Saturday, January 12, 2019

As Bad as Russian Roads are for Travel, Russia’s Waterways are Worse, Yemelchenkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 12 – For most of Russia’s histories, rivers and later canals were the primary transportation network over that country’s vast roadless and largely railway-less areas. Its roads have remained notorious for their poor quality, and its railroads are suffering ever more accidents. But the state of its rivers and canals has largely been ignored in recent times.

            But Aleksandr Yemelchenko, who travelled by water recently through canals, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs between Moscow and the White Sea, reports that one can only be horrified by the current condition of the country’s waterways: it is “even worse than the roads,” he says (

            He offers a seven-point bill of indictment:

1.      Canals and locks have been allowed to deteriorate to the point that they are impassable or can’t be used. Most even near Moscow have not been repaired for more than 30 years.

2.      Those who live alongside the waterways are incredibly poor and do their washing in rivers that carry foreign tourists and are supposed to be showcases.

3.      “The entire river fleet was built in Soviet times: There has not been one new boat since.”  There are rumors that one has appeared somewhere, but Yemelchenkov hasn’t seen it – or apparently met anyone who has.

4.      There is no infrastructure at all for small craft despite extremely high taxes on boats that are supposed to pay for that.

5.      Fuel is either unavailable or of such poor quality that engines barely turn over.

6.      “One must not speak ill of service because it doesn’t exist.”  Docks are restricted as private property, there is no information provided, and no one to help travelers.

7.      The people on the banks who wave to passing boats are so drunk that it is better not to wave back because they might get enthusiastic and fall into the water or even try to swim out to the boat.

In general, he says, everything is pathetic. “I very much hope for positive changes and await positive moves forward. Because without them, the country will simply disappear and be reduced to nothing without any wars. It will drown in vodka and simply disintegrate,” Yemelchenkov continues.

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