Cover Image for Review: Roman A. Cybriwsky, <i>Along Ukraine’s River</i>

Review: Roman A. Cybriwsky, Along Ukraine’s River

Marjukka Porvari
Issue 1 (2024)

Roman Adrian Cybriwsky’s Along Ukraine’s River: A Social and Environmental History of the Dnipro (2018) explores the river which has become the frontline of Russia’s invasion today. Marjukka Porvari’s review focuses on the colonial history of the Dnipro from Tsarist to Soviet times.


At nearly 2300 kilometres, the Dnipro is the third longest river in Europe, originating in Russia, flowing a short distance in eastern Belarus and continuing into Ukraine, where it flows into the Black Sea. Roman Adrian Cybriwsky’s book Along Ukraine’s River not only describes the geography of the Dnipro River, which cuts through Ukraine’s heartlands, but also takes a deep dive into Ukrainian history, society, and soul. Like the best books often do, it helps the reader structure and combine fragmented information about Ukraine in a new way and better understand the interlinkages between historical events, the special characteristics of the Ukrainian environment, and the nation’s mentality.

Today, the world knows the Dnipro as the frontline of the war, and the names of cities on its banks as the scenes of the most brutal events of Russia’s aggression. One of the worst man-made environmental disasters also occurred on the Dnipro River, when the Kakhovka Dam occupied by the Russian forces was destroyed on 6 June 2023, and the waters of the huge Kakhovka Reservoir drowned the downstream areas. The impact on people, nature, and infrastructure has been devastating, and for some rare habitats and species, irreversible.

Cybriwsky’s book was published in 2018, before Russia’s full-scale war of aggression. Little did the author know that in February 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would trigger the next tragic spectacle in the colonial history of the Dnipro described in the book, begun under Tsarist Russia and continued by the Soviet Union.

The merciless Soviet subjugation of the Ukrainian language, culture, and heritage involved, among other things, the sinking of historic Cossack villages and towns of the Ukrainian heartlands under the Dnipro Cascade of reservoirs and dams built for hydropower production. Ukrainian nature was subordinated to human needs in a way that became the infamous trademark of the Soviet Union. Similar horrifying projects to manipulate and even divert rivers for maximum gains caused immeasurable damage to water ecosystems all over the Soviet Union, for example in the Aral Sea.

With the same negligence, the Soviets erected highly polluting industry and energy production on the banks of the Dnipro, built inferior urban infrastructure with no regard for people and nature, and enforced agriculture based on monoculture crops, fertilisers, and pesticides on fertile chornozem soils adjacent to the river. The mad rush to industrialise transformed the Dnipro into a polluted and troubled river, which Ukraine inherited in 1991. Unfortunately, as Cybriwsky rightly notes, Soviet negligence was replaced by post-Soviet negligence, which has worsened the Dnipro’s environmental situation.

Despite its sad undertone, Cybriwsky’s book is also a great travel book written with humour and a lovely personal touch. The parts in which he describes his time spent on the banks of the river and in coastal towns make the reader feel an irresistible desire to experience the Dnipro. Although the legacy left by the Soviet Union on the river is deeply tragic, Cybriwsky makes the reader laugh at its absurd aspects; such as the no-nonsense names of industrial cities like Marhanets (Manganese) and Enerhodar (giver of energy); street names like Enthusiast Prospect, which was the exact opposite of the reality of socialist model cities; and problems with the placement of Lenin’s statue (in which direction should his finger point, and what about his butt?).

Six years after its publication, the themes of Cybriwsky’s book are more relevant than ever. With Russia’s war of aggression, the Dnipro is once again the stage for Ukraine’s moments of destiny. The author ends his book with the hope of Ukraine’s future as a modern European state, which has overcome the colonialist Soviet and Russian heritage and finally has the freedom to choose its own culture and language, as well as its political alliances and paths. In the Ukraine of Cybriwsky’s dreams, corruption has been brought under control, the rule of law reigns, and the legendary Dnipro has been revived through responsible environmental management.

The EU membership negotiations launched in December 2023 strongly orient Ukraine towards such a future. This also gives hope for the Dnipro, which is ‘a national icon and cultural symbol, a metaphor for the long story of Ukraine’. Finally free of the Soviet past, modern Ukraine’s decisions on the future of the river should consider not only the needs of energy production and industry, but also the Dnipro’s significant environmental, social, and cultural values. Decisions on the revival and reconstruction of the river should involve the entire Ukrainian society, including Ukraine’s competent and active civil society. The next chapter in the long story of the Dnipro has to be a common story of all free and proud Ukrainians.


Marjukka Porvari works as an environmental expert at the European Commission’s Ukraine Service under the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations. She has over twenty years of experience working with international environmental issues, especially in Eastern Europe, and specialises in environmental policy, environmental impact assessment, and water management.


London Ukrainian Review is published by the Ukrainian Institute London in partnership with the Institute for Human Sciences and Academic Studies Press. This issue of the London Ukrainian Review has also been supported by the Culture of Solidarity Fund powered by the European Cultural Foundation, the Finnish Institute in the UK and Ireland, the Delegation of Flanders (Embassy of Belgium) in the UK and Ireland, the Cyprus High Commission and EUNIC London (European Union National Institutes for Culture).



Image: Kateryna Aliinyk, from the specially commissioned Fruits We Did Not Know series, 2024.

Cover Image for Crimean Tatars: Eighty Years of Remembrance and Resistance

Crimean Tatars: Eighty Years of Remembrance and Resistance

Issue 2 (2024)

For the eightieth anniversary of the Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars, the London Ukrainian Review dedicates its second issue of 2024 to the Russia-occupied Crimean peninsula and its Indigenous people’s ongoing fight for justice.

Sasha Dovzhyk
Cover Image for The Long Exile: A History of the Deportation of 1944

The Long Exile: A History of the Deportation of 1944

Issue 2 (2024)

The mass deportation of Crimean Tatars in May 1944 is rooted in Russian settler colonialism which Martin-Oleksandr Kisly traces to the subjugation of Crimea by Catherine II. Eighty years after the grievous crime against the Indigenous people of Crimea, Crimean Tatars are under Russia’s occupation and banned from marking this historic date.

Martin-Oleksandr Kisly, trans. by Larissa Babij