Michael J. Weed says,
"This is not possible. Unless he were touching the wire it seems
unlikely he would have shocked himself, because fresh water does not
conduct electricity. You can test this yourself! Fill a plastic pop
bottle with fresh water and poke a nail in each end. Attach a battery
to one end and a flashlight bulb to the other. You will see that it
does NOT light up. Open the bottle and add a lot of salt, and try
again -- now it DOES light up. No salt, no ions, no conduit."
Darwin responds, "How much salt would the
river need? You can often taste salinity even miles upstream from a
river's mouth on the ocean. Does anyone live near the River Tereblya,
who can perform Michael's lightbulb test?"
Colin contributes "Completely pure water
has a resistivity of 182kOhm-m2/m but river water can have a
resistivity 100-3000 times lower than this value. Given a domestic
supply voltage of 230V, a best case resistivity of 1.82kOhm-m2/m and
the wires a metre apart in a river with a cross sectional area of 1
metre squared, the current produced would be 126 milliamps which is
more than enough to kill. Ukranian rivers are not renowned for their
cleanliness, so the resistivity is likely to be much lower than this
example and therefore the potential currents much higher."