Belarusian schoolchildren take part in river cleanliness project


In the agricultural town of Lopatino, ninth-grade student and avid fisher, Yana Fursevich, once caught a pike in Styr River, a tributary of Pripyat.

Having participated in monitoring the Styr River as part of the Cross-border Water Inspectors project, Yana knows that the river in her village is clean.

No nitrates or phosphates were found in Styr River

The project was implemented by the local Interakcia Foundation and involved 10 schools from the Pinsk District of Belarus and 10 schools from the Lyubeshiv District of Ukraine.

As part of the project, 20 public environmental posts appeared in neighbouring regions. One of them is located in Lopatino, which has a population of 450 people.

Today, 86 children are studying at Lopatino School in the Belarusian language, with 4-10 students in each classroom. Most of the students are local and the rest are from nearby villages. Children study in Lopatino at the expense of the local budget and school meals are free of charge.

However, children are contributing as well: there is a hectare of land at school on which potatoes, beets, and carrots are grown. Starting from the fifth grade, each student works for 15 hours in the school garden during the summer. Children also work on planting forests, for which the school receives funds.

While work at school is an obligation, the children take pleasure in monitoring the river. Through the project they learn to detect nitrates, phosphates, organic pollutants in the water, using reagents and checking the acidity.

"This is a chemical mini-laboratory," said Liliya Moyseyanchik, a biology and chemistry teacher at Lopatino School who oversees the water inspectors.  "Children are very interested in studying the state of the river. We know that we can contact the nature protection inspectorate if we find serious deviations from the norm. Fortunately, we did not have to do this."

Recently, while checking the state of the river, the children and their teacher found that the water had slightly increased acidity. A ninth-grade student at Lopatino School, Anya Misyutina, checked the water for acidity when we were there and showed us the results:

"A good colour is the light green colour, which appears as a result of a chemical reaction using a reagent. Now the water is exactly like that. So it means it is neutral, and all is well. The fact that the acidity was increased during our last test means that someone poured something into the river. And, perhaps, something got into the river from groundwater."

As a result of the tests carried out by water inspectors, it turned out that the Styr’s water did not have any nitrates, phosphates or organic pollutants.

"The challenge is to find sources of ocean pollution"

The Styr River is 494km long, flows through Lviv, Volyn and Rivne regions of Ukraine, and then flows through the territory of the Brest Region of Belarus for 70km and into Pripyat.

It should be noted that Rivne Nuclear Power Plant is located upstream of the Styr, and uses water from the river to cool the reactors. Some of the water returns back to the river. According to the tests of Ukrainian laboratories, based on 25 indicators, the water meets the standards. The Styr water is used for drinking in many Ukrainian cities, including Lutsk, Kuznetsovsk and Rozhyshche.

Moyseyanchik notes that their work on monitoring the Styr River is part of a project checking the status of small rivers that feed large rivers, which then enter the sea and the ocean: "The task is to find sources of sea pollution. The project Cross-border Water Inspectors was created just for that."

Moyseyanchik said that phosphates are the most dangerous thing water inspectors can find in the water:

"Phosphates can appear as a result of the discharge of detergents into the river, which are used both in enterprises and in everyday life. We use washing detergents, detergents for dishes in large quantities. It is cheaper for the manufacturer to produce a cleaning agent with phosphates, but they are not completely removed from the surface of the dishes.

For example, we conducted an experiment. The dishes were washed with a liquid detergent and rinsed. Then they were rinsed again and the water analysis was performed. Phosphates were found in it, which, when accumulated in the body, can cause a number of diseases. Phosphates are also dangerous because their influence is not immediately apparent, but has a cumulative effect."

The project involved 200 children and teachers. Last August, Belarusian and Ukrainian children and teachers gathered in a camp, where they lived in tents and learned about making their lives more environmentally friendly. During the school year, Belarusian schoolchildren travelled to Ukraine several times, and Ukrainian children to Belarus.

"Formally the project is completed, but the work continues," said Moyseyanchik. "Children still communicate. I think that [Belarusian and Ukrainian] children participating in the project have become more environmentally conscious. We not only analyse the state of water in the Styr River, but also we clean the area around the river and in the village. Now if children even see a plastic bottle, they react. They know that plastic decomposes for about a hundred years. They will not leave the garbage lying around as it gets sorted at school."

Video: Belarusian schoolchildren take part in EU's river cleanliness project

As part of the project, students from the Lopatino School also analysed water from the Yaselda, Pina and Pripyat rivers that flow in their region. The rivers turned out to be clean. Meanwhile, the Styr had a problem: there was a serious flooding in the spring and early summer.

"The water overflowed from the banks to the green mass, the oxygen content in the river decreased, which is bad for the fish and microorganisms," the teacher said. This had not happened in summer for a long time.

Even though Moyseyanchik jokes that the water in the Styr is "so clean it is drinkable” based on test results, the village uses water from underground sources.

As part of the project, children checked the water in Lopatino's wells. Some tests found nitrates, which have a toxic effect on the body and cause oxygen starvation of tissues. However, these were wells that locals no longer use.

About 300 people in the suburb of Pinsk received clean water

Within the framework of the project, Cross-border Water Inspectors supplied clean water to 19 houses (some of them apartment buildings) in the village of Zapolye, near Pinsk.

In March this year, a new water supply network 619 metres long was launched on Parkova Street in Zapolye, where about 300 people live. Residents of Parkova Street need a lot of water as almost everyone has a gardens which consume a lot during the summer.

Svetlana and her husband have a decent-sized farm: a garden, a large greenhouse and rabbits. They did not use water from the old water supply system as "the water was yellow and smelly, neither drinking nor washing was possible.”

"We have dug a well, and we have our own clean water. However, when there was no electricity, the water could not come from the well. So when we found out that a new water supply network appeared, we were delighted and connected to the water supply system as well. It seems to be clean."

Head of the Osnezhen Executive Committee, Valeriy Kirilko, said that some might not like the taste of the water because it had a lot of iron in it.

"There was a water supply network here, but the network was [a] dead end, and the water stagnated. Now the water supply is looped. The water that people receive now is much better than before, but not as good as we would like; there is too much iron, even if its content is within the norm," Kirilko said.

The next stage of the Cross-border Water Inspectors project is to update the iron-removal station, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2019. And then the water will not only meet the standards, but will also taste good.

Author: Yelena Spasyuk

Article published in Russian by

Young cross-border water inspectors