilkhovets stream is actually that dumpster.
Text by Andriy Melnychuk
Photos provided: divinglab.com.ua