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A story of Roztoky, a village in the Carpathians
There are two villages in the Land of Bukovyna and in the Land of Halychyna in Western Ukraine which bear one and the same name — Roztoky. The two villages are situated on the two opposite banks of the River Cheremosh and they face each other across the water. Mariya VLAD, who hails from Roztoky on the Halychyna side, tells the story of her native village.
I wish I could paint my story as one paints pysanky, Ukrainian Easter eggs; I wish I could embroider it as one embroiders a Ukrainian traditional shirt; I wish I could unroll it as one unfolds a rushnyk, a Ukrainian traditional decorative towel. But I have only words to create my story with, not paints, nor colour threads. I think if I used paints the picture would turn out more sombre than cheerful, and if I used threads I’d have to choose dark colours rather than bright ones. Similarly to an ornament, my story will not have one straight line — but it may have a pattern.
The name and bits of history
No one knows for sure how it came about that the two villages of Roztoky ended up with one and the same name. One of the legends has it that there used to be one big village sitting in the valley but one day heavy rains began and they did not stop for days on end. The valley was flooded and the inhabitants had to move higher into the mountains. When the water subsided, the people went back to discover a river running where their village had once been. They resettled on the opposite banks of the river which they called Cheremosh and came up with the same name for their villages which is not very surprising since originally they were from one and the same settlement that earlier was called Tysova Rivnya (Yew-tree valley).
If you ask me whether I give any credence to this story, I will have to tell you that I don’t really know. As far as I am concerned, it is as good as any other story of such kind. What is known for sure is that the village of Roztoky dates from at least the fifteenth century. There is evidence that suggests that the date of the foundation should be pushed back in history to some uncertain, earlier date.
If we look deeper into history, we shall see that the region of the Carpathian Mountains was a bone of contention for centuries. In the times of old, Halychyna used to be called Chervona Rus, and it is known that foreign powers tried to overrun and capture it as a coveted prize a couple of dozen times in the past several hundred centuries.
The first well-documented attempt was made twenty-five hundred years ago when the Persian king Darius invaded the Land of the Scythians — the present-day Ukraine — but was forced to ignominiously retreat, losing most of his troops and making no territorial gains. Later, during the massive Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century, the invaders also failed to impose their rule in Halychyna. During the War of Independence in the middle of the seventeenth century, Halychyna saw some fighting too. According to some sources, the Cossack forces that fought against the Poles in Halychyna numbered about 40,000 troops.
The Cossacks that came to settle down in Halychyna from the east of Ukraine, fleeing from the Russian or Turkish oppression, brought with themselves the spirit of fierce independence and military know-how. Thus the freedom-loving nature of the Halychyna people received a considerable boost.
Though the land of Halychyna in the past several centuries was never fully autonomous or independent, and was nominally a part of bigger states or state conglomerations like the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, it retained a high level of autonomy, and with but little interference from outside, Halychyna preserved its customs and traditions until quite recent times almost intact. It was only when the Soviets came that the eroding of the old traditions began.
The place where the village is situated is of a great, breathtaking beauty. It’s not only my opinion — anybody who comes to Roztoky says the same. When the outstanding Ukrainian writer Lesya Ukrayinka travelled to the Carpathians in the early twentieth century, she stopped on the top of the mountains that overlooks the valley with Roztoks down below, and found the place to be of such unimaginable beauty that she said that the place should have no other name but Beauty Incarnate.
At present there are 1,991 people registered as living in Roztoky on the Halychyna side. But in the picture that Ihor Haiday took recently you can see only 199 villagers. And it is not because Haiday could not get all the villagers into one picture — his camera and his technique of taking photographs are at such a greatly advanced stage of technology and superb mastery that he could have squeezed all of the inhabitants of Roztoky into his picture. Out of 1991 people only 199 are actually living in the village — the rest have left in search of a better life (for more details about the picture see an accompanying article about Ihor Haiday and his amazing photo project).
There were times when people of the village of Roztoky used to live quite a comfortable life by the Carpathian standards — they had cows and sheep, bred to be sold and for their own needs; they had enough land for pasture, for growing vegetables, and for cutting timber. Their families were large, with up to fifteen children, with everyone getting more than enough to eat. But the economic hardships of the recent years changed their life drastically — there was no work and no prospects for the future any more in the village of Roztoky. Some of the villagers have gone to Russia to seek employment as construction workers; others have gone to the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Italy to earn money doing whatever odd jobs they could find. Some even have gone to Canada and the USA. Only the old and the very young have stayed in the village of Roztoky. Once in a while some of those who work abroad come back to Roztoky for short visits — and leave again.
I remember well the 1940s and the 1950s when during the war and after it, the units of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIA) fought, first, against the Nazis and the Soviets, and then, when the Nazis had left, they continued fighting the Soviets. I know that at least one thousand UIA fighters were killed in the vicinity of my village.
There is an outcropping of rock in the mountains which is called Sokilske and situated not far from the village. It was made famous by the insurrectionists back in the eighteenth century who had their base there. In October 1950, one of the Roztoky villagers, and a UIA fighter, Fedir Belmeha, was captured on Sokilske Rock by the members of a KGB punitive detachment. Belmeha jumped down from the rock, pulling down with him several of his captors. They fell to their death from a height of 873 metres. May the memory of Belmeha’s feat live long in our memory.
Western Ukraine was occupied by the Soviets in September 1939 and the resistance movement arose soon after the occupation had begun. UIA fighters fought on well into the nineteen-fifties though the odds were heavily against them. When the armed resistance had been finally crushed by the superior Soviet forces, resistance to the Soviet system continued to smoulder in the hearts of the people.
Many of my fellow villagers spent twenty-five years in the Soviet Gulag for either supporting the resistance movement or for taking part in it. Among them was my aunt, Hafiya Vlad-Krylchuk who had been a UIA messenger and runner. She did not die in a concentration camp somewhere in Siberia as millions of others did in Gulag camps, but she could walk only with difficulty — her feet had been frostbitten. She, alongside many other women, had been made to work felling trees in the most severe winter weather when the temperature dropped dozens of degrees below zero.
But the Soviets failed to break the spirit of my fellow villagers; they failed to make us forget the traditions and culture of our ancestors, but they did destroy the flower of the Hutsul young people. They killed the priests, they killed those who refused to bend to their pressure. The Soviets conducted a systematic policy of destroying the freedom-loving Hutsul people.
I remember a day in the winter of 1947 when I walked out of our house to discover that the snow drifts in our yard were taller than me. I heard the brutal noise and weeping coming from the house next door — our neighbours, the Krylchuks were being thrown out of their own house. Later I learnt that they were to be sent into exile in the wilderness of the distant land of Kazakhstan. The old man was holding his granddaughter, whose parents had either died or had been killed, in his arms. I saw that the little girl had no winter clothes on and that her feet were bare; her grandmother was rummaging in the few small bags looking for something and mumbling incoherently to herself. She looked like a person who had taken leave of her senses. There was a truck standing in the street and several armed men stood by. The little girl and her grandfather survived the exile and a dozen years later came back to our village. The girl’s grandmother did not return. But there was somebody else living in their house and the local Soviet authorities turned a deaf ear to the old man’s and his granddaughter’s pleas for help.
I know of several families from our village who were sent into exile to Kazakhstan. Those who had survived and come back, told harrowing stories of having to dig shelters in the frozen ground with whatever could be used for digging, spoons and forks included. Only a few had not succumbed to hunger and cold and found jobs in the mines or elsewhere.
My mother also expected to be arrested and had those things that could be taken along and bags to pack them in at the ready. But we were spared for some reason.
I also remember that some of the Soviet activists were killed in the retaliatory actions conducted by the UIA fighters but the number of UIA fighters killed by the Soviets exceeded the number of Soviets killed by the UIA many times over.
Past and present
Now, with most of its inhabitants gone, the village of Roztoky seems to be entirely cut off from the rest of the civilized world. It is difficult to believe that once a railroad track ran past the village. The railroad track was built sometimes during the First World War. My maternal uncle, Nykolay, who died in 2005 at the age of 98, had told me about it, and one of the villagers, Yelena Tanaskova, who died at the age of 101, had actually worked at the construction of this railroad line. When she was still alive she told me that the track ran not far from her house and that “every time the train passed, the engine whistled and made all other kinds of loud, disturbing sounds.”
Nykolay remembered well that the railroad line connected several villages, one of them, Ustyeriky rather high in the mountains, and the town of Vyzhnytsya in Bukovyna. On one of the particularly steep slopes, the engine often stalled and then another engine, much smaller — “it looked like a stove” — would come to push the train from behind.
The village of Roztoky used to have even telephones, not mobile, of course, but stationary. My grandfather Myron told me that he had been involved in laying down the telephone lines. These lines went up even to the pastures high up in the mountains.
These days the children of Roztoky have cell phones, their link with their parents working in far away countries. Their grandparents watch television, their only source of information about the outside world.
I have several faded photographs, reminders of the bygone era. In one of them you can see one of my fellow villagers, Onufry Lukanyuk. He was a handsome man, tall and well-built. He served in the Austrian-Hungarian army. He had been conscripted well before WWI, fought in that war, survived and retuned to Roztoky.
Soon after his return, several of his neighbours came to the local priest and begged him to go to Onufry’s house and perform exorcism by sprinkling holy water around the place. They told the priest that Onufry had brought with him “from the war” a box in which there lived a little devil who sang, played music, laughed and talked German. Also, Onufry had a bag full of silent little devils — he was seen putting one of those little devils into the box. People were scared to come close to Onufry’s house and when they had to walk by it, they skirted around it keeping as far away as possible. “He used to be a good Christian, and look what this war has done to him! Now he is the devil’s brother!”
The priest went to check and see for himself what was going on in Onufry’s house. Onufry showed him “the box,” which turned out to be a radio, and the bag, which contained spare batteries for it. The priest was impressed — he had read about radios in a newspaper, but sprinkled the house with holy water — just in case.
During his next sermon on a Sunday, he told his congregation that he had ascertained that “the box” was a thing called “radio” — a recent invention — and that it could talk and sing without any devils sitting inside; neither were there any devils in the bag — those little things in it were called “batteries” and they were like “food for the radio.”
The faithful listened to the priest’s explanations, were somewhat assured by his having sprinkled the house with holy water, but it took them quite some time to come to terms with “the talking box.” “If there’s no devil inside — what is that food in the bag for?”
In another old photograph in my collection, one can see two prominent Ukrainian writers of the early twentieth century — Oleksandr Oles, and Mykhailo Kotsyubynsky. Unfortunately, the quality of the print is poor and the faces are two small. In 1912, they went on a hike in the Carpathians and Oles travelled part of the way on a raft going down the Cheremosh. He stopped at Roztoky. Later, he wrote, “I met so many wonderful people. They have preserved their free spirit, their beautiful traditions and customs… I was going down the river on a raft and Kotsybynsky followed me on land. Rafting turned out to be quite safe and a lot of fun.” Both the writers described in their writings the beauty of the Carpathians and hard life of the people who lived there.
My mother Odokiya was last but one among the fourteen children in the family of a well-to-do villager of Roztoky Myron Orynchuk. Unlike most of his fellow villagers, he was literate and wanted my mother to get a good education. But she attended school only for some time; then it was decided that she was needed at home — every pair of hands mattered. Mother learnt to do the needlework at an early age; she knew how to do many other things, weaving and spinning included. Being on the distaff side meant learning many skills.
Mother had a sharp mind; she was very observant and if the stories and fairy tales she told me had been written down and published, they would have filled several volumes.
One of her stories was about Doomsday. Once, at the end of the hay-making season, there sprang up a rumour in the village that on that day the end of the world would come. Neighbours, mostly women with their children — men were at work — gathered at my grandfather’s place; his was the biggest house in that neighbourhood. They had put on their Sunday best and spent the day in prayer, asking each other the forgiveness for anything they might have done wrong, and appealed to God to forgive their sins. When the dusk fell, they drifted back to their homes, feeling paradoxically disappointed that the Doomsday had not come and that Last Judgement was delayed until uncertain time in the future.
My native village of Roztoky lives on. My brother Mykola lives in our ancestral house. Every summer several tourists among those who go on tourist hikes in the Carpathians come to stay at our house. He provides them with fresh milk and takes them on guided tours to the mountains. He tells me that they are so happy to be able to live a week or two away from urban civilization and imbibe the beauty of nature and enjoy the warmth and simplicity of rural life.
The author of this essay is grateful to Yevdokiya Kovilyovska, head teacher of the secondary school in Roztoky, and to Oksana Lukanyuk, history teacher of this school, who are enthusiastic researchers of the history of Roztoky, for providing valuable historical materials and advice.
Photos by Ihor HAIDAY and from Mariya VLAD’s archive
Roztoky villagers, members of the national
Peasant families of the village of Roztoky.
Hafiya Vlad Krylchuk, (left), a UIA fighter who was
These Roztoky villagers were exiled
UIA fighters attended a church service disguised
Nykolay Orynchuk got married when he was over fifty
Onufry Lukanyuk in a photograph
Irynka Dyklevska, 3, one of the youngest
Mykola Vlad and his son Volodymyr
Some of the passengers on this raft were Ukrainian
Odokiya Orynchuk and her sister
Ihor Haiday’s Photo Project
Mariya VLAD tells of her meeting Ihor Haiday, the remarkable photographer who has taken a collective photograph of the inhabitants of her native village of Roztoky.
“I myself make my own life and work exciting and interesting.”
Ihor Haiday is one of the most remarkable photo artists in Ukraine today. Among his many achievements are art photo projects Ukrainians at the Beginning of the Third Millennium and The Cosmos of the Ukrainian Sky. They are outstanding creations of the art of photography. Haiday’s new project is a most ambitious one. Haiday takes pictures of large groups of people, up to several hundred in one picture, who have one common feature — place of residence, occupation, social status, age, or anything else that may be regarded unifying in some way.
“The main thing is to have an idea that unites people,” says Haiday.
He has already taken several of such pictures. One of them was the photograph of residents of the village of Roztoky, my native place.
I travelled with Ihor Haiday and his wife Nina to Roztoky in his car. They turned out to be people of high moral principles and of philosophical depth. These qualities did not show in them right away, and the first impression was that of them being just nice and open-hearted people but the more we talked, the more their initial simplicity revealed profound depths. Nina proved to be a person who shared her husband’s views and aspirations.
“I want those who look at the photographs I take to understand what kind of people they are looking at in the photograph, not just to see their appearance. I want to reveal the innermost in the people whose pictures I take. I give everyone a chance to reveal themselves, I provoke them into such revelations… Every person radiates a sort of energy which you can feel looking at their photograph — my technique and my equipment make it possible to capture this energy… An art photographer should know how to translate an idea, a thought into the actual photographic print. It’s not enough to have an interesting idea, it’s not enough to have an interesting thought — you also have to have the skill necessary to capture your ideas and thoughts in the photographs you take. But to achieve good results you have to know how to bring all these things together…”
“You seem to focus on people in your photography rather than, say, on landscapes, or still-lives…”
“I do — because the human being is the greatest creation of God on earth. We possess the soul, we have special, human energy that we radiate, and I’m after capturing the reflections of the soul and emanations of this energy in photographs. Both the soul and the art of photography have light as their primary source… I’m fascinated with people. I wish I could take pictures of thousands upon thousands of people… I want as many people as possible in other countries and in our land to know and understand what kind of people, we, Ukrainians, are. And I hope my photographs may help them in coming to that understanding…”
Ihor Haiday has had his photographs shown at exhibitions in Germany, France, Poland, Switzerland and other countries.
He lives in Kyiv and his private studio at 22 Prorezna Street right in the centre of the city is a witness of his never-stopping creative efforts.
Celebrating Easter at Roztoky, with villagers lining up to have
Ihor Haiday’s photograph of 199 inhabitants