A Ukrainian Summer: where to go, what to do...

Exploring Bukovyna, a picturesque treat in the southwest corner of Ukraine

by Ksenia Rychtycka

Riding the Bukovyna train from Kyiv to this southwest corner of Ukraine is not for those fidgety travelers on a tight schedule or impatient souls used to zipping cross-country at breakneck speeds, since this route is marked by a vast series of stop-and-go and oh yes, stop-and-wait-and-wait, station points. But the city of Chernivtsi, the picturesque treat located at the end of the 16-hour trip, is well-worth the time spent in transit. This quaint university town, with its narrow, hilly streets that look like they were especially designed for adventure seekers looking for a spot to try out their homemade sleds, is only the gateway to scenic vistas and villages where hospitality greets you at every step.

This foray out of Kyiv allowed me to glimpse the vitality and strong sense of community that exists in Ukraine's smallest cities and villages. These are also the places where long-held holiday traditions have been presented and hearing Ukrainian spoken all around is the rule rather than the exception. But be forewarned, upon arrival at Chernivtsi's neighboring villages, even shy, big-city lovers must be prepared to step out from the shadows and into the limelight of community life. For no one is allowed to feel like an anonymous stranger here. And village churches are no exception to the rule as pathways are cleared and one is prodded, albeit gently, to the very front - the coveted place of honor.

Quaint and quintessential

Spread across both banks of the Prut river, Chernivtsi offers a wealth of attractions to visitors - various styles of churches, museums, the residence of the metropolitan located on the grounds of the Chernivtsi University, and a baroque Viennese-style music and drama theater - that have not diminished over the years. Even Lesia Ukrainka, right before she set off to visit her friend, the Chernivtsi writer Olha Kobylianska, wrote in a letter to her mother that she couldn't wait to finally set foot in this enchanting city.

For architecture buffs, the most impressive sight is the residence, which combines Romanesque and Byzantine styles with motifs from Ukrainian folk art. History buffs, on the other hand, might find it interesting that Mazepa's troops spent the winter of 1709-1710 here after their defeat at the Battle of Poltava.

And although the city has produced many outstanding writers such as Yurii Fedkovych and Sydir Vorobkevych, my personal favorite was the Kobylianska museum, located in the house where this noted writer lived for many years. Personal items from her life are displayed here, including a glass jar that still contains water from the Black Sea that Kobylianska always dreamed of seeing, but for one reason or another, was forced to content herself with the small souvenir she received as a gift.

Traditions and friendly faces

The selo of Luzhany, just a 20-minute car ride from Chernivtsi, is an example of a close-knit group of residents, led by the local Soyuz Ukrainok branch, working together through school, church and community projects - raising money to build a new church, organizing poetry readings and jam-packed concerts featuring local singing and dance talents, publishing school journals, hosting kids from eastern Ukraine so they could experience a traditional western Ukrainian Christmas. The list is endless.

Overall, there is a strong work ethic here, a sense that despite present-day difficulties, people are more in control of their lives and their future. In fact, most of the villagers have sons, daughters, or even husbands and wives who have gone abroad for a time, earning money so houses can be renovated or built, cars can be purchased, families and especially elderly parents can be helped, and vital nest eggs can be fattened.

Ukraine's movie star

Thirty minutes away from Luzhany, higher up in the Carpathian mountains, lies the village of Chortoriya. There is an overwhelming sense of calm here that makes one want to linger, breathe in the fresh air. This is the village where award-winning actor and director Ivan Mykolaichuk was born. The house where the star of such films as "Tini Zabutykh Predkiv" and "Zakhar Berkut" lived has been turned into a museum by his sister, Mariyka.

The museum is small, filled with personal objects, photos and newspaper clippings of an actor who not only performed a role but stepped into the shoes of his characters, even digging his own grave if the role called for it. Nearby is the larger house that Mykolaichuk built for his sister and mother before his death in 1987 and where his sister greets unexpected guests. His mother is still alive and smiles that visitors from as far away as the U.S. have long been familiar with her son's work.

His sister would like to do more to modernize the small museum, but as in so many other places in Ukraine, there is the problem of money. It is not an easy task, keeping alive the memory and genius of a dearly missed brother, but in the end, it is here, in this village, that one of Ukraine's strongest talents emerged and it is here, in this region, where despite everything, an indomitable spirit still reigns.

A Ukrainian Summer

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Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, June 7, 1998, No. 23, Vol. LXVI

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