North Crimean Canal
North Crimean Canal

Part one: Origins from the past

Memorial at Perekop, near Armeniansk
Memorial at Perekop, near Armeniansk

Crimea is Crimea. This statement becomes obvious, you just have to cross the Trench. The steppe, it seemed, was the steppe – though north, though south of the conditional line that connects the peninsula with Greater Ukraine, but you feel the differences immediately. Different landscape, different nature, climate… If the drought is a disaster for steppe Ukraine, it is a deadly catastrophe for the Crimean steppe. Therefore, life in the Northern Crimea existed for years and centuries from river to river, from the rainy year to the dry year.

Life cannot exist without water. And there seems to be enough water in the Crimea – as many as two seas. But the water in them is salty. The peninsula’s own water resources are not able to cover the needs of agriculture and industry.

The explosion at Perekop on October 17, 1963, determined the fate of a vast area and hundreds of thousands of people. Then the bridge was blown up and water from the Dnieper came to the Crimea, and a fertile place since then could be called not only its southern half.

Christian Steven, founder of the Nikita Botanical Garden
Christian Steven, founder of the Nikita Botanical Garden

The first to think about water was the founder of the Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Christian Steven, a prominent Crimean scientist, founder and first director of the Nikitsky Botanical Garden. A Swede by birth, a native of Finland, he devoted almost his entire life to the Crimea. People like him created the Crimea we know. In 1846, as an agricultural inspector in southern Russia, he proposed building a canal from the Dnieper to the northern Crimea to irrigate arid steppes.
The project required 40 million Russian rubles, which were never allocated by the government. For a while, Crimea became associated not with climatic and natural resources, but with the disgraceful defeat in the war of 1853-1855, with plans for revenge, and all resources were directed to this.

In 1916 another similar project appeared. The topic of irrigation of the Northern Crimea disappeared, but the First World War was going on, the empire was about to fall apart, the February Revolution soon took place, and the October Bolshevik uprising followed. For a long time, few people avoided the problems of the steppe part of Crimea.

The communist empire spared no expense. For some reason, the construction of canals was a fixed idea for Stalin: the White Sea-Baltic, the Volga-Don вно Probably, Joseph Vissarionovich was impressed by the construction of the Panama Canal? The thesis of interfering with nature, its alteration, was fully embedded in the Bolshevik materialist doctrine. Man, they say, is the king of nature, and the Soviet man, “equipped” with the only correct worldview, is ready, and the universe belongs to him. In this context, the opportunity to turn the arid steppe into a green field or flower garden coincided with plans to increase the share of agricultural products by the anniversary of the next plenary session. Therefore, the Soviet government, deprived of the “chimera of conscience”, would always have enough money for a grand project, even if it had to be taken from a hungry child.In the 1930s, plans to build a canal from the Dnieper to the Crimea were discussed and everything went to their implementation. And the decision was postponed again – for almost a decade.

Research data show that in ancient times, when Crimea was not an island or even a peninsula – it was part of the steppe, we know the rivers flowed differently – Molochnaya, Kuban, Don… Geological cataclysms changed the landscape of the territories from which later, after historical cataclysms, formed the territory of our country. Crimea became almost an island, it is possible that for some time it was an island, and it is obvious that its outlines on the map were completely different. The riverbeds changed over the years, water currents began to bypass the Crimea, and the entire northern half of it turned into a dry steppe with streaks of lifeless salt marshes.

Monument to Christian Steven, founder of the Nikita Botanical Garden
Monument to Christian Steven, founder of the Nikita Botanical Garden

Almost fantastic projects were also considered. For example, there were plans to build a dam in the Kerch Strait, which would replace the cities built by the German occupiers, and at the same time serve as a regulator of water flows. Salt water from the Black Sea could not flow into the Azov Sea; over time, filling with water from the Don and the Kuban, Azov itself had to become fresh and it could be taken water for irrigation of the steppes. I note that previously the water in the Sea of ​​Azov was much less salty, almost fresh, and older people in the Crimea remember this, that is, for all its fantasy, such a project had a real justification.

Industrial water was especially needed in Kerch, where at that time it was planned to increase steelmaking and shipbuilding. Crimean agriculture was to feed a huge mass of servicemen of the Black Sea Fleet, which was given a significant role in large-scale plans for global communist expansion; the resort area was to increase the number of vacationers many times over. In order to grow enough products, the Crimean village lacked one thing – water.

The option of building a water supply system… from the Krasnodar coast to transfer part of the Kuban water runoff to the Kerch Peninsula was seriously considered. It is difficult to imagine what such a structure would cost.

But common sense still prevailed then – on September 20, 1950, the government of the Soviet Union officially decided to build the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant with a reservoir of more than two thousand square kilometers, South-Ukrainian and North-Crimean canals.

The history of the Channel has begun.

Part two: Stream

In 1950, the decision to build the canal was made at the highest level of Bolshevik power. It was connected with the construction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, because the Kakhovka reservoir itself was to provide the water level for filling at least the South Ukrainian canal.

Interestingly, the first project looked significantly different. In particular, a dam was to be built on the Molochna River near Melitopol, connected to the South-Ukrainian hydraulic system. Even more – in the diagrams and drawings of the early 1950s, we see that the canal was to cross Sivash, not run through Perekop. But, in the end, everything took the form we know to this day, common sense and the need to save prevailed.

Its construction was declared All-Union and shock. Also Komsomol. About ten thousand people came here from different parts of the Soviet Union. But first of all – from different parts of Ukraine.

This meant not just digging a stream in the ground so that the water would go in another direction. Water losses were initially 40%! Concrete did not withstand, there were accidents, we had to strengthen the channel, changing the composition of concrete, because the Soviet concrete could not withstand the harsh Crimean winter. A network of pumping stations has been set up along the entire route of the water flowing through the canal. A network of drainage stations has been built in parallel to regulate the water level. After all, when salt water came to the surface in the 1960s, gardens and vineyards perished.

Georgy Yosypovich Sukhomel
Georgy Yosypovich Sukhomel

The Kyiv Institute of Hydrology and Hydraulic Engineering of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, which was headed by Academician Heorhiy Yosypovych Sukhomel for a long time, played an important role in the development of the idea and design of a complex unit of hydraulic structures. Personnel for a large-scale nature transformation project were “forged” by the Kyiv (which moved to Rivne in 1959) water reclamation institute.
We will not forget the fact that until 1954 water irrigation from the Dnieper affected only the Kherson region. Only as part of Ukraine did Crimea finally receive Dnieper water. The transfer of the Crimean peninsula to the Ukrainian SSR – or rather the return, not a “gift” – took place not by surprise and not by a single decision of the “voluntarist” secretary general. Factors were taken into account, first of all, administrative and economic (and in the Soviet Union it was inextricably linked). And the channel became one of such factors.

Who built the canal?

Hundreds of thousands of people were relocated from Ukraine, mainly Western Ukraine, as it was then called, on a “voluntary-compulsory” basis, and sometimes simply by coercion. It was they, thrown on the gray land of the dry steppe, who managed to put down their roots here, and a foreign land became their home, turned green and blossomed, resounding with songs.

Alexander Dovzhenko’s film “Poem about the Sea” is dedicated to the construction of Kakhovka HPP. Today, this film is no longer perceived as clearly as then… But still remember that people built this “sea” and this channel in the hope of a better life.

Construction of the North Crimean Canal
Construction of the North Crimean Canal

Ukrainian SSR 1950-1960… Looking at this period, we can forget about the renunciation of everything, but… Modern Ukraine, which declared independence in a referendum on December 1, 1991, was formed just then. It was at this time that poets, who would later become dissidents and heroes of Ukraine, composed poems, and the actors and directors who shot the iconic films in the 1970s studied and took their first steps in cinema. National identity, albeit limited by the dogmatic “Our Soviet Ukraine” (as Peter Shelest called his book), was formed as never before. Pride for their land – from the Carpathians to Donbass, for language, culture, traditions and achievements in science and technology – matured and strengthened. All this later will lead the people to a confident step forward, to the realization of the need for an alternative to being in a great empire, to independence…

Most Crimeans, to be honest, did not care. For them, Ukraine was one of the republics of their Union, and the Ukrainian identity was something temporary, incomprehensible and almost hostile. Crimeans liked to tell horror stories about visiting Lviv as if it were another country. However, half a million Ukrainians who were not completely Russified, who did not remember the “Russian” Crimea, could not disappear just by dissolving in the sea of ​​Soviet population.

What did the Crimean canal give?

It is the longest channel in Europe. More than four hundred kilometers.
The canal, imagine, recently took a quarter of the Dnieper water. This is 85% of the water consumed by Crimean agriculture. The lion’s share went to growing rice, which became the second bread for us, the inhabitants of the peninsula. Without irrigation, it was impossible to think about filling rice checks with water. Fish were launched into the checks, and in the fall, when the water from the checks was drained, another “harvest” was going – fish.

The canal changed the way of life in the steppe part of the peninsula. People remember: “Only wormwood and saxaul grew. And when the canal was built, they began to sow wheat and plant fruit trees. “

General Director of Krymkanalbud from 1963 to 1985 Mykhailo Labunets was a native of Chernihiv region. The channel became a matter of life for him. As he grew older, he saw the decline of his own offspring. “Without the North Crimean Canal, there will be no Crimea, no crops, no normal water supply!” He says.

The channel has significantly changed the “face” of the Crimean population, it has become less alien to Ukraine. The Ukrainian language has always been heard on the peninsula, albeit quietly, from time to time coming to naught. But whole Ukrainian-speaking villages emerged with the canal. However, no one was going to introduce any Ukrainian education here until Independence. However, Ukrainians remained in the Crimea and did not renounce their own roots.

Part three: Stones from heaven

At the time of the proclamation of the autonomous status of Crimea, and later – the collapse of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s independence – the canal was still under construction.

The channel is actually a whole network. ARC – long before the formation of autonomy, this abbreviation meant the Azov Rice Canal, which branched from the main waterway to the Northeast of the peninsula, to the villages of Prysyva. To the west, in the direction of Tarkhankut, the water of the canal went through the Rozdolne canal, to the south – it fed the Saksky and Kurmansky (Krasnogvardeysky), Black Sea and Connecting canals. Water mains, branches, “capillary” system in addition to water “arteries”, transitions, reservoirs. All together it is eleven thousand kilometers.

The second phase of the canal was built in the 1980s. The task was to improve the water supply of Simferopol and the Southern Crimea. The third phase was started in the 1990s and completed in 1997. Construction of the fourth phase has not yet begun. After 1997, all construction work was stopped altogether. It remained to keep in good condition what is already there.

Almost immediately after the approval of the status of autonomy, the Crimean leadership demanded more. No one particularly hid the fact that autonomy was a temporary compromise aimed at separating from Ukraine. And then, in the early 1990s, the channel played a deterrent role. In response to talks about the “island of Crimea”, loud statements about the possibility of joining the Kherson region were made in the north of Crimea. Together with many other components, the canal firmly tied the peninsula to the mainland.

Stopping the water supply in the spring of 2014 was quite logical, although a very difficult step.

On the one hand, Ukraine is not obliged to supply resources to the occupied territory, to negotiate or engage in business with a regime that has seized power on the peninsula in violation of the law, and without seeking the consent of the Crimean people themselves. On the other side of the scales is the fact that a large part of the Ukrainian community of the peninsula is the inhabitants of villages, whose life directly depends on the canal, on the Dnieper water. And the cessation of water supply will hit their lives. In addition, the violation of the established system of nature management can lead to irreversible consequences.

The confrontation with the relentless reality did not help the supporters of separatism in Crimea to recover. Ready to sacrifice anyone and anything except their brain shackles, they will destroy Crimea, because there is now a place for them to retreat – Moscow is ahead.

Loud enthusiasm on the verge of common sense broke out with the opening of the Novo-Ivanivsky hydroelectric power station in the Nizhny Novgorod region. The desire to prove anything correct and the irreversibility of the “Russian choice” for Crimea seems increasingly absurd. One of the true sayings: “No one would have thought before that Biyuk-Karasu could flow in the opposite direction”… The wonders of nature in the Crimea, it seems, are just beginning. And it is not far from the promised stone from the sky.

North Crimean Canal
North Crimean Canal

Today, the Biyuk-Karasu River seems to be given the role of the main waterway. I grew up on the banks of this river, it is my home. In summer, it often dried up to a stream that could be crossed. Of course, there is no concreting commensurate with the North Crimean Canal and there cannot be. The water released from the reservoirs along the Biyuk-Karas will simply not reach the Novo-Ivanivska hydraulic structure if there is a drought. And if there is no drought – without irrigation it would be possible to live and so.

However, even before the noise around these “New Vasyuk” hydraulic structures, the chairman of the Committee on Water Management Igor Weil could not help but admit in an interview: irrationally “.

Experts are concerned about the presence of the channel in an unnaturally dry state. Under the conditions of the hot Crimean summer, reinforced concrete will fail much faster than the estimated time. Heorhiy Kapshuk, honorary reclamation worker of Ukraine (I quote from the Crimean Telegraph newspaper): “If the canal will not be used for another year – goodbye, North Crimean! This reinforced concrete is like a living organism. In summer, when the soil heats up to 60 degrees and there is no water – it warps, leads. Eleven thousand kilometers of inter-farm canals, irrigation and pipelines! How to get to Alaska from here! He can’t stand without water in summer. “

The canal provided a billion cubic meters of water per year – and this is not yet its full capacity. And the subject of pride of the Crimean water farm today are the plans to give Crimea at least forty million cubic meters. At the expense of internal resources. What resources? Depletion of the already meager runoff of Crimean steppe rivers? Pumping artesian water, the reserves of which are far from limitless? Perhaps Stalin’s dreams of a water supply system from the Krasnodar Territory or desalination of sea water will be revived?

The result of the “dehydration of the body” of the peninsula has already been a rapid reduction in the sown area of ​​rice in the Crimea. Instead, they offer to grow… sunflowers. Needless to say, this very useful crop requires much less irrigation and is quite profitable, and at the same time the dormant depletes even the oily chernozems of mainland Ukraine. And what will happen to Crimean lands in a few years?

The official documents of the Republican Committee for Water Management of Crimea openly state the catastrophic situation with irrigation in the farms of the steppe part of the peninsula. For example, in June of this year in the Kurmansky (Krasnogvardeysky) area from forty seven thousand hectares of irrigated lands only less than one and a half thousand were watered.

… So far, the Russian Minister of Natural Resources promises to establish sufficient water supply on the peninsula by 2019. Well, sitting without water for three years is, of course, not a stone from heaven.

Part four: Water

Any large-scale human economic activity is an interference in natural processes, which disrupts their flow and balance in the environment. However, this activity can be carried out responsibly, remembering that people should live on this earth after us, or guided only by the motives of their own profit and the interest of the moment. How will the current leaders of Crimea go down in history?

Now “advanced Russian science” vigorously proves that the North Crimean canal of the Crimean ecology was the most harmful. Swamping, flooding, infiltration во It is interesting that scientists from Moscow, St. Petersburg and Voronezh write investigations on the Crimean water issue – of course, they can see more from there.

In the geological sense, Crimea is three zones: Mountain and Foothill Crimea, Eastern Crimea (Kerch Peninsula) and Northern, plain Crimea. The last of these is located on limestone; this is the former seabed. Limestone is a valuable mineral, but it is not reliable enough, a fragile platform, the handling of which requires vigilance and balance. If we add, albeit small, but such that from time to time reminds of itself, seismic activity, the development of the Crimea creates a number of problems. Simply put, the production of oil, gas or water in the northern part of the peninsula carries the risk of cavities, faults, landslides, increased by the probability of an earthquake, the consequences of which are impossible to predict.

Therefore, for all the environmental consequences of its operation, with its colossal water losses on the way to the consumer, with the tribute that had to be paid to the Kherson region for flooding the Kakhovka Sea – the Canal still looks less evil.

International standards for water supply are one thousand cubic meters per person – this is a critical minimum, below which civilized life is impossible. That is, Crimea with its population of two and a half million people needs two and a half billion cubic meters of water.

For example, in Israel (the total area of ​​which with the Palestinian Authority is approximately equal to the Crimean) is not better with water, and the population of this country is over eight million. Own water resources there are 150 cubic meters per capita, but agriculture provides 95% of the country’s needs. Of course, rice is not grown in the desert there, but cotton is cultivated, orchards and vineyards are cultivated, which is not an example for Crimea. Hundreds of thousands of tons of seawater are desalinated in this country – a resource that is still unheard of for Crimea.

But the limit of a thousand cubic meters per person is not the norm, but the minimum. In Crimea, this minimum was barely met by the Canal, which provided three-quarters of the water. Another fifteen percent was provided by rivers, the rest by underground springs. It should be noted that the best drinking water in the Crimea is underground. Water from the Lower Dnieper can be used only for irrigation and industrial needs. In general, only half a billion cubic meters of water can be extracted from the bowels of the peninsula, which is three times less than supplied by the North Crimean Canal. This is in theory half a billion. After all, it is necessary to clarify that water quality does not always correspond to quantity. This can be contaminated “verkhovodka” and water saturated with hydrogen sulfide. It can be medically or nutritionally valuable mineralized water, which is not suitable for irrigation.

“Available data on the actual volume of groundwater abstraction in different years varies from 161.4 to 319.3 million cubic meters per year” (E. Kayukova, T. Baroboshkina, I. Kosinov “Resource potential of fresh waters of the Crimea”). We are talking about three thousand wells drilled in Soviet times and preserved on a black, so to speak, day. With the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, it seems that this “black day” has finally come.

But let’s see what will happen when the delusions about Crimea, forever cut off from Ukraine, come true, as if it does not exist, did not exist, and cannot exist.

North Crimean Canal
North Crimean Canal

For the sake of implementation reports, the Kremlin authorities are going crazy: drinking water from underground sources fills the riverbed of the Canal, as a result of which the water is no longer drinkable, polluted, mixed with river. And since the hands do not reach for the repair and equipment of the Canal’s facilities, water losses remain the same – from a third to a half of the total volume. Krymvodhosp has become an organization that is losing the last water reserves of the peninsula.

Crimean rivers receive about a third of their water from underground sources. Production from wells will eventually deplete resources and river water. All water in nature is as if in connected vessels, from the movement of water from one place to another, the amount will decrease rather than increase. Attempts to do without mainland water supply sources will be reminiscent of the ancient Russian history of the “Trishkin kaftan.” Groundwater in the coastal zone is also connected to the sea and salt lakes (for example, Sivash). Pumping fresh water from wells leads to the fact that gradually salt water will seep underground, nothing alive will grow on the salt marshes.

Meetings in the Crimean Rescommittee on Water Management constantly state the catastrophic shortage of water. In the Nizhny Novgorod region, 2016 marked the beginning of an environmental catastrophe. Salt marshes began to appear in places, spots. The efforts of the current Crimean authorities are aimed at providing water to at least the resort area of ​​Crimea. Of course, you can give up rice, you can even distribute water with teaspoons little by little in each village. It is possible that over time, the experience of Israel or oil-rich Arab countries will be mastered in oil-poor Russia.

But was it worth looking for happiness near other people’s shores?

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

The project was implemented with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation

Valery Verkhovsky

Author of culturological articles, journalist of the newspaper "Crimean svitlytsia"

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: