At the very edge of my grandmother’s town, past the fields where cattle graze, there is a tiny river swallowed up by a forest of reeds. You wouldn’t even know this place exists if not for the occasional car veering off the main road onto dirt tracks that looks like someone’s driveway. The well worn road meanders through the meadow where hints of wild mint mix with the warm scent of hay. The fields seem to stretch on and on until squat scraggly bushes appear to break up the flatness. It’s hard to imagine a river here in this dry savannah but then sprawling willows rise up between the bushes like road signs — this way to the beach.
On arrival it’s not a very impressive beach, there are no lounge chairs or umbrellas to shade from the sun, it’s completely au-natural. The river isn’t even very wide, barely more than a few meters across, and in some places there is only enough room for one person to pass through between the tall reeds. For what it lacks in breadth the river makes up for in depth. There is a shallow area where you can wade in, soft sand cushioning your feet, but after that the bottom drops off into an abyss. You hang suspended in cool clear water, a green wall of rustling reeds swaying around you while swallows cartwheel overhead.
This place is a summer oasis. It isn’t the only beach in Lokhvytsya but it is the most relaxed. People come and go throughout the day, some only diving in to cool off and then going back to work or to their crops, while others stay for the whole day, setting up picnics and splashing around with their kids. It’s not ideal. There is cow dung in the fields which, combined with the marshy areas, means that there are plenty of vicious horse flies. Stinging nettle grows between tall bushes of thistle so you have to be careful where you step. But despite its prickliness the thistle brings a touch of soft violet into the yellowed grass and when the flowers fade wispy clouds of white seeds glow in the sunlight.
People have laid out blankets and some have even hung up towels on dried out bushes to create shade to hide in. The beach is divided into two parts where the river widens like knots in a rope. In the deeper pool someone set up a simple wooden diving board and people take running jumps into the water. Ironically, it’s quieter in the diving pool because it takes more effort to tread water and most people stick to the shallows where kids run around laughing and screeching their excitement.
This river beach is almost pristine. Along the more popular beaches in Ukraine the presence of people is crudely impressed on the landscape with leftover garbage. Environmental awareness is not at the forefront of Ukrainian mentality — it’s simply not accommodated by the system. There is the occasional sporadic clean-up of the odd beach here and there but the cleanliness usually doesn’t last long. Cigarette butts, plastic wrappers, beer bottles and shells from sunflower seeds and nuts litter the ground or cluster around burnt out campfires. It makes no sense for people to be destroying the very spots that they so love to visit and yet this is the unfortunate norm across the country. Recycling and composting aren’t foreign concepts but for some reason it hasn’t sunk into the collective Ukrainian mentality that polluting the natural beauty of their country is only bad in the long run.
And the natural beauty of Ukraine is worth preserving, from these tiny country havens to the more grandiose scenic retreats such as you might find in the Carpathians or along the Black Sea. I only hope that as more people tell their friends about this little oasis that they will strive to protect it. It’s no beach resort but the forest of reeds surrounding the clear river pools gives off its own exotic charm which is not to be missed on a hot summer day.