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Nine months ago, shortly after the start of a full-scale invasion, the Ukrainian military destroyed a dam on the Irpin River to stop the advance of Russian troops. The waters of Irpen reached Demidov, a village 40 kilometers north of Kyiv, flooding dozens of houses and flooding the swampy lands that the Soviet authorities had drained half a century ago. The Russians were unable to gain a foothold in the Kyiv region and retreated at the end of March. But the water remained. As winter approaches, temperatures have begun to drop and locals fear that the musty water will freeze and destroy the foundations of their homes. In addition, unpredictable winter weather could trigger another flood. At the request of The Beet mailing list, French journalist Fabrice Desprez and Ukrainian photographer Pavel Dorogoi traveled to Demidov to see the aftermath of the flood that helped save Kyiv.

This report was written specifically for The Beet, Meduza’s new English-language weekly newsletter. She studies a large region from Budapest to Bishkek and offers a new (not Moscow-centric) perspective on it. The authors and editors of The Beet are local and international journalists. To read new issues of The Beet, subscribe to the newsletter – here on this page or using the form at the end of the material.

In early November, Svetlana Marchenko noticed that water had reappeared in her garden. A 57-year-old resident of Demidov, a village 40 kilometers north of Kyiv, already faced this situation nine months ago. To slow down the advance of Russian troops, the Ukrainian military blew up a dam on the Irpin River, built near Demidov, in the first hours of a full-scale invasion.

And although the water receded a little in the summer, there was still a lot of it left – as if right behind the fence that encloses Svetlana’s garden, an impressive river flows. “And now it looks like the water is rising again,” says a resident of Demidov. She points to small green leaves coming out of the sticky, damp earth: “I planted these strawberries because I thought there would be no more floods. But the water has returned, but there is no help from the authorities.”

Flooded fields near Demidov. November 2022
Svetlana Marchenko. Immediately behind the fence of her site is a flooded field. From the footprints on the fence grid, you can see what the water level was. November 2022

The decision of the Ukrainian military to destroy the dam on the Irpin River on February 25 inscribed the name of the village in the history of the war and in the history of Ukraine. First flooded swampswhich the Soviet authorities drained in the 1960s, after which the water came quickly to Demidov itself, flooding about fifty houses. Despite this, the majority of Ukrainians appreciated the bold step of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, thanks to which Demidov is called “hero village”.

But more than seven months have passed since the last Russian soldier left the village, and local residents are covered with anxiety and discontent: they are still forced to deal with the consequences of the flood.

The Beet correspondent visited Demidov twice – at the end of October and at the beginning of November. By that time, the water had largely receded from the village itself, but vast swathes of flooded land are still visible around. The dam, located along the eastern side of the village, did not allow water to reach Demidov, because of which a large lake was formed with trees and bushes sticking out of it. “Before, there was grass, cows, people walked around,” says Andrey, a local resident who fished on the shallows. – It used to be better”.

Demidov in April 2022
A flooded field in Demidov in May 2022

“They put tanks next to the playground”

The flood affected all the inhabitants of Demidov – but in different ways. To the west of Kievskaya Street, the main road in the village, private and high-rise buildings remained untouched by water. Seven months after the retreat of the Russian troops, even the traces of the war seem to be invisible here. The only reminders of the Russian occupation are the broken windows of the building on Kievskaya Street, where the rocket fell, and fresh asphalt in the place of the crater; a burnt car covered with a cloth; the word “bomb shelter” on the wall of a building in the central square of the village.

Unlike other cities in the Kyiv region, such as Bucha or Irpen, Demidov did not suffer as much from the fighting. “When the war started, we spent two weeks in the basement. It was scary,” recalls Victor, a resident of Demidov. – There is a playground 200 meters from my house. They put tanks next to her and started firing.”

The football field in the western part of the village remained almost untouched, so at the end of October, a match was played here between the teams of the second division from the Kyiv region and Nikolaev (a city in southern Ukraine, which was on the front line for months).

“Life is the same here, only there is no work and no money,” Victor says bitterly. He is “50-odd” years old, and he does not want to give his last name, because his family lives under occupation in his homeland, in the Luhansk region.

Victor is a former professional soccer player. He watches the match and remembers the beginning of April, the first days after the Ukrainian military liberated the village. “I was one of the first to return. <...> When I entered the house, there was a feeling that it was abandoned. Like in Chernobyl, – says Victor. – The house was not hurt, but the street was empty, the village was empty. <…> There was no light, no people.”

While Victor is talking, an air raid alarm goes off and the players have to leave the field. Viktor’s wife, according to him, is still afraid of a new Russian offensive from the territory of Belarus; she was also frightened by kamikaze drones that flew through the village in the direction of Kyiv in October. The flood did not touch Victor’s house, and he does not plan to leave – “only if the electricity is completely cut off.”

Another football field in Demidov – but flooded. Now it can only be traveled by boat. Football goals are visible in the background
The football field is located on the site of Andrey Demidov, a resident. In the photo, he offers his boat to The Beet correspondent and photographer to navigate the flooded areas.
A fence in a flooded garden, looking out from under the water. November 2022

“The house can crack”

Frequent power outages, a consequence of Russia’s ongoing missile strikes against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, are less of a concern for Volodymyr Artemchuk. His house, located just behind the dam, is one of the hardest hit by the flood. The basement is still flooded, and there are coiled hoses near the front door.

“Electricity is cut off periodically, every time for about eight hours,” explains Artemchuk, standing in front of his house on Irpenskaya Street. “But that’s not the worst thing. I’m afraid the house may crack. It was built in 1955 and its foundation is weak. The newer houses are holding up well, but mine…not so much.”

The quaint houses on Irpenskaya, Sadovaya and Vasilyeva streets were particularly affected by the flood, and now they can simply collapse: the basements and cellars in these buildings have been filled with water for nine months.

Flooded vegetable gardens and houses closest to the dam
Flooded cellar, the lower shelves of the rack are under water. November 2022
Flooded basement of a residential building. November 2022

“In March, about ten people with children were hiding here from shelling,” says Vladimir Kostyuchenko, showing the correspondent of The Beet a cellar next to his garage, which is now filled with water, only the top two steps are visible. “Pumping out the water is useless, it comes back,” he adds.

In the first weeks of November, the temperature in the Kyiv region remained at +10 degrees. “But when the frosts start…” Vladimir says, and instead of finishing the sentence, he imitates the sound of an explosion.

Like Svetlana Marchenko, whose basement was also completely flooded after the invasion began, Vladimir Artemchuk fears that the water level will rise again in winter. “Since August, we have had electric pumps issued by the local authorities. But they have been working non-stop for three months now. When the first frosts come, we will have to get them and the water will come to our houses again,” he explains. We pump water every day. It’s like trying to stop water from a faucet with a sponge.”

A crack in Vladimir’s cellar, which was formed due to the fact that the foundation and the house sank during flooding. November 2022

* * *

The situation in Demidov is an example of what happens after winning a battle.

None of the villagers interviewed by The Beet criticized the Ukrainian military’s decision to blow up the dam. On the contrary, many were proud of the role played by their village in the defense of Kyiv. “I think — yes, it should have been done, just now…” Svetlana stammers and looks thoughtfully towards the pond next to her house.

Few locals expected that nine months later they would still have to deal with the consequences of that decision. And now people received 20,000 hryvnias in compensation (about 33,000 rubles or 485 euros) feel forgotten. “There is not much time left before winter, and the basements on Irpenskaya and Sadovaya streets are flooded with water. The houses are damp. We have gas heating, but it expensive. Therefore, we have to burn firewood,” says Svetlana.

She concludes wistfully: “If any of the local authorities lived here, they would not let the water rise to this level.”

Text: Fabrice Deprez

Photo: Pavel Dear

Editor: Eilish Hart


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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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