Siberians Soak Up the Sun by a Dirty River

MANY residents here are seeking relief from painful economic reforms by getting away to the beach.

Thousands of miles from the sea, Novosibirsk residents must make the best of the beaches along the Ob River running through the city.

"This is a place where it's possible to forget about all of life's problems for a while," says pensioner Nikolai Vasiliyev, reading a newspaper along the river bank. "There are few other ways to relax. Before you could go to a restaurant, or something. But now few people have enough money to do so."

Siberia is notorious for its long winters with howling winds and piles of snow. But locals say the region also enjoys warm, albeit brief summers, with a beach season that lasts from early June to late September. And as for tanning - some boast the rays are better than those at traditional vacation sites on the Black Sea.

"A Black Sea tan doesn't last long, while a Siberian tan will last all winter," says Sasha Bondarenko, an auto mechanic.

By far the most popular bathing spot is the Ob Reservoir, created by a hydroelectric dam across the river, about 25 miles south of Novosibirsk. On summer weekends, thousands of city dwellers stream to the reservoir. But even on weekdays the beaches are crowded. For some, basking the sun is more important than business.

"When it's hot, you have to go to the beach. We don't have so many hot days around here that you can let one go to waste," says Sergei Shevelev, an executive at the Siberian Development Bank, and a reservoir regular. "If I have work to do I just take my papers along with me and do the work on the beach."

Many beach buffs say they know the Ob is badly polluted, but that doesn't deter an occasional dip. "Of course there's much left to be desired, but what can you do?" says Igor Klepikov, an engineer at a Novosibirsk factory.

"There are some people who swim in the river, despite the bad ecological situation. They say, `our health is terrible in any case, so why not enjoy life and not worry about it'," adds Sergei Gosakov, a businessman.

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