The Detective Story of the Pokhabiha River
© Photo: Key To Baikal
December, 04

The Detective Story of the Pokhabiha River

We wrote a lot about interesting and strange names of the rivers flowing into the mighty Baikal. Without a doubt, one of them is Pokhabikha: its name in Russian means literally as “obscene”, “shameless”...

We believe that the situation needs to be explained. Moreover, there is still no unity in understanding of this name, however, one can write a real adventure novel on this subject.

Where Is the Pokhabikha River Situated?

It might seem that this issue is very easy. The source of the river is located in the mountains of Khamar-Daban, it flows along the eponymous valley in Slyudyansky district of Irkutsk Oblast, then it flows into Lake Baikal through one of its bays - Kultuk Bay.

But this name was not given to this river on the southern coast of the lake right then and there.

The unique personality of Muscovite Russia, Semen Ulyanovich Remezov, a famous geographer and map-maker, described the Kultushnaya wintering place (Pohaba) located on the left bank of the Pokhabiha River in his first printed atlas titled “Drawing Book of Siberia”. But if you compare this section with modern maps and pay attention to the positioning of roads and treeless sections in the river valley (“Arable lands in the mountains and steppes”), you can see that the modern Kultuchnaya River is called Pokhabikha. In XVIII century, the toponym “Pokhabikha” was used to designate another river - the modern Talaya River. It is clearly visible on one of the most detailed maps of the lake dated by 1806. Only later this name was assigned to modern Pohabikha.

Ivan or Yakov Pokhabov: Who Is the Forefather of the River’s Name?

Modern disputes about the member of the Pokhabov family who gave the name to the river have been provoked by the problems with the history of the original location of the Baikal village of Kultuk.


However, there was no unity in the opinions on the origin of this name even earlier: the subject was actively discussed by the Irkutsk newspapers in the middle of the 19th century. On June 20, 1857, the Irkutsk Provincial Gazette wrote about Yakov and Ivan Pokhabov and all local legends about them, noting that all the written sources on the city of Irkutsk called Ivan Pokhabov the man who built the wintering place on the Dyachiy Island (later known as “The Irkutsk Island”) on the banks of the Angara. In general, the builder of the wintering place and of the dungeon was considered to be one and the same person, as N.V. Semivsky and “The Panorama of the Irkutsk Province” for June 1850 also testified. Semivsky was a collegiate adviser, vice-governor of the Irkutsk province; in 1817 he wrote “The Latest, Curious and Reliable Tales of Eastern Siberia”. At the same time, a reliable historical act, Pokhabov’s letter written in response to Rzhevsky, clarified that Pokhabov called himself “Yakunka”, i.e. Yakov. Thus, they proposed two versions of the explanation; the first one says that there were two Pokhabovs: father who built the wintering place and his son Yakov who built the dungeon; according to the second one, Ivan and Yakov Pokhabov are one and the same person who was called Ivan due to some Irkutsk tradition, but his real name was Yakov.

In modern sources we can find two totally opposite points of view: “The river is named after the explorer Yakov Pokhabov” and “the Pokhabikha River flowing into Baikal in the southwestern part of the lake is named in memory of Ivan Pokhabov”.

Today we are hardly able to say for sure which of the Pokhabovs was perpetuated in the name of the river. Many authors rely on the argument of the writer A.I. Martos, the author of the book “Letters on Eastern Siberia”: “... Pokhabikha is named after Pokhabov who built the dungeon of Irkutsk ...”

Here is another historical mystery! Both Pokhabovs “played a hand” in the emergence of the city of Irkutsk. During the campaign of 1652 “on exploration of new lands” Ivan Pokhabov built a temporary prison dungeon on the Island of Irkut, against the possibility of an unexpected Buryat attack. This island became known as the Dyachiy Island. And in 1661, Yakov Pokhabov erected a dungeon on the right bank of Angara, opposite to the mouth of Irkut: soon this dungeon became known as Irkutsk. Today a new monument to the founder of the city stands on the bank of Angara; it has a laconic inscription on it: “ToYakov Pokhabov and His Comrades”.

But if the controversy of the name was the only problem of the Pohabikha River, then we could only be happy that local historians still have reason for scientific discussions. But Pohabikha is also threatened by another danger!

The Trouble of the Pokhabiha River

Unfortunately, the Pokhabikha River that is only 20 km long flows through the town of Slyudyanka. As a result, on the one hand, almost unfiltered wastewaters are discharged into it, and on the other hand, the residents of the town regularly turn the banks of Pokhabiha and its water surface into a real rubbish dump! Therefore, in winter the river is almost bare, without any ice.

It has been solemnly reported that new wastewater treatment facilities were built there in 2010. But, unfortunately, there no fundamental changes were observed. In recent years, the media have reported that Sludyanka treatment facilities regularly pollute water, air and soil. Besides, the activities of local enterprises truly correspond to the meaning of the Russian name of the river – “shameless”. Wastewater is discharged into the Pohabikha River that carries it to Lake Baikal. The amounts of pollutants in effluents exceed the permitted level. Moreover, wastewater enters the soil, and the waste sludge is stored in open spaces.

Treatment facilities themselves are a source of air pollution. Specific harmful substances from sewage treatment tanks enter the air.

The decisions of the Baikal Interregional Environmental Prosecutor’s Office are not being implemented.

The disputes about renaming the Pohabikha River and choosing a more harmonious name for it have lasted for several years by now. But if only this measure could also change the environmental situation on its banks!

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