PHOTO REPORT 12:49 09 Jun 2023

"We don't give up": how flooded Sadove in Ukraine's Kherson region lives under and above water

Sadove is a village in the Kherson region up the Dnieper River, less than 20 kilometers from Kherson. After the Russians blew up the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP), the village expectedly got almost entirely underwater. The Rubryka reporter visited the place and talked with the locals.
Садове Херсонщина

Знак на в'їзді до села Садове

село Садове на Херсонщині затопило

Residents of Sadove sail in a boat through the central street of the village

Natalia Peliushenko has lived in Sadove all her life. So has her fellow villager Vasyl. Just a few days ago, their lives were normal, although they were far from normal because of constant shelling by the Russians and the lack of electricity since November 2022. Now their native village of Sadove is almost entirely underwater. Vasyl says the water level reaches seven meters in some parts of the village.

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Locals in front of the flooded central street of Sadove village

"We didn't believe there would be such a scale"

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Houses after Sadove was flooded

The danger of the destruction of the Kakhovka HPP dam is not news for locals. Residents of Kherson and the region have been taught about safety and the possible consequences of such an event, even at school. Although flooded villages downstream, flooded areas of the city, and risks to the environment are familiar forecasts, in reality, they're rather unexpected. After all, the dam's destruction on the Dnieper River has always been perceived by the Kherson people as an apocalyptic scenario and very unlikely. The Russians made the danger a reality. Having blown up the dam, they flooded entire villages with water up to the roofs.

село Садове на Херсонщині затопило

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село Садове на Херсонщині затопило

Houses and streets after Sadove was flooded

"We didn't believe it would be on such a scale. We thought it would be a little less. We lifted some things a little higher in the house. But… Everything is gone. Absolutely everything is gone," says Natalia.

Not only was the woman's home flooded, but also her life's work — the shop she had been developing in the village for the past four years. Now it is covered with water up to the roof.

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Natalia's store is flooded

"We worked hard here, making the nest. I earned everything on my own, everything with my work. Garden is a very dear place for me, which I could not leave," Natalia shares.

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Flooded yard

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Flooded streets of the village. Only the roofs of the houses are peeking out.

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село Садове на Херсонщині затопило

село Садове на Херсонщині затопило

Місцеві пливуть вулицями Садового у надувному човні

Natalia left the village only during the occupation to protect her son from the Russians. She left for the territory controlled by Ukraine in April 2022. However, after the liberation of Kherson, she immediately returned home.

"Everyone told me, well, you can go. You have the opportunity to stay over. I could not. I was drawn here. I can't leave even now," Natalia tells Rubryka.

She says that mostly the pensioners remain in the village. They do not go to the city because they understand it is dangerous there. So the store that works here is almost the only way for them to get food. After returning to Sadove after the occupation, Natalia began to bring food, medicine, and everything the locals asked for to the village. She went to Odesa and Mykolaiv for them.

"People really missed high-quality Ukrainian food," the woman explains, recalling the first months after the village was liberated from the Russian occupiers.

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The flooded houses of Sadove

We sail past houses flooded with water up to the roofs. The sun sparkles in the water, under which lie the quiet streets. The church dome is peeking out ahead.

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A flooded village church

Natalia points to the building next to her shop:

"By the way, near my store is the 'We are together' help center. Here we are passing it now… sailing by it," Natalia corrects herself. "It was also affected. This help center was open every day. It helped everyone every day.

"When there was shelling, this center helped to cover all the windows and roofs. They helped every day. The old, the bedridden, and the children were all helped," she sighs.

"We no longer need to get rid of beetles"

Together with Natalia, Vasyl shows us the flooded village. Vasyl is 37 years old and lived in Sadove all his life.

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Vasyl on his boat

"Vasyl helps everyone," Natalia tells us while the man himself smiles sheepishly. We ask Vasyl what it's like to be a hero. He laughs and answers: "As usual." Now he rescues local animals, primarily dogs, on his boat. He says that cats run away from people on the roofs of houses. All the people here have already been rescued; they are all in a safe place on land.

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After the liberation of the right-bank Kherson region, the Russian occupiers mercilessly shelled it from the left bank of the Dnieper almost every day. But the locals held on. Natalia says that they didn't even pay much attention to it. They led their lives. She tells more:

"Vasyl's house was also shelled. His house was damaged. So he lived with fellow villagers. He planted a vegetable garden there; it was also shelled. Vasyl moved to another house. He planted gardens wherever he was."

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Natalia and Vasyl sail through the flooded streets of their village in a boat

Locals planted potatoes and onions in the village. Natalia says that they gave the last harvest of onions to the military. They planned to hand over potatoes as well when the time came. But now — now it's all under water.

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Locals sail in a boat along the flooded street of Sadove

"Well, it's flooded. We don't need to get rid of bugs anymore," Natalia jokes.

"Would you like coffee? And borscht?"

We float to a place that now seems to be the middle of the river but is the embankment of Sadove.

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A turtle in reeds near a flooded embankment

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The roof of the house on the embankment

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View of the Dnieper River from the flooded embankment

"The embankment suffered the most," Natalia explains. The houses beside the water were the first to be flooded. The water level here in the village is the highest.

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Crowns of flooded trees

We sail through the crowns of trees, and Natalia reaches for one of them. It's a mulberry. A woman's fingers pick some berries. She looks a little further and says with a laugh, pointing to the side:

"And we have cherries there. We can treat you with cherries. We find positivity everywhere. No other way."

Returning to the dry land, we sail through flower gardens.

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Sadove flower garden underwater

"Only the tallest roses are visible," Natalia points to the flowers. "One woman always has beautiful flowers, which are all in season. The whole village took pictures with them."

Then Natalia points somewhere in the direction of the water. It is easy to guess what is under it: houses, gardens, and a yard. Natalia talks about cars parked here in the yards before the big flood, but now they don't seem to be there anymore. The majority, probably, is carried by the current to the Black Sea.

Then we hear a buzzing. We sail a little closer; beehives are floating in the water, and bees are on them. They didn't leave their home either.

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Beehives with bees float in the water

As soon as we set foot on the ground, Natalia cheerfully invites us:

"Now we are going to drink coffee! What would you like — Americano, espresso, latte? We can make tea and borscht," the woman laughs and invites us to her friends' house, explaining: she could only take her documents and some clothes from home. Only her coffee machine was saved from the flood in the store.

Natalia is proud of her coffee. She says you can't find it anywhere near you and that she always used to select the beans carefully and prepare the drink with love. While making coffee for us, he says:

"People always came to us for news, to chat and have coffee. It's a pity that this happened. But we do not give up. We will continue our work. And we will always have the most delicious coffee and be glad to see everyone in our city."

We know that Natalia is telling the truth. Despite everything, Sadove is and will be.


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