Beach Bliss In Kiev, With A Whiff Of Sewage

KIEV, Ukraine -- Irina, a Ukrainian pensioner, eased back on a lounge chair on one of the tree-covered islets of Hydropark beach -- a taste of summer luxury only steps from downtown Kiev.

A man goes in the water in the Dnieper river as a sign reads " Swimming is prohibited" at Hydropark in Kiev on a hot summer day.

"The beach and the sun makes me healthy," she said with satisfaction, before admitting, her look turning sour, that there was a downside: "The water is polluted, and sometimes my swimsuit smells like faeces."

As summer temperatures soar, Kievans enjoy a luxury that few Ukrainian city dwellers have: over 200 hectares (500 acres) of sandy beaches located near the city centre along the Dnieper river.

Kiev boasts some 430 swimming spots, as well as 60 beaches, 26 of which are official approved for splashing around.

Most beaches are short on umbrellas and lounge chairs. But environmentalists say this should be the least of bathers' worries.

"Kiev is a unique city, a European capital with beaches where you can swim -- that's a great advantage. But swimming here is not always safe," said Sergei Kurykin, leader of the Green party and a former environment minister.

According to Kurykin, who himself has avoided city swimming for a decade now, the main danger comes from city drains and sewers, which pour up to two million cubic meters (70.5 million cubic feet) a day of run-off into the river.

"The water treatment system is obsolete," which could allow pathogenic bacteria to pour into the river. As if that were not enough, the sand is not cleaned and rubbish dumps from nearby cafes attract rats, Kurykin said.

Kiev's sanitary authorities say that the quality of the water in the Dnieper, like the sand at approved swimming spots, is up to sanitary standards.

"On official beaches there is nothing to fear. Everything is regularly cleaned and rodents are killed," Sergei Timoshenko, a sanitary official, told AFP.

Some city beachgoers are not convinced, however. While she sunned herself at Hydropark, Irina voiced her concern. "They say that there is a sewer pouring into the river not far from here," she said.

There is also public fear about the safety of another popular swimming spot, a nearby reservoir known as "the Kiev Sea."

The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, which struck less than 150 kilometres (93 miles) north of Kiev, left tonnes of radioactive silt in the reservoir, though ecologists and officials insist that it is safe for swimming.

The silt, they say, is safely anchored to the bottom of the reservoir.

If all this doesn't ward off would-be beachgoers, they still have to run a gauntlet of vendors hawking food, soft drinks and alcohol at Hydropark, and endure some unappetizing smells before actually getting their feet wet.

Still, none of this is enough to scare off most Kievans, happy not to have to drive six hours south to reach beaches on the Black Sea. According to official statistics, up to 23 million trips were made to the city beach between May and September last year.

"There's no reason to exaggerate. If it were dangerous, the authorities would have forbidden swimming here," said Lyudmila, a 30-year-old vendor whose skin was still damp with river water.

Ruslan, a student, said he came to Hydropark every chance he had. "Personally, I love to swim, though some people just come to gawk at the pretty girls," he said.

Source: AFP

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