Water has always been one of the main benefits of mankind – a vital resource. They fought for water, bought it, limited access to it, and, finally, today one can ask the question – is water really a common resource?
The Dnipro River is the national symbol of Ukraine, sung in literature, painting and cinema. The Dnipro runs through Ukraine from North to South, dividing it into the so-called Left Bank and Right Bank. This division is not only geographical, but also historical. It is worth remembering at least the Ukrainian revolution of the mid-17th century and the subsequent split into the Left Bank and the Right Bank. Throughout history of the Dnipro, the scenarios for using it were different: from a natural barrier, frightening in its size, a theater of military operations, to a connector connecting public and freight transport of nine regions of Ukraine.
Once the width of the Dnipro and, above all, the Dnipro rapids were an obstacle for movement, to overcome which required a significant development of bridge building technologies. During the Soviet industrialization period, the role of the Dnipro was already fluctuating between "infrastructure" and "resource". The 1920 GOELRO electrification plan (State Commission for Electrification of Russia) considered the Dnipro water as a source of energy generation. Within the framework of its first stage, the main pride of the period of the "Great Construction Projects of Communism" – the DniproHES (Hydroelectric station) was built, as well as a number of small power plants along the tributaries of the Dnipro. In 1933–1935 the concept of the “Great Dnipro” was developed based on a long-term plan for a cascade of hydroelectric power plants along the Dnipro. It was implemented much later with the construction of Kakhovka (1950–1956), Kremenchuh (1954–1960), Kyiv (1960–1964), Middle Dnipro (1956–1964) and Kaniv (1963–1975) hydroelectric power stations, as well as six reservoirs.
But definitely the most ambitious modernist project of the interwar period in Ukraine was the DniproHES, built based on the project of architects Viktor Vesnin, Nikolai Kolli, engineers Ivan Alexandrov, Alexander Winter, Hugh Cooper. The turbine hall of the DniproHES is an iconic object of Soviet constructivism, combining the simplicity characteristic of the revolutionary avant-garde and the sophistication of the old school proportions – so close to the ASNOVA architectural association. But the uniqueness of the DniproHES complex lies in the combination of engineering art, architecture and almost scenographic work with the natural landscape. Thanks to the American engineer Hugh Cooper, the spatial organization plasticism of the DniproHES has the features of the dam building school in the USA. Therefore, and also because of the large number of American foreign specialists who worked in Zaporizhzhia, the phenomenon of the construction of the DniproHES is considered today by some historians as an example of the so-called "Soviet Americanism".
For representation of the USSR in the international arena DniproHES became a symbol of progress, victory over the elements and strength of Soviet power. Thus, the construction and launch of the DniproHES caught the eye of not only Soviet reporters (Dziga Vertov, Alexander Rodchenko), but also foreign journalists (Margaret Bourke-White). For the local audience, up to the collapse of the USSR, artistic documentary films, periodicals, dedicated solely to the DniproHES, prose works, posters and photographs had to show the magnitude of socialist constructions, the transference of a villager into an exemplary industrial worker and faith in inevitable progress “How warm it will be for all of us to live from the cold of the shackled waves, when the concrete of the Dniprelstan revives the mighty heart”. Immediately after the completion of the construction, commemoration meetings were held, followed by their publication and the obligatory mentioning of enthusiasm on the construction site. Today, the DniproHES remains the most powerful HES of the cascade (its capacity is 928.5 MW, while Kaniv one has 493 MW, Kyiv – 440 MW, Kakhovka – 334.8 MW).
Together with the DniproHES, the construction of a social city (the Sixth settlement) in Zaporizhzhia begins, in the design of which Viktor Vesnin, Nikolai Kolli, Georgi Orlov and others took part. The planning characteristics of the Sixth settlement put it in the line of the best examples of social housing complexes of the interwar modernism period, which are characterized by three-, four-storey buildings with extensive social infrastructure based on the principle of "open" quarter. The architecture of the social city manifested the aesthetics of "southern" modernism with its flat roofs, terraces, pylons and white walls. Together with the first houses, which already appeared in 1929, a cottage village for American specialists was built. And in 1932 the group of specialists from Kharkiv Dipromisto led by Ivan Malozyomov and Pavel Haustov developed the plan of the Great Zaporizhzhia.
Already after the Second World War, the construction of the remaining hydroelectric power plants of the Dnipro cascade began. Kakhovka HES, which closes the cascade, was built in 1951–1957 by specialists of "Dniprobud" under the supervision of Andrianov S.N. and chief engineers Medvediev P.A., Neporozhnii P.S. The construction of the Kakhovka HES has acquired almost the same symbolic significance as the construction of the DniproHES, following the tradition of the "Great Construction Projects of Communism". In Oleksandr Dovzhenko's and Yulia Solntseva's “Poem about the Sea”, the construction of the Kakhovka Reservoir is the goal and meaning of the main characters’ lives, for the sake of which one can level one's parents' house with the ground. For the Thaw period, the new HES became a symbol of a return to the implementation of the GOELRO plan and thus to the "covenants of Ilyich".
A new city grew around the hydroelectric power station – Nova Kakhovka (architects Georgi Orlov, Serhii Andrianov, Petro Neporozhnii). Although the architecture of the city still bore the formal features of Stalin's socialist realism, it already forecast a new era with its optimism, vision and the coming return to modernism.
But still, contrary to propaganda, the well-known history of the creation and construction of the cascade of HES today demonstrates a real attitude to natural and human resources, an understanding of the "common good" and "common needs" in Soviet society. That is why modern researchers ask themselves and society the question: was it appropriate to make such sacrifices, is it worth flooding such large areas, was it still possible to minimize losses? And how was the construction of hydroelectric stations perceived by real, non-cinematic, residents of villages that were subject to flooding?
The exact number of villages that have been submerged is unknown, but modern experts estimate it at 2–2.5 thousand. The memory of the displaced people of the flooded villages is not as present as the memory of the Chornobyl victims, but nevertheless, it is now beginning to be actualized in the media and public historical projects: interviews, memoirs, photographs are collected, and flooded villages receive memorials. Displaced people compare the forced destruction of houses with their own hands with the war, and also mention that compensation was often insufficient (they name different amounts, depending on the available property, but – up to 2 thousand rubles), complain about the shortage of building materials, labor, because often they had to rent a house until a new one was built. The main thing they emphasize in their stories is the loss of the place of their ancestors, memory, dear to their hearts graves, because cemeteries have also disappeared in the endless sea. This theme is already beginning to be traced in Soviet cinema during the Perestroika. Thus, "Farewell" of Larysa Shepitko and Elema Klimov no longer has such enthusiasm as "Poem about the Sea", instead there is sadness and pain of losing the past. "The truth is in the memory," says the main character, Daria Piliugina. In the final, it is not the happy life of the displaced people and the HES dam, but the village that has to disappear, and with it the memories of whole generations.
The memory of more distant times was also lost, because life was always bustling near the Dnipro, and therefore Scythian gold, Sarmatians horse armor and Slavic pottery were hidden on its shores. Archaeologists say that at least 300 settlements from Kyivan Rus' were damaged. And lastly, the Cossack myth, which is one of the pillars of Ukrainian collective memory, lost part of the physical space of the place of memory – Velykyi Luh and part of the Sich. Floodplains and rapids have long been a source of inspiration for researchers of Zaporizhian antiquity in the 19th – early 20th centuries, in particular, Dmytro Evarnytskyi, one of the most famous researchers of the Cossacks, in his expedition captured natural landscapes in photographs just before the flood. Natural losses are also mentioned, as one resource had to be paid for by another – agricultural land, biodiversity and the ecosystem that has developed on the Dnipro. Somewhere we build – somewhere we lose.
Be that as it may, hydroelectric stations in Ukraine are not only unique historical monuments, but also monuments of architecture and engineering art, demonstrating the modernist type of relationship between natural and anthropogenic. DniproHES is the main symbol of Zaporizhzhia and, along with the Kharkiv Derzhprom, is the main object of constructivism in Ukraine. Despite this, it is not protected by the law of Ukraine as an object of industrial heritage, and the issue of registering it is permanently blocked. Moreover, the issue of heritage protection is not even raised in relation to other hydroelectric stations.
In addition, in modern conditions, almost all hydroelectric stations are not operating at full capacity, and the energy they produce is consumed by large corporations. The population, on the other hand, receives electricity, produced mainly by thermal electric stations that use fossil fuels that pollute the environment. As of 2018, hydropower accounts for only 1.5% of the energy produced in Ukraine, while in European countries it is considered one of the most environmentally friendly types of energy. In particular, in Switzerland, as of 2011, hydroelectric stations supplied 59% of energy.
If we move away from the exclusively energetic role of the Dnipro and return to the role of the Dnipro as a transport waterway, then its great infrastructural potential was fully realized thanks to the system of river stations and the organization of regular water communication along the Dnipro already in the post-war period (the 1950-ies – 1980- ies). Thus, from the dominant “transverse” scenario of interaction with the river (through bridges and dams), the “longitudinal” scenario acquired a vivid expression. The Dnipro has become part of not only industrial infrastructure and a cargo transportation channel, but also a part of the interregional public transport system and recreational infrastructure. In the area of the junction of transport routes and hydroelectric stations, transport hydroelectric complexes were organized, including river stations, locks and buildings of their offices. The architecture of the Dnipro river stations is a network of buildings made in various architectural styles, the most striking of which were early modernism of Kyiv river station (1959–1961, architects Vadym Gopkalo, Vadym Ladnyi, Grygoryi Slutskyi), “new rationalism” of Dnipro river station (1988, architect Vladimir Vesnin) and brutalism of Kremenchuk river station (1985).
Today, despite the obvious scenario of using the river as a navigable artery, its tourist potential has not been revealed, and almost all river stations are either abandoned or changed to a commercial function (restaurants, banks, auto service, shopping centers). So along the longest and most famous river in Ukraine, there is no public water transport as such. And a fascinating journey from the beginning to the end of the Dnipro is hardly available today for the majority of the population, while
The linear frame of the Dnipro embankments, which was never fully implemented in the USSR, today looks like a futuristic fantasy: embankments throughout Ukraine are either abandoned or turned into highways and industrial zones. The Dnipro in the very center of the capital of Ukraine could play a crucial role in the life of citizens and be a fundamental element of the entire urban structure. But contrary to all world trends, access to water is as difficult as possible for people, the pedestrian embankment has been turned into a multi-lane highway, the water quality is deteriorating every year, and the modernist Kyiv River Station after the announced reconstruction will be turned into a restaurant.
It is obvious that today the Dnipro is perceived not as an aquatic ecosystem, but rather as a place for wastewater discharge. And the scenarios for using the river are reduced only to crossing it on bridges in subway or its passive contemplation in traffic jams. So, quite reasonably condemning the Soviet resource-based and voluntaristic approach to natural resources, it is time to self-critically assess our current relationship with water, ways of interacting with it and ways of its use. Do we understand the Dnipro as a resource, as an infrastructure, as a common good, perhaps as a natural complex or an object of recreation?