The idea of a yellow submarine was conceived in 1966 by Paul McCartney in a hit song. Nearly half a century later someone actually created one in a country that did not even exist back then.
Parked in the back yard of a lifeguard's house in Kyiv’s southwestern neighborhood of Borshchahivka, the city's only yellow submarine does not look like the complicated piece of engineering it is.
Tiny and toy-like, it is fully functional and can fit three or four people and carry them under water. Not that there is any around, though. The vessel has been out of water since 2008.
It has a name of its own, Redcrocky (or Redcrocy, as the owner spells it), and a curious destiny.
It was created in Donetsk between 1980 and 1996, by a crane operator at a collective farm. Volodymyr Pylypenko set out sometime in the 1990s to create the submarine with no special equipment or materials. His original name for it was Dolphin, and it wasn’t yellow.
It current owner Vladyslav Syniahovsky said that Pylypenko, now passed away, had no experience in shipbuilding, and never had formal submarine building training. Instead, he scoured libraries to help himself with his unusual hobby.
Pylypenko used no blueprints, and often replaced spare parts used in submarines with whatever was at hand, ordering some essential spare parts like portholes at a helicopter plant in Lugansk. As a result, its ballast is made of old gas containers, while its wheels come from a trailer.
Its first dive into the local pond, with the inventor inside, brought the whole village to stare. Amazingly, it was a success and many others followed, including dives into Azov Sea to the depth of 20 meters.
Pylypenko continued playing with his submarine for 16 years, making improvements and upgrades. He got tired of it in the end, and was ready to sell his Dolphin for scrap. But, as in all good stories, the right man came at the right time to save the unique machine.
Syniahovsky, a former journalist from Kyiv, said he dreamed about being a submariner as a boy, and was amazed to realize his dream might come true in adulthood – albeit with an unexpected twist.
He bought the vessel in 2008, but won’t say how much he paid for it. He says it was “not too expensive.” He adds that private submarines are available for sale from $50,000 abroad.
“I was impressed with a romanticism of a man who worked for 16 years to incarnate his dream,” Syniahovsky explains. “There is one or two submarine enthusiasts in every country. Pylypenko was one in Ukraine.”
Syniahovsky brought the submarine to Kyiv, broke a symbolic Champagne bottle against it, and set off to make his own improvements. Originally green, the vessel got a gray paint coat, and eventually – yellow, its current color.
Yellow submarine stands in the backyard of private house, waiting for its destiny. (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)
Officially, it does not exist because there is no way to register a private submarine. But it received a new name – Redcrocky. Volodymyr Yakobson, the submarine’s boatswain, says the name derives from the ancient Carpathian legend about a prehistoric crocodile that climbed the Pip Ivan Mountain and swallowed the sun.
Syniahovsky, Yakobson and another friend tested the sub in the Kyiv Sea, a vast artificial lake north of Kyiv. The men even claim to have traveled to Mezhyhirya, a Kyiv suburb where the president’s massive controversial estate is located.
The team concluded that the submarine needed some $15,000 worth of improvements to be safe for use. They would like the vessel to become something bigger than an amusement.
They wanted to make Redcrocky the symbol of a new Ukraine, positive, technologically savvy, and eco-friendly (it runs on electricity).
“It must symbolize that Ukrainians don’t just think about down-to-earth things like bread and salo, but also about greater things. That we can reach anywhere, and underwater too,” explains Yakobson.
Syniahovsky tried to take his idea to a TV show once, but it received little enthusiasm. The same thing happened when he tried to pitch his submarine to be a part of McCartney’s show in 2008, when he came to perform in Kyiv.
“They [concert organizers] said McCartney sounded interested, but rejected the offer. He said he doesn’t perform “Yellow Submarine,” as it is Ringo Starr’s song,” Syniahovsky says. The song, in fact, was co-written by McCartney and John Lennon, and sung by Starr.
So, sitting tight in a Kyiv back yard, it pretty much has become a symbol of modern Ukraine: a cool idea with dim prospects.
Kyiv Post staff writer Olga Rudenko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org