After an hour of ferry ride, we reached ‘Khortytsia’, the largest island on the river Dnieper that covers an area of 24 sq. km. near the city of Zaporizhia in Ukraine. It was 15th April 2009, the Assamese New Year and we decided to tour the river island of Khortytsia because it shares much similarities with Majuli, the largest river island in the world on Brahmaputra in the Jorhat district in Assam.

River Dnieper which is the fourth longest river in Europe starts from Smolensk, flows through Russia, Belarus and Ukraine before joining the Black Sea. It is an important navigable waterway for the economy of Ukraine. The city of Zaporizhia is situated on the banks of Dnieper in south eastern part the country that is well connected to Khortytsia. The strategic position of the island played an important role in early trade routes from north to south, as well as east to west.

The weather was not too hot and there was greenery all around. Guided by few local friends from Zaporizhia we set out for sightseeing around the island. The Island is considered to be the home of historical and natural treasures that  attracts many tourists. The Island is popular for its unique nature and interesting archaeological findings. In the year 1958 the river island was classified as Local Natural Preserve and later in the year 1993 it was granted the status of Natural Cultural and Historical Preserve. Khortytsia consists of varied terrains with rocky outcrops, caves and grottos to the north. To the south is the flat low laying terrains which sometimes are flooded when the river is running high. As a biological reserve, the island of Khortytsia is too fascinating. It is the house of over 200 different species of birds that live in thenmarshy meadows of the island. In the lakes and the streams one can see over 50 different species of fishes. The varied terrains of Khortytsia support an abundant of diverse flora and fauna. The scientists have discovered more than 600 species of rare plants on the island, some of which are considered as endangered.

After a break, it was time for us to see the historical part of the island. As per archaeologists, there are enough evidences to prove that human settlements existed on the island as far back as 35000 years ago. The evidences also reveal that people of very different ethnic backgrounds were resident on the island on different times. The most lasting impression on the island was made by the ‘Cossacks’ who were believed to be settled there since 1556. Their occupation remained lasted for two centuries before disbanded by the order of the then ruling Russian imperialists. On 14th October 1983, the Museum of History of Zaporizhia Cossacks was established where the visitors can see more than 30000 items detailing the history of Khortytsia from the stone age thorough to the 20th century. One can also see the preserved remains of the forts and shipyards built in the year 1737 during Russo-Turkish War. Many other wars were fought on it and the island was used as the Military Base of Zaporzhian Sich until its destruction in the year 1775.

We had a memorable Bihu that year. We went to the top of a cliff touching the river for lunch. After having the Assamese styled lunch with rice, dal, fried potatoes, salad and fried fish in a cool and silent atmosphere, we played few Assamese songs for fun. Far away from our families and relatives we tried to keep the spirit of Rongali Bihu alive even on a foreign land. Our local friends too had danced on the heart touching tunes of Bihu songs.

About the author: Dr. Gitartha Roymedhi from Guwahati, Assam, writes occasionally in The Assam Tribune, The Sentinel, North East Today and The Eastern Chronicle. Earlier he used to write in Seven Sisters’ Post regularly...[Read more]

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