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SYNOPSIS:    A ruinous Soviet irrigation experiment in Southwestern Ukraine, created a slow eco-disaster which continues today.  The Sasyk Estuary , by the Black Sea, is ground zero for the battle - stasis and corruption vs. environmental reform and progress.

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Iryna Vychrystyuk grew up by the Sasyk Estuary "Liman" at the Black Sea in Southwestern, Ukraine.  She was happy and healthy, as were her friends. The Sasyk was a pristine lagoon teeming with life, a huge sandbar, exotic birds, and fish from the Black Sea.  Local residents enjoyed Sasyk's beautiful beaches.  There were several competing fisheries.  Tourists loved Sasyk's health promoting, mineral-rich mud.  Sasyk was the heart of this community.

Then, one of the oldest residents recalls the day in the late 1970's when, "Four black Volga sedans pulled up.  Soviet generals got out to inspect Sasyk. That was it.  No one asked us what we wanted."   

A 14-kilometer long concrete dike was built cutting Sasyk off from the sea.  Salt water was pumped out, a canal dug, and fresh water from the Danube re-filled this lagoon. Soon, the Sasyk's now "fresh water" would irrigate farmland. If this experiment worked, all remaining estuaries at the Black Sea would also get converted into reservoirs by means of dikes, canals, pumping stations, and the manipulation of Ukraine's major rivers.   

It failed. Engineers could never desalinate Sasyk. Farm land was ruined.  Residents left. Fisheries closed. Algae blooms strangled. Tourists deserted.  The Danube added industrial pollution into Sasyk.  Villagers saw and see more cancer.   Former experiments with raising and lowering the water levels of Sasyk caused so much erosion that old tombstones and caskets from one local cemetery fell into Sasyk. 

Activists continue to petition local and ministry officials, "Remove the dike!"  Promises are made then forgotten.   But, in spite of stasis, corruption, fishing and hunting poachers, land grabs, and even violence, the environmentalists, activists and friends of the Sasyk and its neighboring estuaries remain positive.  They push forward with defending one of the most beautiful parts of Ukraine - making it known to the public and creating an environment that is cleaner, safer, and inclusive.

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