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Hryhoriy Hurtovy, curator of a local lore museum

 

A Ukrainian culture enthusiast, Hryhoriy Hurtovy, is the founder and current director of the Local History and Lore Museum in the town of Torchyn, land of Volyn. Lyudmyla Kravchuk, a graduate student of the Lutsk National Technical University, recently visited the museum and now she has a story to tell.

 

Hryhoriy Hurtovy is 85 years old but his age does not in any way diminish his physical vigor and his cultural enthusiasm age. What now is a museum began as his private collection of local curios, artifacts, documents and anything else that reflected the local history and culture.

In the 1950s, he worked at a regional newspaper, Vilna Ukrayina (Free Ukraine), and whenever he had an opportunity to do so, he traveled to the countryside, looking for historical artifacts and for stories from the times of old, stories about life and destinies of the locals. I wrote articles about my findings and had them published, and soon, people of all ages, even schoolchildren, started to come to my office bringing all sorts of things  antique weapons, old books, diaries, memoirs, photos, documents and other things. I talked to the old timers, asking them to tell me whatever they could remember from the past times. I hoped against hope that my modest collection would one day become big enough to earn the status of a museum.

Hryhoriy Hurtovys dream has come true. After many years of being a constantly growing private collection which was kept in a small private house, now it is a museum that contains about 15,000 museum items, which can be thematically subdivided into 95 sections. Most of the items were either given to Mr Hurtovy free of charge or presented to him, or to the museum.

 

Famine and concentration camp

Hryhoriy Hurtovy was born in 1924, in the village of Korniyivtsi in the Land of Zaporizhzhya. Among his ancestors were the free Cossacks of Zaporizhzhya Sich; his parents were hard-working peasants. He survived the Great Famine of 19321933, a man-made disaster caused by the soviet genocidal intentions and mismanagement, when at least a third of the inhabitants of his native village died of hunger. He married a nurse, and recently they have celebrated sixty years of happy and lasting marriage.

During World War II, he was captured by the occupying Germans and was thrown into a German concentration camp. He survived the second terrible ordeal in his life too, and after three years in captivity, he regained freedom and returned to Ukraine. He was educated as a history teacher. After a number of odd jobs, he came to work for a local newspaper and he could pursue his historical and cultural interests. Later, when he worked as a teacher, he organized a history hobby group at his school. He was also welcome at the local history museum where he worked in archives and helped organize exhibitions. He, as a historian in his own right, wrote articles, essays and books, and had over 600 of them published; among his books were Volyn kray kozatsky (Volyn As a Land of Cossacks), Istoriya mist i sil Lutskoho rayonu (A History of Villages and Towns in the Land of Lutskivshchyna), and Yevreyi mistechka Torchyn (Jews of the Town of Torchyn), to mention the most important ones.

 

Tour of the museum

Hryhoriy Hurtovy, evidently encouraged by my genuine interest, took me on a guided tour of his museum (at one point of the tour, I was about to ask him how it felt to have given his private collection to the state and instead of the owner to be just a custodian, but I did not ask that question  I could see that the venerable old man still thought of the museum and its collection as his).

In the first section of the museum that one should begin a tour from, I saw a lot of stones modified by prehistoric ancestors of humans to serve them as scrapers, knives or for many other everyday purposes. The reproductions of pictures, painted by modern painters under the guidance of anthropologists, depicted pre-humans and humans at various stages of their development, caves and other abodes, their hunts and their prey. One of the explanatory notes drew my attention. It said that there was no universally accepted theory in the scientific community concerning the origins of life on Earth in general, and the development of humans in particular. I asked my guide who wrote all these explanatory notes and captions and Hryhoriy Hurtovy said that most of them had been written by him. I thought they might encourage the visitors to think, not just passively accept facts or statements.

Now look here, he went on. See that piece of ivory? Its a tusk of a wooly mammoth! I found it myself. I was convinced that if I searched for it at the places where I was likely to find bones of mammoths or other prehistoric animals, sooner or later Id be lucky. It did take a lot of time and a lot of digging in ravines, landslides and other such places, but it was a stroke of good luck that presented me with a prize for my efforts. At a site where a big factory was to be built, they were digging a huge and deep hole in the ground for the factorys foundation. I asked to be allowed to have a look before they went on with their work. The bulldozers driver took a smoke break and in no time I discovered scattered and broken bones which proved to be those of a mammoth! Unfortunately, most of the bones were badly damaged by the bulldozer, but I was able to salvage teeth, a jaw and a tusk! I think it was the first discovery of a mammoth in the Land of Volyn!

In another section of the museum, I was shown two coins which were minted by Phillip II of Macedonia, the conqueror of Greece and father of Alexander the Great. These coins date from the fourth century BC. They were discovered on the bank of the River Sarna, not far from the town of Torchyn. It is impossible to say at what time in history they found their way to our lands but they may suggest that there was some long-distance trade going on at the time when Volyn was thought to be a land of impenetrable forests and wild beasts, very scarcely populated, if at all! Or look at these Roman coins which are not much too younger than the Greek-Macedonian coins. We have almost a thousand of them, only few of which are displayed. The cache of Roman coins was discovered in the vicinity of the village of Boratyn in 1928. I believe that a cache of an almost thousand Roman coins, buried at the place where it was discovered, is a strong evidence of a rather brisk trade that once went on between the people who lived here and in the outside world! And it shows that there is so much yet to learn about the history of these lands of ours!

I was led to a showcase in which sat an earthenware vessel that looked like an amphora. This vessel, which was unearthed in 1973 at the compound of a tractor-repair shop, is believed to date from about fifteen hundred years BC. Some schoolchildren who were history enthusiasts, helped me restore it. The signs that you can see on it are believed to be a sort of an ancient calendar. This vessel and a number of other artifacts are attributed to the so-called Trypillya culture which was thought to have existed in other parts of Ukraine, but not in Volyn. Archeologist and historians are in for many surprises when they begin to study the history of Volyn in a more comprehensive and deeper  both metaphorically and literal sense  manner.

The section that deals with the history of Torchyn and its environs is naturally the pride of the collection. In the sixteenth century, Torchyn and fourteen villages in its vicinity were in the local bishops possession. In the years 15381541, this bishop, Heorhiy Falchevsky, had a huge castle, new fortifications for the town, and a new nine-dome church built  all of it with his own money. He addressed the then Polish king Sigismund, who held Volyn under his jurisdiction, with a request to grant Torchyn the status of a city and the Magdeburg Law. Both were granted. The defensive structures, erected thanks to the bishops beneficial exertions, provided reliable defense against many enemys attempts to capture Torchyn  those were rather turbulent times, you know. Incidentally, we have many books from the bishops library which used to be kept in the towns archives and now are in the museums possession.

Among the artifacts Id like to mention here were Cossack sabers, their smoking pipes, old Cossack coins, decorations for horses harnesses, and a sixteenth-century cannon that was found in the village of Zhukovets. And of course old books, some of which date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I would like to remind the reader that all of these items come from Torchyn, Lutsk and other places in Volyn, and that most of them were found and collected by one person, the current curator of the museum, or given to his collections as presents.

At the end of the tour I heartily thanked Hryhoriy Hurtovy and promised that I would surely tell my friends about him and his museum, and that I would do my best to write an article about my visit to Torchyn. I have fulfilled my promise.

 

Mr Hurtovy with his students.

 

Mr Hurtovy usually takes the visitors on a guided

tour of the museum by himself.

 

The fragment of the museums exposition.

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