Part IV



The equivalent of "Snowbirds" are doing aerobatics in the sky when we meet our hostess Olya at her home in Ivano-Frankivsk. We will follow her husband Roman, their daughter Svetlana and her husband Miroslav in Maryan's car to her home in Kosmach. I am aware of many road "poleetzeeah" (police) examining papers of drivers. I am told cars are stopped without cause. I was also aware that Maryan was somewhat apprehensive when approaching these officials. One positive aspect to the perceived fear of being stopped was that there was absolutely no consumption of alcohol prior to getting behind the wheel.

We talk non-stop, so the journey of approximately a hundred kilometres passes quickly.  Well .... maybe not for Bill who is privy to only synopses of the conversations. The Petro celebration is a major annual festival attracting as many as eight thousand people from surrounding regions. Still far from our destination, we notice many men, women and children walking in the same direction as we drive along. Wearing traditional costumes, they are also heading for the festival. We pull into a look-out point. It affords a good view of the picturesque valley situated in the shadow of the Carpathian mountains. I am told that in the spring, the men of the village go into the rolling hills with their cattle and do not return until October. I did not ask what the population is, but Kosmach appears to be a fairly large, well organized community.

After lunch at the home of Olya's daughter Helena and her husband Ivan, we walk a short distance to the festival. The main street is bustling with humanity. There is no doubt that I am indeed at the centre of Ukrainian culture. The majority of the people are wearing traditional dress from the surrounding villages. Each is unique in design and  I am dazzled by the wealth of colours in their elaborately embroidered outfits. All others are wearing their best clothes, except for Bill and I. I had asked Ivanka what I should take to wear. She said whatever I wished, only that I dress warm, so fancy dresses were left hanging in the closet.

As we walk, Ivanka tells me that Ivan's brother Valery will be happy to answer any questions for me. This man has a wealth of knowledge on the history of the Hutsuls.  He has this wonderful booming voice that had mesmerized me as I listened to a myriad of information. It is unfortunate that my memory is poor so I cannot recount all the interesting chronicles he shared with me. These ranged from the events that occurred when the Tartars invaded to the fact that the Hutsul language is different from traditional Ukrainian because the White Harvateh (Croates) invaded this land in 1264. As we stood talking by the community centre, Valery pointed with pride to a moustached gent, indicating that he was a very important member of the community. His appearance is reminiscent of men at the turn of the century.

There are a couple of buildings where the locals assemble. Mosaic tile is used to adorn the exterior of the old centre, but it is indoors that I go ooh! and aah!  The detail in the carved wood ceiling is extraordinary. The new centre resembles a large log cabin with fancy wood decoration. The Hutsuls are definitely skilled artisans, excelling at wood carving and embroidery. In all Ukraine, it is in this area that cultural traditions and customs have been best preserved. There are vendors at the side of the road, but unfortunately very little handiwork for sale. A pottery candle holder is purchased. The workmanship confirms it is hand made and the artist, pleased with the creation, has signed and dated the souvenir.

We return to the street as I wish to enter the Peter and Paul Church. It is so crowded that people are out on the porch listening to the service. No problem.  With me in tow, Ivanka pushes her way towards the alter in order that I may have a better view. It is very hot and muggy and we soon retreat to the outdoors. Around the church and in the street there are many Gypsies begging for change. Some wear plaster casts and others are accompanied by children who display medical abnormalities. I am told they mutilate their children in order to gain sympathy. At the end of the festivities, we noticed them all huddled together at the bus stop counting their loot.

The costumes are so wonderful that I wish to photograph some of the folks wearing them, but do not wish to offend anyone. Valery speaks to a mother and daughter from Jabeh village. The photo taken, I offer money to them. The surprise on their faces tells me this is not like Turkey or Thailand where money is expected when a photo is taken, but  I insist the elder take four hryvnia as a gift for Peter day. An hour later Valery points out that I have made her happy as she is noted pulling the money out of her change purse and fondling it. A young lad decked out in a hat with a peacock feather is asked to pose. He is from Broostooria village. I am chastised for giving him a package of gum for his trouble, so when Valery's sister in traditional Kosmach dress is photographed, I offer nothing. I am told her kerchief will fetch three to four hundred US$ as it has been handed down through the generations from mother to daughter.

It has been intermittently spitting rain, but that will not deter the concert. We are treated to wonderful choral groups, and a comedienne as well as the jocularity of the master of ceremonies.  He reads a hilarious letter supposedly written by a son to his mother. The colourful dance ensemble performs on the grass as the porch of the community centre is too small to accommodate them. The energetic Hopak dance takes me back a kazillion years to when, as a child, I too knew those steps.  Stepan Pidhirnyak, a gentleman with the most kind face read poetry he had written. An autographed copy of his work is presented to me.

We leave the festivities as they are drawing to a close and return to Ivan & Helena's home. Most of their guests join us while we are taken on a tour of  Kosmach near our host's home. This includes the house Olya purchased for her son Vasyl. A decision is made that we will stay the night and sleep in his haystack -- a first for me and Bill, so we look forward to it. We trek up a hillside and pick wild blueberries. Well, actually, Bill and I did less picking and more eating as handfuls are presented to us for consumption. Ominous clouds are forming as we return. Soon the hills turn black as coal and as promised by Vasyl a rainstorm follows.

This day is one of the highlights of our trip, as we are treated to Hutsul hospitality. Helena had stayed home to prepare the banquet. Other relatives have joined the gathering so there are about twenty of us. Roman played the violin, everyone sang, volumes of food kept appearing on the table and everyone got quite drunk. The group has re-christened Bill so his name is now Peter, and when they drink to the Saint, they are also drinking to him. Around midnight a fire is started outdoors to cook the shish-ka-bob (shashlik) that Ivanka has been soaking in an odorous garlic brine. Later the young adults head for the club to party with those of their age. Olya asks if I would like a drink of Sprite. Yes, I would, except this bottle contained home-made hooch. It is said that at 0300 I was dressed up as a Hutsul from head to toe. I hope someone took a photo as that part of the night is a blur. It was soon evident we could not make it to the haystack, so Helena and Ivan gave us their bedroom. I shall never again look at a bottle of Sprite without recalling this day.


Olya wakes us with cups of fresh, warm milk from the cow. I, suffering and dehydrated, drink two more. She has made a superb cornmeal, topped with a tasty mushroom sauce. I ignore all other food offered for breakfast and enjoy two large bowls full. The morning is cool but pleasant.  Valery and I huddle on the steps as he continues with his crash course on Hutsul history  The women don Hutsul costumes and Bill is dressed up as well. I run off a roll of film taking pictures of everyone. Last evening the family had been burdened with the devastating news that a brother living in Crimea has died. For a time they had gathered privately to mourn their loss. Despite their sorrow, they continue to ensure we are shown a good time. We are taken to a museum, the former home of Oleksa Dovbush. He is a very popular chieftain in local lore, who ensured that the people of this vast region were taken care of. He was murdered in this house, shot by a gun now on display.

The curator is Mykhailo, the moustached gent pointed out to me yesterday. The small house is crammed full of memorabilia, including Oleksa's personal items, stuff from the era that he lived, as well as some contemporary pieces. Folklore about the chieftain has been lovingly preserved by Mykhailo. We spent ages crammed in the small museum listening to him recount the life and times of Oleksa Dovbush. He demonstrates the playing of Oleksa's Trembita. This woodwind instrument is a long hollow wooden tube.  Ivan also gives us a tune and shares that it is a difficult to master the technique. I am given a sample of some nasty tasting alcohol. I am sceptical that the booze belonged to Dovbush, but am receptive to the fact that the jigger may have belonged to him. Mykhailo too has left his mark in the village. Next to the museum he has left a creative memorial to himself carved in stone. It is touching to read. He gives me a newspaper article written about him, so that I will not forget him.

We drive to another area that has a memorial to Oleksa, but it is raining so hard we do not get out of the car.  Also missed is close scrutiny of the new church. We had postponed viewing it yesterday because of all the other activities. It is a large, handsome church. The wood frame is accented with a sparkling silver roof and cupolas. These have been ornately hammered with design and  two large icons on the front are truly magnificent. Yesterday I had the pleasure of being introduced to the talented fellow who designed the church and coordinated the villagers in the building project. The car is stopped to allow me to peer through the windshield wipers. Unfortunately that will have to do. This overabundance of precipitation is depressing me.

After more food and drink and despite pleas to stay, we leave for Ivano-Frankivsk. Among the gifts presented to us is a large decorative wooden bank. The slot for putting money in has been enlarged as this bank was used by Helena and Ivan to save money to build their house and had to be cut larger to retrieve the saved funds. At Vasyl's house a wooden vase was taken off the shelf and given to us. This is another example of Ukrainians stripping their house bare in order that you may have a memento of your visit with them. It is in the Carpathian Region that wood carving is masterfully crafted. I have some fine examples of wooden boxes decorated with a multitude of geometric designs inlaid with different types of wood or carved using only one type of wood. In addition to these, other pieces I have are decorated with colourful plastic simulating beads and others are painted with portraits, flowers and animal motifs.  We had planned to visit Yaremche on our way back, but the rain will not stop and Bill has developed a nasty case of diarrhea. Entertainment tonight is watching Ukrainian dubbed movie "Field of Dreams". We are in bed before darkness sets in.

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