Wildlife corridors and greenery
By Paul Miazga
It’s immediately apparent to all visitors to the Ukrainian capital that Kyiv is nothing if not green. Sure, the Soviet-era apartment blocks (and about 90% of the new apartment blocks) are less than attractive, and would likely even make Mies van der Rohe roll over in his grave at the thought of such blighted urbanity, but the fact remains that the city is green – and a lot more alive to animal life than I first imagined upon arriving here nearly five years ago.
On a recent biking excursion out to Trukhaniv Island, that massive, forested chunk of land that carves a nice wedge between the two banks of the Dnipro River in the center of the city, I saw squirrels for the first time in my life here. While most certainly they exist elsewhere in the city, I had yet to see any in my time here. I’ve also seen many hedgehogs right around my apartment building, scurrying along at night in the undergrowth around my apartment building in the city’s Pechersk district, and I’ve even heard rumors of porcupines and other land animals here and there.
I’m particularly taken by talk of small furry things in the city of late because of a story reported in local media at the beginning of the summer. Increasing attention has been focused on the wildlife corridor or sanctuary that the exclusion zone around the now-defunct Chornobyl nuclear power plant has created. Local media filmed local wildlife and zoo officials trying to tranquilize and relocate two young moose who had wandered into one of the neighborhoods in the city’s north end. Though the relocation was only partially successful (one of the tranquilized moose was spooked by an overly aggressive local cameraman and it tried to flee. It instead fell into one of the many small local lakes which dot the city’s landscape and drowned; the other was safely hauled to an area far away from the city), it made a recent trip I took to Chornobyl far more interesting.
Rather than consider with awe the awful destructive power of human beings, I caught myself wondering during the four-hour excursion at the even more impressive ability of native animal populations to return to areas devoid of human activity. On the trip my friends and I saw deer as well as a moose, not to mention a few of the ubiquitous stray mongrel dogs that exist seemingly everywhere on earth.
The trip itself also provided highlights in that I met people who were my late grandfather’s age – roughly in their late 80s – who were still living in the exclusion zone. They had become like the animals, dependent on the land for their well-being. Mikhail and Anna showed us around their little farmhouse set among others in a small neck of the township where they raised chickens – they even offered us boiled eggs to eat, which were lovely, organic and fresh – and tended a large garden that provided all their vegetables. Their yard also contained a jealous assortment of fruit trees: cherries, plums, apples, pears and apricots. These people that time forgot, they have everything they need, including each other, and they seemed as contented as any retiree I’ve met in any retirement home back in Canada.
While I can’t speak about any official information or disinformation about the physical consequences of the Chornobyl disaster, I can say that such a city as Kyiv, in and around which thrive relatively healthy animal populations, feels far more livable and its inhabitants far more in touch with their surroundings as a result.
This is now completely off topic and maybe not such a big deal to any visitors to the capital as much as to residents here, but I continue to scratch my head at the profusion of cars here missing either their front or rear bumper. Walk down almost any street in the city and you’re bound to come across a car – typically a newer, sub-compact type of car – missing one bumper. No additional signs of damage are visible on such cars, in most cases, which begs the question: what’s going on here? Is there a growing black market in bumpers? Who’s responsible for this? What’s being done to stop it? And how much are they going for? I was thinking of starting up an upscale bed & breakfast catering to foreign tourists, but maybe the real money is in surreptitiously sneaking up on cars in my neighborhood, prying off the bumper (whichever one is most accessible) and selling it to some chop shop (an illegal garage that deals with stolen car parts). Are the cops in on this? They certainly don’t seem to be pulling anyone over for missing a bumper. Just as plausible, this could be a new fashion statement among some Kyiv drivers. Like many fashion ideas here (pointy-toed shoes, leopard- and tiger-print clothing, male purses, fat men wearing speedos at the beach), maybe I’m just missing the point.