Once upon a time, being in the incredibly beautiful places of Polissya, I could not even imagine that, having returned to them many years later, I would become a witness to terrible and mysterious events …
The history that now completely occupies me has been going on since the beginning of the 1980s … Then, as a schoolboy, I rested near the village of Slabin, in the north of Ukraine, in the Chernihiv region. A few kilometers from the mentioned village, among the picturesque forests and lakes on the banks of the wonderful Desna River, there is a nature reserve where hunting and fishing are prohibited. In fact, the local peasants, as they say, secretly caught fish, of course. But the fact
that no one hunts in the reserve is for sure. Shots in the quietest enchanted places would have sounded too brazen.
Then I lived in a forester's hut, a short walk from the river. Plots of light pine forest in those places alternate with open glades, and thickets of dense bushes, even with wetlands. But the most important and pleasant thing for an avid angler is the local lakes full of fish. One of them, called Dovgim (Long), is a huge, really long and wide oxbow of the Desna, which turned a long time ago into a kind of Vasnetsov lake with old willows, willow and alder, cattail and reeds on swampy, and in some places sandy shores …
It was Dovgoe that was the main fishing spot for the old forester, Uncle Vasil. Sometimes he caught fish with a primitive rod, more often he put small nets. And bream, perch, tench walked together almost straight into his hands …
Grandfather Vasil cooked an unsurpassed fish soup: after a decoction of small (by then standards) fish, he cooked the soup on large fish, and then put a whole chicken in a cauldron that was languishing on coals! Infused with some local herbs, grandfather Vasil's yushka turned out to be fantastically tasty. And the tea of his own brew - on hawthorn and other unknown components of shrubs and stems of herbs - turned out to be no less exotic and tasty than the ear of the silent owner of these lakes and forests.
The most interesting thing for me was the presence of beavers in the lake. The long-term protection of this interesting rodent bore fruit: the beavers multiplied and began to make powerful burrows in the banks of Dovhy. After all, these animals make dams only on rivers. And on the lakes, they simply break holes with an entrance under the water, cut large and small trees on the banks - mainly aspens - and so they live without fear of hunters and poachers.
For some reason, grandfather Vasil firmly believed that beavers hunt fish and are thus his "competitors". I tried to dissuade him by talking about the exceptional vegetarianism of these animals, but … Apparently, my grandfather did not really believe me.
Once a beaver fell into a net placed by Vasil and suffocated under the water. My grandfather got scared: it looked like an illegal trade in fur animals. And besides - with the use, so to speak, of an official position. But Ukrainian practicality turned out to be higher than fears: Vasyl was sorry to lose the good that had come into his hands, and he, as best he could, took off the beaver's skin, dressed it … and hid it. After all, there was no one to sell poorly processed skin in this region, and greed did not allow grandfather to throw it away. And so it lay, or rather - stood, stiff, this improperly dressed skin at his house …
Last summer, I remembered those places, about Vasil, sincere, with a moonshine, conversations at a long wooden table, gray from the weather and time, on the shore of Lake Dov-goo … And again I wanted to visit the reserve near the village of Slabin.
The locals didn’t welcome me as cordially as they did many years ago. The people became silent and intimidated. At first I did not understand what was the matter, I was lost in conjectures … Everything began to become clearer when I lived for several days in the same hut of the forester, in which I once stayed.
Outwardly, nothing has changed in the reserve. Unless the glades and edges were overgrown with bushes, the forest became noticeably higher, and for some reason the peasants were reluctant to answer my questions about fishing, the unusual local ear and beavers digging holes in the shores of lakes.
I settled in the forester's hut surprisingly simply: the new forester, Petro, happily gave me the forest dwelling for a completely symbolic price. I did not attach any importance to this - the people lived there poorly, and everybody had a “living penny”. What I didn’t like was some kind of haunted look of Peter and his "wicket", as he himself said, the absence of a hand on his left hand. To ask a still not old man why he was crippled, how trouble happened to him, as a result of which he lost his brush, I considered tactless and did not ask him about the details of the tragedy.
To my question about grandfather Vasil, Petro evasively answered that he died in the late 1980s. "Did the Chernobyl disaster finish him off?" I asked and received a positive, but not very strong answer.
I waved my hand at the strange forester and started fishing, for the sake of which I, in fact, came back to these places.
A couple of days later I was fishing in the evening from a primitive dugout boat made from a solid tree trunk. Such boats have survived, it seems, only here … The sun was setting, and I, having collected a small catch, decided to go home now so as not to wade through the forest at dusk. Coming ashore from a shaky boat, round in cross-section, I stumbled, the boat tilted, and I, like a boy, flopped into the water.
Before I had time to recover from the surprise, a sharp pain in my leg made me scream. Someone underwater, biting through a boot, grabbed my right leg. It was terrible. I could not understand what living creature could attack me here, in a quiet lake.
With an incredible effort, I tore a leg out of someone's teeth and jumped out onto the shore. He took off his boot. The foot was bleeding profusely from deep parallel cuts. I pulled a homemade tourniquet around my leg to stop the bleeding, and somehow made it to the hut, where I disinfected and bandaged the wound.
In the morning, Aunt Maria, who once every two days brought me milk, arriving by bicycle from the village, saw my trouble, asked what had happened, turned pale and said: “I’m feeling good!”. "What started?" - I did not understand. Maria hesitated a little, but could not resist and told that my leg, and Peter's bitten off hand, and the missing grandfather Vasil, and other terrible incidents were all beaver attacks.
I could not believe my ears: how can beavers, these cute, careful creatures, attack people? Aunt Maria told me to get on the trunk of her bicycle, and we went to the village in a strange couple. And there, at the sight of me, the "conspiracy of silence" collapsed. The villagers talked about beavers who, since the time of the Chernobyl disaster, are no longer satisfied with plant food, but happily eat fish, even pulling it out of their nets with their terrible, sharp incisors, removing them from hooks on the fishing line … Sometimes large beavers, as it turned out and as I was convinced on their bitter experience, attack people. Obviously, the altered metabolism and the transition to predation makes rodents attack humans … However, what is there to be surprised at? Rats, the same rodents, eat literally everything and sometimes behave very aggressively.
To be continued…
For several days, I wrote down a whole notebook of stories - cases of attacks by slabinskaya beavers on local residents. The wound did not heal, and I had to return to Kiev. Besides, to be honest, fishing was no longer giving me the same pleasure.
In the city, I turned to the Institute of Zoology for comments. But there the possibility of such terrible behavior of beavers was completely denied. I understand the skepticism of scientists, but facts are facts … As soon as it gets warmer, I'm going to Lake Dovgoe again … I need to find out everything to the end.