Wednesday, 28 October

  What is the life of Hutsul meadow in the Carpathian mountains – read in the report from Opinion. 

“This is our traditions, you understand? Actually, this is our life, we don’t know how to do it the other way”, the 15-year-old boy named Ivan was driving his “fira”. This way Hutsuls name wagons with horses. This “fira” is loaded to the very top. I look at it and just doubt my eyes: in the mountains horses easily pull an incredibly heavy cargo: about ten heads of Wurda cheese (boiled cheese made by Hutsuls), four baskets of “afenyas” (blueberries collected by hutsuls), three baskets of mushrooms and some other leaves of the bushes, the appearance of which, unfortunately, doesn’t tell me anything. And on the top of the pile… seven tourist backpacks.

“This is our traditions, you understand? Actually, this is our life, we don’t know how to do it the other way”, the 15-year-old boy named Ivan was driving his “fira”. This way Hutsuls name wagons with horses. This “fira” is loaded to the very top. I look at it and just doubt my eyes: in the mountains horses easily pull an incredibly heavy cargo: about ten heads of Wurda cheese (boiled cheese made by Hutsuls), four baskets of “afenyas” (blueberries collected by hutsuls), three baskets of mushrooms and some other leaves of the bushes, the appearance of which, unfortunately, doesn’t tell me anything. And on the top of the pile… seven tourist backpacks.

As it was expected, horses, even loaded with our backpacks over traditional cargo, went faster than a tourist group. Therefore, I as the youngest had… to run next to the backpacks. This is how I stayed face to face with a young Hutsul.

“We have 56 cows in the valley,” says the boy who’s driving the “fira”, and this is a few. The rule here is simple: if you want to make money, you have to work. And we work. From 6 am to 10 pm”.

We start our conversation with Ivan about their way of life in the mountains – without light, electricity, simple hygienic utilities… Even the cell phone reception is very bad here. I ask the boy: who milks these 56 cows twice a day? How much milk do they produce? How they make Wurda cheese? Why do hutsuls from the valleys wash their hands in whey? How many people are in the valley, and why do they have so many big and angry dogs? I ask all this and I can’t remember where I could have seen Ivan. Or perhaps a young Hutsul is just open to communication, and simply seems to be the boy I knew a long time ago.

And then he returns me my memory.

“Have you seen the movie “The living fire”?”

I honestly answer: “No, I haven’t.  However, I’ve heard a lot about it. So what?”

“Well, when you return to your Kyiv, then watch it, because I was in it”.

I have definitely heard about this movie since it was popular a few years ago. But I couldn’t recall the plot.

“About what is this film?”

“About our life. Although… the movie is over – harder weekdays began”.

Only after the farewell with Ivan and after paying him for the services of a “mountain taxi” (“two hundred hryvnias will be enough”), I manage to catch the Internet and read a review of the film. And after returning to my metropolitan apartment, I could watch the film itself. Twice!

So: “The living fire”- Ostap Kostiuk’s documentary film. A picture is about the life of shepherds in the Ukrainian Carpathians and the fate of traditional craftsmanship on the background of modern changes. For four years, the film crew conducted movie surveillance on the characters of the film. The heroes were simple Hutsuls – a small boy, young and older men. All of them are united by sheep breading, a craft that is financially unprofitable, and only desperate ones pass it from father to son since the old times. The film has already won many awards, including the special jury prize at the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival Hot Docs, the Odessa International Film Festival, the Minsk Film Festival Listapad». In 2017 the film won two nominations of the Ukrainian national film award “Golden Dzyga”.

The whole season, that is, from spring till the fall, the family of Ivan Mykhailuk has been working for four years in a row at the meadows. Dad, mom, younger brother and tiny sister Bogdan. This is that charming and messy four-year-old blond girl who, for a candy, showed me all the farm of her parents, let me into the kolyba and even gave me a taste of cheese. She also asked to “pet a piglet”, because “they love when you pet them”.

Shot from the film “The living fire”

Mikhailuk hutsul-family, no matter how hard-working they are, they can’t cope with work themselves, therefore they have two hired workers. From the early morning, after milking all the 56 cows, the inhabitants of the mountain valley have to bring some water from the spring, to feed the other cattle, and depending on the weather, go for the mushrooms or shake blueberries with a special device, which is here called “comb”. The occupation of other Hutsuls who live in the mountains is in the forest. But Ivan assures that they don’t take extra from nature. Only their own.

Ivan says: “Out of the 56 cows, only two are ours. All the rest are from people. Settlement – only in cheese. In cash – under any circumstances. Only in cheese. We give people from 70 to 80 kilos a season”.

“And how to find out whose cow gives more milk?”

“That’s all in the notebook. On June 24, we examined the cows. Which gives more, we recorded in a notebook. Which gives less, also, recorded. Then I call to the owners – all set? All set. If not, then go and measure yourself. They may not believe, they will say that it’s not true. Parents are engaged in this business for three years. They’re honest to people”.

Ivan says that the film-makers who brought him to the film almost ran over him with a Jeep. Now the boy wants such a car.

Shot from the film “The living fire”

The boy recalls: “I was just laying in the grass and had rest. And they were driving just here. And they found me. Just in the grass. Almost ran me over. They tortured me with that movie for a long time. The shooting had lasted for almost four years. Then the movie came out…”

“Had they paid you anything?”

“Million… Nobody had paid nothing. I flew with them to the presentation of the film in Canada”.

Many critics noted Ivan’s acting. When he’s praised as an actor, the boy is nervous. “Different guys praised me. But I didn’t play. I just was myself. Actually, everything shown in the movie is our life. Someone was watching and laughing, someone was crying … And we are just living and doing our job”.

Ivan doesn’t want to be in the movies anymore. Because no one pays for it. And in general, he is not an actor. The small Hutsul boy dreams of becoming a famous chef. He has already chosen the school where he will come this year after the ninth grade. He says that at home it is he, who cooks for all these hungry stomachs. Mother is busy with cows.

During our conversation with Ivan, time passed very quickly. We descended from the mountains and stopped at the edge of the village. Here all the dealers know the boy. I do not have time to take off our backpacks, as small Mikhailuk is already surrounded by three men.

“How much for a kilo of “afenya”?”

«38, and no hryvnia less. I collected them myself. Do you know what kind of work is it?»

“It’s 40 in Yaremche. Do I have to carry all this for two hryvnias?”

Ivan is bargaining. And he has got what he wanted. Because, as he says, he knows the price for his work. He doesn’t stay in Bystrytsya for a long time. He’s selling all the stuff he has and on his own “fira” goes back to the valley.

During the farewell, we quickly exchanged phone numbers. I promise to show him around the Kyiv if he comes (he dreams to visit the capital, but it hasn’t happened yet. The producers also hadn’t invited him to the premiere of the film, he says). And he promises a tour to the real Carpathians, which no guide, who’s not a Hutsul, can show me in my lifetime.

Text and photo: Vadym Lubchak

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