“Coast of the Transcarpathian Sea”: how one eco initiative made a movement to save the Vilsha Reservoir

They had dreams of taking a break from the daily struggle here, surrounded by nature and in touch with it. To protect this beauty of the Carpathians for future generations, Olena and Roman Zhuk’s spouses came up with the concept of establishing the Coast of the Transcarpathian Sea reserve two years ago. Roman, a volunteer who went to the front, passed away in May 2022. Olena continued to work tirelessly to turn the Transcarpathian Sea into a natural reserve after her husband’s passing.

The NGO “CHYSTO.DE” petitioned the Transcarpathian Regional Military Administration at the end of October with scientists from the Ukrainian Environmental Protection Group to establish a landscape reserve of local significance called “The Coast of the Transcarpathian Sea”. On December 15, they received support from deputies. The Transcarpathian Sea Coast Landscape Reserve Regulation was approved by the region’s governor in an order that was already signed in January.

Mission: “Save the Vilshan Reservoir”00

“Right here, it is! Time for everything is one hour. So let’s go. I’ll take you to a magical place “Roman once made a suggestion to his wife while traveling.

It has been so long. possibly in 2011. After hiking in the Carpathians, Roman and his companions stopped by a reservoir on the way home. It was empty at the time, and I recall how he gushed about it. He was astounded by the significant amount of silt, enormous fractures at the bottom that resembled a vast desert in the Carpathians, and a sizable amount of trash close to the dam. But back then, Olena says, “we probably weren’t that aware, and nothing went beyond the familial “ay-yay-yay” and “oy-yoy-yoy.” – Roma only brought up the reservoir and its proximity to us in October 2020, when we were returning from a family trip to a treehouse. He convinced me to go. Even the estate’s owner, in my memory, urged us to visit during the summer rather than the fall. However, you are unable to stop the heart from calling. Romka also got his way. And I fell in love with the location and my husband once more. On October 5, 2020, it happened. I had never seen the Transcarpathian Sea before. On the sand, we took a seat. Bottles that had been empty and other trash were splashing in the water. I recall saying, “I want to come here on my birthday, hang a hammock, take a book, and spend the entire day in this silence and without dialogue,” as I lay my head against his shoulder. But first, do some cleanup!” We grinned broadly at the final sentence. Roman continues, “And think if we actually cleared away all this trash and established a nature reserve here!?” We fell so deeply in love with the Vilshan Reservoir that we have since been living this dream every day. I’m currently searching through everything that people have thrown there for my heart.”

The new eco-movement to save the Transcarpathian Sea was inspired by it. The couple made the decision to plan eco-picnics. Assistants were invited to a mysterious location.

“Without mentioning the location, I wrote the first Facebook post inviting everyone interested to join the eco-picnic in a breathtaking location. We had 25 people at our first picnic since people were so interested by it. The bags ran out during the garbage pickup, so they decided right away to host the next event there. After one week, they came back. Completely finished”.

People traveled from all around Ukraine to the event because they enjoyed eco-picnics’ format so highly.

Environmental initiative to save the “Transcarpathian Sea” CHYSTO.DE

They observed mountains of trash after launching a drone into the air, assessed the situation, and realized that it served as a microcosm for the entire Carpathians.

As a result, the “Transcarpathian Sea” coastlines were to be cleaned, according to the public initiative “Chysto.de”. Because, as the original proponents stated, loads of trash must first be removed from under that sea.

“CHYSTO.DE is a great love and an awakening. Additionally, this is a unique fusion of a charming Carpathian region and wonderful people. Roman claimed to have made the best friends while searching among the trash at this place in one of the comments. In reality, the majority of people who have attended an eco-picnic at least once agree with this. To realize that a lot depends on your modest everyday acts, you must be as awake and aware of the world as you can be. Olena says: “Someone comes to the Transcarpathian Sea shore who is ready to make changes for the better, not blaming, but rectifying other people’s faults”  – We all refer to ourselves as the eco-family. And thousands of individuals from various regions of Ukraine now live there. To participate in the eco-picnic, our cleaners travel hundreds of miles and get up at four or five in the morning. People travel from all around Transcarpathia, including Lviv, Cherkasy, Chernivtsi, Kyiv, Vinnytsia, and Odessa. Even from Slovakia and Germany, they traveled there”.

The pair made up an intriguing hobby each time, out of a true wish to thank everyone who chose to share their dream.

“We wanted folks who clean up rubbish on the weekends to return home exhausted but charged with very good and pleasant emotions. Therefore, in addition to cleaning and eco-lectures, we also engaged in interesting activities like hiking, visiting the “Stare Selo” museum in Kolochava, learning how to provide basic medical care, practicing yogic breathing, making fun of our enemies with stand-up, reflecting on values, and thinking about how life can be transformed. Our son Seraphim came up with the concept of inviting musicians and artists to the beach to clean to music and raise awareness of the issue. Environmental consciousness is crucial. After all, nature can breathe easier when there are more conscientious people around. It is crucial to discuss it from a variety of angles and in a variety of ways as a result. Because we frequently fail to consider the effects of our acts. We sincerely appreciate the efforts of the Hudaki Village Band, Chalamada, Khrystyna Shukal, Alina Pash, Antsya, Rokash, Maryna Krut, Ostap Drivko, Alan Badoev, The Maneken, Yevhen and Natalya Sinelnikov, and all other media presenters who understand the significance of this issue and provide information to support eco-picnics. There have already been 17 events during the past two years, the majority of which last two or three days. More than 110 tons of waste were taken off the shore, with processing receiving the lion’s share of it.

The example of Solotvino, Shipit, etc., where people pretend to travel to nature but don’t actually feel at home there, served as another reminder that this land needs to be preserved by some kind of status in order to prevent destruction. I don’t want this place to be like that. However, there is also a desire to develop the nearby villages. Many locals are currently moving elsewhere to find work. Although these are impoverished mountain communities, they have a distinctive culture, delectable cuisine, vibrant estates, and their own traditions. I want to grow it and bring it out of the pit.

People will again be invited to eco-picnics in 2023.

The third season of eco-picnics to clean up the breathtakingly magnificent Vilshan reservoir will begin in 2023. The format of eco-picnics will continue into the spring.

“Our activities will continue right there on the beach. Most likely, we’ll stick with the current format. We will put into action the fresh suggestions and demands we have. In particular, we’ve hosted three eco-picnics with the involvement of persons in wheelchairs during the past two years in collaboration with the NGO On3Wheels. We currently have some agreements in place, and this year we intend to work more actively together in this area. Additionally, the military asked us to organize joint eco-picnics for the families of service members and wounded colleagues receiving medical treatment. Eco-picnics bring together people from quite various backgrounds, which is crucial and essential,” – the woman explains.

By the way, the effort has already gained the support of numerous diverse organizations.

“We are certain that there are still cool Ukrainians for us to meet and get to know. We can benefit from the experience of international activists. And to be quite honest, we are working on a fascinating project that we cannot yet discuss. We are currently participating in a cleanup effort on the Borzhava River with representatives from Hungary and Romania. In order to determine the optimum method for the troublesome Tereblia River, we are also researching the experience of putting in waste collectors elsewhere”.

Olena points out that although it might seem unusual, the trash on the shores was what spurred action to protect this place.

“At the same time, waste has emerged as a major barrier. Let me clarify. The truth is that we wasted too much time trying to move the garbage:

  • all of our time was spent organizing eco-picnics because we planned the first five events together as a couple, just the two of us;
  • communicating with locals and leaders of rural areas as we live in Mukachevo and have no connections to those mountain settlements;
  • communication with the regional government, the Department of Ecology, the State Ecoinspection, the Ministry of Ecology.

Prior to beginning work on the reserve, we wanted to get the litter management system up and running as quickly as possible. In June 2021, we met with officials from the regional council and the Zakarpattia Regional State Administration on a number of occasions to discuss preservation of the environmentally, aesthetically, culturally, and historically significant location. We then heard the phrase “You need to think”.  Everyone considered their own interests, as time has proven. This project was initiated by my team and I on our own, with the help of prominent Ukrainian environmentalists. The Chysto.De team, experts from the Ukrainian Environmental Protection Group, and Ecology are all people I truly want to thank. Program for the Danube and Carpathians, Pravo.Lyudyna We now have another area of natural nature protected as a result of the work done by these individuals. However, there is still a lot of work to be done before this choice is implemented in practice.

Join forces to protect distinctive natural complexes

Before the nature reserve was formally established, the CHYSTO.DE team conducted scientific study and promoted ecological awareness alongside scientists and ordinary individuals.

Olena underlines how every action they do at the Vilshan Reservoir serves as a miniature representation of a civil society that is accountable.

“It appears that we have the perfect country over there, on the banks of the Carpathian Sea. There are intelligent, thoughtful, and cool folks all around. It is unfortunate that things are a little different when we get back home, everyone to his or her own city. The Khust Forestry is responsible for that area’s conservation. We do, however, think that the community and locals, who were able to work together to save this area from trash, will be able to work together to preserve special natural complexes. In my dream, I saw people taking better care of the environment by refraining from driving too close to bodies of water, lighting fires wherever we choose, leaving behind trash, and turning on loud music. We must all be aware that the forest is a habitat for other living things, and that we should conduct ourselves there as we would want visitors to conduct themselves in our home”.

Volunteers have assisted scientists in their exploration of the area last autumn.

“They were known as “photocatchers” in code. The truth is that some of our cleaners prefer to work alone and in remote locations. I’ve already discussed quiet with you. In actuality, frames documenting the life of endangered animal species are awarded for respect and silence. This is how our photo-takers managed to get shots of the CORDULEGASTER, ALPINE ROSALIA, CARPATIAN NEWT, as well as a ton of other endangered species that are classified in the Red Book of Ukraine or are covered by the Berne Convention. Regarding ecological awareness, every one of our ecopicnics focuses on waste separation, mindful consumption, spreading the word about zero waste, and, in general, a love of the local environment, nature, and all living things. Ivanna Trofymenko, an ecologist, is a member of the CHYSTO.DE team. She leads eco-games with the youngest attendees of our events and also disseminates information in the form of an eco-lecture right on the Transcarpathian Sea’s shore. Actually, it’s a wonderful experience! You experience a change in yourself when you observe this beautiful environment being harmed by humans. A person returns home fully changed, rethinking his attitude toward rubbish and at home when you combine this with actual activity like sorting and cleaning, new information from lectures, and other factors. We aspirationally envision local communities growing sustainably, and we do our lot to promote fascinating sites near the reservoir, exchange connections with estate owners, and promote regional food from the Transcarpathian region. Because we are convinced that only by knowing, loving, and protecting your family can you grow”.

Landscape reserve of local importance “Coast of the Transcarpathian Sea”.

They petitioned the Transcarpathian Regional State Administration for the establishment of a landscape reserve of local significance known as “The Coast of the Transcarpathian Sea” at the end of October in collaboration with scientists from the Ukrainian Environmental Protection Group of the NGO CHYSTO.DE. Deputies came out in support of the activists on December 15, and the region’s governor issued an order authorizing the Regulation on the Landscape Reserve of Local Importance “Coast of the Transcarpathian Sea” in January.

“Teamwork produced this, and I’m grateful to everyone who helped us get there. No one on our staff has any expertise building reserves. We are regular persons who each work in a different field. But our passion of traveling has always brought us together. We all enjoy exploring new areas, despite our extreme differences. We are now researching ways to leverage the experience that has been obtained. We discuss our ideas and worldviews. Simply said, a certain model cannot be moved because our reserve is so singularly situated. That would be wrong. In order to maximize the benefits of the “Transcarpathian Sea” and cause the least amount of harm, we want to plan everything as much as we can. The reserve not only features breathtaking scenery, but also a fascinating past. Before, this location lacked a reservoir. It was a village, but when the dam’s construction was planned, the residents were forced to leave. Additionally, a museum dedicated to rafting and forests is located a bit farther up the river and is also expected to be rebuilt. The Bokorash people, who rafted through the jungle alongside the Tereblia River, are also featured in this narrative. Our forefathers were smarter than we are; they cleared the forest in the winter and flooded it with rivers in the spring to lessen their interference with nature and prevent soil erosion from accelerating. They felt and were more in touch with nature. Additionally, people need to be aware of the distinctive hydroelectric power plant constructed on two rivers. It has a distinguished worldwide history and is the only two-river turbine in Europe and the highest in Ukraine. There is therefore much to discuss. There is also a plan to build an educational facility and eco-museum nearby where you may discuss energy and the natural world. The museum can be situated in a neighborhood community that has a reservoir. Something incredibly unique, engaging, and educational that will engage both kids and adults. Now, I pray for courage every day so that I can carry out what I have planned. We are confident that we will have the strength to carry everything out”.

And even though there is still an actually a lot of work to be done because the group needs to learn how to minimize human interference with nature, the eco-trails and the reservoir have already begun to draw a significant number of tourists.

“We are aware that there are throngs of visitors and that the location has gained and is continuing to gain appeal. Now, in order to minimize harm to the environment, these flows must be properly directed. Special care must be taken in these places. As a result, each member of our team gets a unique folder where we keep samples and other resources that are important to us, talk about things, and interact with scientists. They hear about our preferences, what works, and what we would like. After then, we will develop the idea, consider all the details, and listen to various viewpoints. The goal is for it to actually function rather than just exist as a reserve on paper. The most important thing is that people there adapt and keep up this strategy of educating a Ukrainian aware society. After all, one must first cherish what one already has. Since love prevents you from doing harm or suffering”.

What is “Coast of the Transcarpathian Sea” like in five years?

In five years, Olena hopes to see untouched environment, tourism eco-trails connecting to nearby villages, and an ecological museum.

“I’ll start by saying that I genuinely hope to see conscious and sincere people there as visitors. Those who will carefully guard this location and all the efforts made by our team, thousands of other individuals, and ourselves to maintain the natural environment. Undoubtedly, I am aware that more people will visit this location. Therefore, it is crucial to take all necessary steps to ensure that anyone who comes to visit interferes with nature as much as possible. I would like the eco-trail to provide interesting information about the Bokorash people’s history of flooding the forest with rivers, the villages and way of life of the locals who lived in the Terebli valley before the reservoir was built, the construction of the Terebli-River HPP, rare plants and animals that made this area their home, and perhaps a history of littering”.

However, there are currently tasks that are more important. Another important one is working together with scientists and environmentalists.

“We want to do everything in our power to maintain, safeguard, and encourage the recovery of the special ecology on the Transcarpathian Sea’s coasts. Installing a trap and clearing the reservoir’s area of trash are issues that are significant to us. We work to increase community participation in ecocollections and cleaning up the area. We will try to design and implement imaginative eco-activities with kids in kindergartens and schools because we have high hopes for kids and young people,” – Olena Zhuk finished up the conversation.

Additional information: Vilshan reservoir

This reservoir is called differently:

  1. Tereble-Rykskoe – in honor of the two rivers that gave birth to him.
  2. Vilshanske – in honor of the village Vilshany, in the vicinity of which a concrete dam blocked the Tereblia River’s channel.
  3. Transcarpathian Sea – as a result of its enormous 9 km by 1 km proportions.

The Vilshan reservoir is located in the Transcarpathian village of Vilshany, close to Kolochava. The recommended course of action is to first travel to Khusta or Tyachevo, and then take local buses to Vilshan.


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