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The Pasture Where the Clouds Graze


The clouds were hanging low above the mountains  so low that they seemed to be about to fall down to earth. The clouds challenged, lured and excited imagination. One cloud transformed into a slim figure of a girl in a bridal dress  but a moment later it became a trembling white-gray chaos. A few moments later several clouds merged to form a herd of sheep that were moving in all directions, running away from a hapless shepherd, hiding among the heavenly boulders.

I wished I could go up there to wander among the clouds, to touch them, to lie down on one of them, close my eyes and give myself to Carpathian dreams.

We climbed to a dizzy height, stopped, stood on our tiptoes, spread our arms and filled the lungs with the mountain air  it was like absorbing freedom into our lungs. The crisp air made my head spin. The clouds, the heights, and the air are the greatest attractions of the Carpathians

We were in Kryvorivnya, in the very heart of the Carpathians, where the River Chorny Cheremosh and the River Bily Cheremosh exchange calls to one another , where people of no formal education become philosophers, poets and dreamers, where strong characters are developed, and where rebellious and freedom-loving spirit lives.

There, in the heart of the mountains, all the petty worries and grumblings ceased to matter and I felt so proud of being Ukrainian, of living in Ukraine, that I felt like shouting out so loud that the whole world would hear, I was born in Ukraine! Im a Ukrainian!

We went on our hike along the mountain ridge, up hill, down dale, in the direction the clouds were traveling. Once in a while we had to pass among the Hutsul houses, neat and well-taken care of, and we felt we were trespassing. If anybody appeared in our way, we politely asked whether it was all right for us to pass there. The Hutsuls thus asked looked perplexed at the first moment, but a moment later flashed at us a welcoming smile. Sure its all right, go ahead!

The locals are always happy to tell you, if you ask them, the history of their village or of the area they live in. Ivan Franko (prominent Ukrainian poet, writer and thinker of the late nineteenth  early twentieth century  tr.) appears to be the cultural figure that the locals keep undying memory of and respect most.

When we met a sixteen-year-old, fair-haired girl whose name was Maryna, one of the first things she said was, The poet  Franko, that is  used to sit and rest at this very place. She pointed to a huge rock on the slope. How do you know? we asked, and the girl answered, My great-grandma told me and she had been told by her mother. Seeing that we wanted to hear more, she continued, Franko came here for the first time in 1901, his friend, ethnographer Hnatyuk, had advised him to go and see our village and the surroundings. Franko liked the village so much that he kept coming here every summer for several years, from 1901 to 1914 well, not exactly every summer, but he missed only the summers of 1905 and 1908 The girl stopped, not sure we were interested enough in her story, but looking around and seeing the expression in our eyes, she resumed her story, At first, Franko lived in the house of Hutsul Protsya Mitchuk who was said to be a sort of a sorcerer. He knew how to heal people and animals, he knew Hutsul legends and stories of old. Then Franko chose to live in the house of Vasyl Yakibyuk, a wood carver and amateur photographer. Vasyl also knew herbs with medicinal properties well. His house was situated on the left bank of the Chorny Cheremosh River. Franko worked a lot, writing his essays, poems and prose. He liked to go mushroom-hunting in the forest. He would get up very early in the morning, pick up a basket and go. And once in a while he did some fishing and hiking in the mountains. One of the places he went to was Pysany Kamin, on Mount Vatanarka. From that place you could easily cross to Austria, or Hungary or Rumania.

Maryna told us about the hrazhda (house), in which her great-great-grandmother lived. That house appears in the film Tini zabutykh predkiv (The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors; this film, directed by Serhiy Paradzhanov, was a very significant milestone in the history of filmmaking in Ukraine; the film won many international awards). When she took us to see the house, which is still standing, I felt my heart beat fast  I was in the presence of great historical and cultural continuity.

We were allowed to sit down on the bench, which is two hundred years old, to hold a jug which was no younger. I wished we could sit there and listen to Marynas stories for a long time.

For the night we stayed at the house of Halyna and Vasyl who served a delicious Hutsul dinner and told us Hutsul stories. They spoke highly of the older generations who had remained loyal to Ukraine and its spirit through all the trials and tribulations. They suggested we go see Teodosiya Plytka-Sorokhan who had seen a lot in her life and had always kept Ukraine in her heart. Dmytro, Halynas father, offered to take us there.

On the way he recalled how happy they  Teodosiya and he  had been when they had sung spivanky and kolyadky (folk songs and carols). And then he burst into a song, loud, melodious and vibrant that soared high to the skies. The air was filled with fragrances coming from smereky (coniferous trees of the Carpathians  tr.) and with freshness from the approaching rain. The small wooden house we came to stood lonely by a huge cherry tree  it seemed to have come out of my dreams! Dmytro knocked and asked whether anybody was home. Come in, come in, dont stand in the doorway, came the answer.

On the verandah we saw two kittens that sought refuge there from the rain. One was black, and the other white and gray  all the contrasting colors of life. They sat close to each other, giving each other the warmth of their bodies. When we entered the house, we saw an old woman sitting on her bed, a Bible in her hands.

I did not know what to expect. My thoughts were scattered like an unruly herd of sheep.

I looked around  there were embroidered and painted pictures hanging on the walls; photographs in simple wooden frames; a Hutsul decorative towel draping a portrait of Taras Shevchenko; several books on the table; a burning candle and a portrait of Franko sitting by the candle.

After the introductions, the old woman began to tell the story of her life  she had lived a hard life under Polish and then soviet occupation; she was arrested in 1946 for anti-soviet and Ukrainian bourgeois nationalist sentiments and taken to Kolyma in the north of Russia for ten years of hard labor. Before leaving, I kissed the door of my house and promised myself to come back. My eyes were full of tears, and I could not see where I was taken Look at these things (she showed us an old, white yellowed by time, embroidered shirt, an embroidered towel, a large red headscarf with embroidered flowers in bright colors)  I embroidered them when I lived in Kolyma. I had to hide my embroideries from the local authorities  but I am happy I managed to do it and bring them back with me Her voice quivered  she was on the verge of tears telling us her story. She wanted so much to have children, to see them grow, to be happy in the knowledge that the time would come for them to get married, and at the wedding ceremony they would stand for good luck on a decorative towel that she would embroider for the occasion  but fate dictated differently. She was not blessed with children.

The old woman asked me to put on the shirt and headscarf. I see that you have a photo camera with you  show me how to take a picture of you. And youll have something to remember me by. I did as she asked me to do.

That visit was carved onto the memory of my soul.

The old woman picked up a guitar and started to play and sing  the first song was about mother, and we all wept listening to it, tears burning the cheeks and the heart.

At her advanced age, Teodosiya Andriyivna takes care of herself  and of the museum of the late Paraska Plytka-Horytsvit, her old friend and book publisher.

Every night, before going to bed I look at the sky, searching with my gaze the star that sends me its good wishes, and I look at the clouds that graze at the pasture of the sky, said the old woman.

When we left, I looked up and saw that the clouds were hanging very low above the mountains, so low they seemed to be about to fall down to earth. The clouds challenged imagination and formed into chimerical shapes.



Photos by the author


Inspiration Given by the Crimea


Nina DANYLCHENKO from the city of Dnipropetrovsk joins the Welcome to Ukraine and Mizhnarodny Turyzm contest for the best story about Ukraine with this essay about the Crimea.

Everyone has their own way of looking at the world. I personally get the highest emotional charge from observing my native land. Also, I never stop being impressed by emergence and decline of civilizations on earth. Great cities, temples, which are wonders of the world, luxurious palaces and poor hovels  all are turned to dust by time, war and neglect. Civilizations of the past do not disappear completely  they leave behind stones and texts which are witnesses to their existence and glory.

On the southern coast of the Crimea, not far from the city of Sevastopol, we find the ruins of an ancient Greek city. Chersonesus was its name. It was founded by the Greeks in the 6th century and refunded in the fifth. Prosperous from the 4th century BC, it maintained a free constitution of the Greek type and fought for its continued independence against the Scythians, against the native Tauri of the southern Crimea, and against the kings of Bosporus in the west. It traded with Athens and cities on the Pontic coast, and with Delos, Rhodes, and Delphi. Under the Roman Empire, Chersonesus was treated as a free city protected by the Bosporan king; a Roman military station guarded its considerable grain trade. The city continued to flourish under the Byzantine Empire. Uninhabited since the 14th century, the site of the city contains the remains of ancient temples, walls, foundations of buildings, and ruins of churches of Byzantine times.

In the chronicles of Kyivan Rus, Chersonesus is mentioned as Korsun, a center of culture and Christianity. It was in Korsun that the Grand Duke of Kyiv Volodymyr was converted to Christianity in the late tenth century. A church devoted to St Volodymyr was built in recent times at the site where the church in which the Duke (later beatified) was believed to have been baptized.

It was in Chersonesus that Duke Volodymyr married a Byzantine princess, Anna. This marriage confirmed a very high status of the Kyivan ruler in the then European world. I have read somewhere that the Byzantine emperor conferred a title of basileus (tsar) upon Volodymyr but during a guided tour of Chersonesus that I joined on my visit there this fact was not mentioned.

Grand Duke Volodymyr brought Christianity to the lands he ruled, thus putting Kyivan Rus on a par with other Christian states of Europe. The evidence of the might of Kyivan Rus was in the fact that the daughters of his successor to the throne of Kyiv were married to west European monarchs. And it all started in Chersonesus! When in Chersonesus, I was thrilled by more than history  what a joy it was to watch the spectacular sunset whose last rays played on the impressive ruins!

One of the most marvelous memories of my trips to the southern Crimean coast are the Crimean nights with the huge full moon hanging low above the horizon and the myriads of scintillations dancing in the trail of light the moon casts on the dark waters. As the moon climbs higher into the sky, you begin to discern the outlines of the distant mountains, resting after the heat of the day, and the ubiquitous cypresses in the shady parks that give respite from the heat of the sun during the day. At night they look like huge black candles or fairy-tale guards standing along the roads.

There is a place on the southern Crimean coast that I like in particular  it is called Promontory Ai-Todor. There, on a huge rock, high above the sea, sits what looks like a fairy-tale castle  it is known as the Swallows Nest. Now, it houses a restaurant and is a great tourist attraction. Walking through the nearby park, which rivals a botanical garden, you discover a fancy building in the romantic style of the early twentieth century. The park with several buildings of more recent construction of blander architecture that can be glimpsed among the trees of exotic species, used to be an estate, called Harax, of the relatives of the Russian Imperial family. These days it is what in Ukraine is called sanatoriy  a combination of a rest home and health-improvement center complete with doctors and medical equipment and facilities.

Harax is not only an exceptionally beautiful place; it also is a place that boasts a history, recorded in ancient texts and artifacts unearthed by archeology, of at least two thousand years.

There is a lighthouse that sits on the highest point of the promontory. It lights the way for the ships that sail along the Crimean coast at night. In the Byzantine times, there used to be a monastery dedicated to St Theodore. The name got changed to Ai-Todor in the language of the Tartars who later settled in the area.

In the Roman times, there was a fortress sitting on the tip of the promontory. It was surrounded by two circles of defensive walls and ramparts. The Roman garrison there was one of the ancient Roman outposts on the southern Crimean coast. Archeologists of the twentieth century unearthed the ruins of the Roman fortifications, foundations of a temple and of a Roman bath, hundreds of artifacts, from coins to shards and whole vessels. Taking a walk in Harax is like taking a walk in an open air historical and archeological museum. And in that museum there grow trees which are several hundred years old! Laurels, cedars, sequoias, cypresses fill the air with their noble and heady fragrances.

The central mansion in the park of Harax that dates from the early twentieth century, a Pompeii-style peristyle, Roman ruins, a small museum in the library of one of the later-twentieth-century buildings in the park form a chain of cultural continuity that spans twenty hundred years.

The estate of Harax used to belong to Grand Duke Grigoriy Mikhailovich Romanov who also happened to be one of the founders of the Russian Art Museum in St Petersburg. One of his hobbies was collecting coins. Tsar Nicholas II visited his relative Grigoriy Mikhailovich at the estate of Harax a couple of times. In 1918, the estate was nationalized and turned into a sanatoriy.

The museum in the library gives an overview of the history of Harax from the Roman times down to our days, and lists famous people who either visited Harax or spent their holidays there. For many poets and writers Harax was a source of creative inspiration. Among the literati who visited or vacationed in Harax were the Russian futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, the Ukrainian poet Pavlo Tychyna, the Ukrainian playwright Oleksandr Korneychuk, the Ukrainian author Vanda Vasylevska, the Ukrainian writers Petro Panch and Oles Honchar, and Maksym Rylsky.

There is some magic in Harax that makes those who have visited it, at least once, come again and again.

Maksym Rylsky wrote poems in Harax, one of which runs like this:

The evening lights

Run over the darkened, troubled water.

Nature goes quiet,

But songs of the young fly over the sea

Like sails to the horizon.


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