There is a 71-year-old retired man in Yakutsk who has spent the past five years living in a flooded apartment. The water, which nearly reaches his knees, is black and ice cold. Even in the summer, when the weather can be quite warm in the city, the flood water is freezing. Valery Tereshchenko, the man living in this “swamp,” as he puts it, says he sleeps in his boots and a thick sweater, to shield himself from the cold.
Earlier this week, reporting for the local news portal News.Ykt.Ru, Maria Alexeeva met Mr. Tereshchenko, who granted her a tour of his home that's been half underwater for the last five years. He made Alexeeva put on special waterproof boots before he invited her inside.
“The main thing is not to fall,” he warns her. “It's pretty deep in parts, and the water is as cold as ice.”
Tereshchenko spent 15 years working as a driver and then as a mechanic for a local motor depot. The home he now occupies was built in the 1970s. Tereshchenko moved in when it was still new, having first arrived in Yakutsk in 1969 from Irkutsk. He used to share the apartment with his wife, Nina, who died two years ago, when she stumbled during a heart attack and drowned in the water that still floods their home today. Tereshchenko's health isn't stellar, either. Alexeeva says he often coughs whenever he moves.
Tereshchenko says all his furniture is constantly damp. “The bed on which I sleep is wet,” he explains, saying that he tries to leave the apartment to be outside, in order to warm up, though his old age and respiratory problems make this a difficult feat.
The indoor “swamp” is deeper in some parts than others. Walking around the apartment, Tereshchenko measures the water's depth in different spots: 17 centimeters (more than 6 inches) in one place, and as much as 25 centimeters (almost 10 inches) in another. “Just don't go near the window,” he says, explaining that the floor has rotted away to the basement there, exposing a 1.5-meter (5-foot) drop. To demonstrate the danger, he lowers a broom into the muck, and it disappears all the way to the handle.
The flooding first began five years ago, as a result of construction on nearby homes and stores. Ever since, that new real estate's waste waters have pooled in Tereshchenko's apartment.
It was one of Tereshchenko's neighbors who contacted News.Ykt.Ru, hoping local media coverage might prompt the city to help the elderly man. The neighbor has also been active on social media, trying to rally support.
Tereshchenko has appealed to the regional authorities many times, never managing to get a direct meeting with Aisen Nikolaev, the local mayor. Tereshchenko says he gets the same answer every time he appeals for help: there are no other apartments available now. He used to pay a private pumping service to siphon out the flood water—a temporary solution. Now he says he can't afford it. Local officials say they don't have any pumping equipment. “Why don't you go complain to Barack Obama,” they once told him.
Vitaly Sorochan, a local state official, told News.Ykt.Ru that he would study the situation and take all necessary measures, though he says Tereshchenko must first appeal to the authorities himself “and bring all the required documents.” Igor Tkachenko, a housing official, also promised to address Tereshchenko's living conditions, though he warned News.Ykt.Ru that some people in the neighborhood are living there without the proper registration.
Last year, incidentally, housing department officials did visit Tereshchenko at his home. They looked around and told him, “You can't live like this, gramps.” He says they promised to find him new housing, if only a room in a home, but nobody ever called him back.
Today, there is no calling Valery Tereshchenko; he recently dropped his telephone in the water, and he says it's lost for good.