While thousands of village and town residents use the smallest chance to move to a city, there is an increasing backward tendency – to substitute a noisy megapolis for a rustic allure. A life philosophy of the downshifting movement or transmission downshift, backing off an insane running in a vicious circle – earning-spending money is getting more popular in a modern world, and in Ukraine, in particular. More and more people, mostly freelancers and those who are of art professions, escape from cities: someone to Goa, someone to Dahab or other exotic places, someone to almost abandoned remote Ukrainian villages. They are moving there to have a possibility to pay more attention to mental and creative development, communicating with their families, being close to nature. A possibility of working remotely, via the Internet, and the popularity of an eco-friendly way of life, the green tourism, demand on organic products (food, cosmetics, clothes etc.) make more young (and not) Ukrainian families move to rural areas. We tried to get to the bottom of peculiarities of Ukrainian downshifting and getting wants and needs meet, stay at one pleasant young couple from Odesa.
Six years ago, Yura and Iryna decided to leave the city, where a million people lived, with all its advantages and disadvantages. They moved to a quiet village of Kontseba in the North of the Odesa Region, the Savran district.
200 kilometres along the Odesa-Kyiv highway, a turn on the beltway to Savran, a half an hour driving slowly (bad roads!), and we are here. Hosts are warmly welcoming their guests. We had a lunch in the garden inside a beautiful altana covered with reed.
Iryna, how did you find yourselves here? What made you move?
Our friends were advocating for moving to a village, closer to nature. We, following their example, started to travel across Ukraine, visit different places. We had already our eldest son then, and it was very uncomfortable to live in a one-bedroom apartment with mom. We couldn’t afford to buy an own apartment in Odesa. We also wanted a cosiness, fresh air and as few neighbours as possible. I was tired of getting a baby carriage down the stairs and walking with my kid across dusty and noisy streets. I was dreaming that my son could spend all day outdoors breathing fresh air, and I would watch him and making a housework at once. So, my husband and I started to think about moving to our own detached house.
How did you choose the place? Why exactly Kontseba?
We visited many places, were choosing what we would like the most. Here, we liked how the house was situated – by the river Savranka and forest. There is the river Southern Bug nearby. In this area, the river is situated among green hills. The Savran district is, perhaps, the greenest district in the Odesa region. There is a lot of mixed woods, rivers and springs, summer is not as hot as in the South, and winter is really cold with a deep snow.
Tell us, how have you used to this life?
At first, we were living in Kontseba only when it was warm. In autumn and winter, we were living in Odesa. The house required repairing – when we bought it, it was in an awful condition. Our neighbours wondered what we needed it for, making a “cuckoo” sign. The wall had a huge crack, there were mice in the house, they bothered us when we were sleeping. We had a bed made of pallets, and it was a bit scary when they were rasping under us. The floor was very cold. But gradually, we improved conditions, and now, it is very comfortable here. Some years ago, we finally moved here and gave birth to our second child.
What about winter? How do you warm the house?
We have a furnace as well as an underfloor heating. But when there is a blackout, it is of no use. I cook on a wood or electric stove. There is no gas in the house.
The interior looks very elegant – it is made of natural materials. The host made a hanger of a board and knots – natural curves and colour of wood are best decorations. A lampshade is made of a clay pot. Walls are limed – it is more healthy, and the feeling like you are in a real rural house is reserved. There is a mirror in the bathroom. It has an old window frame with flaked red and green paint on shutters. We have seen such frames in other houses in Kontseba. Perhaps, a local woodman made them.
A pragmatical question: what about expenses on electricity, water, heating? Is it more profitable to live here than in the city?
I can’t say whether it is cheaper, but, without a doubt, it is more comfortable. For we have so much space for living now! We can widen the house if we need: when our second son was born, we built a room and office for my husband. Moreover, we take water from a well, so it is, so to say, free. The only thing is when there is no electricity (it happens often), we have no water as well – a pump doesn’t work.
What about products? Do you grow anything?
No, I’d better go to Savran once a week to get all that I need. I spend much time with children, so I don’t want to spend my time on gardening. I want to spend more time bringing up my children, communicating, creating something, I want to be free to go somewhere, not being burdened with housework. That is the reason why we don’t have livestock. Life in a village doesn’t have to necessarily be connected with a hard field work. As for honey, milk and eggs – we can always buy them at our neighbours’ – it is more convenient for all.
We were buying milk from one man (15 UAH – 0.5$ – a litre), we could even watch how he was milking a cow. Later, we found out that he had also moved to Kontseba from the north where he had been working very hard all his life – in fact, he is a Soviet downshifter.
How do you get on with locals?
Not very well. For them, we are weirdos from the city. We greet when we meet, of course, we can have some general talks, but we are not close with them. Local people are very conservative.
There are several families in Kontseba, who moved from a city. They have different destinies. Some of them got divorced and created a new family, some moved back to the city, some live a sheltered life. We get on well with everybody, but we don’t see each other often. Everybody is busy with their own business.
As for the conservatism: Kontseba used to be inhabited half by Cossacks, half by bonds. In the 1980s, people still remembered who belonged to what family! Any strange behaviour of a person was explained that he or she “came from bonds”!
One more detail. We paid attention to an interesting building – an old bus stop built 10 meters away from the road. Nobody remembers it to have worked as a bus stop. In the 1990s, it was a “bathyscaphe” – a stall that became bankrupt because nobody wanted to diverge 10 meters and come up to it! Since that, it has stood here as an artefact, an object of land-art.
One more materialistic question: how do people earn here?
Yura, my husband, is a programmer, he can work everywhere with electricity and the Internet. A friend of us decorates restaurants, creates fountains. Some people attend different eco- and ethnic festivals, sell their crafts and arrange workshops etc. It is not a problem for creative people.
As for communicating, has your elder son got used to the environment? Does he go to school or studies at home?
Yes, he goes to school, but he feels alien there. It is likely to be the biggest disadvantage in our harmony. He is an intelligent, well-read boy, and this is what doesn’t let him communicate with other children. Village children don’t get so much attention because their parents work all the time, and there are no additional classes, clubs, only in the town of Savran. Unfortunately, it is obvious that their intellectual and cultural level is quite lower. My son is very bored at classes because he knows the program ahead.
As for the cultural life of the village, while we were walking, we saw a local People’s Hall, there also used to be a library inside of it. It is closed, abandoned. Now, corn is stored there.
However, there are two churches on both sides of the river (Kontseba is situated along Savranka on both coasts). From time to time, locals arrange processions to the spring to get healing water – it is said to improve eyesight and heal joints. People also go fishing or gathering mushrooms in forests as their free time activities. I guess this is a full list. The photo shows another well, but water there, in our opinion, is not worse.
What do you do in your free time, especially in winter?
It is the hardest in winter – we are bored. We make up entertaining by ourselves. We play board games, read, do arts and crafts.
I like doing archery, my husband’s present. Our son Iliusha is self-sufficient – he likes dinosaurs, can play with them for hours in the garden, he knows all their kinds. Sometimes we travel on business to Odesa – it is also an adventure. Sometimes we walk across the forest or go to Southern Bug for swimming.
When it is warm, we constantly have guests – interesting, creative people – it is our consolation. Once, a girl and boy stayed at us. They wanted to learn how to read. It is a sophisticated craft, and it is dying slowly. There are still many such roofs in the village. Reed is very ecological and cheap material, it can well keep temperature: it provides warmness in winter and coolness in summer.
Is your beautiful altana made according to local technology?
No. Our friends didn’t manage to persuade anybody to teach them, they offered money, but… It is all about the conservatism, hermeticism of Kontseba residents. They may fail to trust strangers or understand the value of their knowledge, or it is just their laziness and indolence, who knows?
So, what about the altana? It is a heart of your yard! You are likely to spend much time here in summer.
Exactly so. I have a kitchen here, water. By the way, water from the basin is poured just at trees that’s why I don’t use aggressive abstergents. This altana was made by these friends, however, those were Hollands who taught them the technology.
Wow… As for the ecology, where do you take away your garbage?
We put organic garbage to a compost pit, we burn everything we can burn, as for plastic, batteries and bottles, we take it to Odesa and recycle there. There are no recycling points in Savran, at least, we don’t know about them.
Do you want to come back to Odesa?
Who knows what will happen? Now, we enjoy it here.
You don’t feel time in Kontseba. We would like to stay here longer. Perhaps, it is a good idea to buy a house here?
Today, a spacious yard with a good house, facility buildings, a big garden, costs twice as cheaper as a room in an Odesa communal apartment. We have enough to think about, but now, it is time to come back to the civilisation – to kick into high gear. Perhaps, someday we will feel a need to back off?
Text by Daria Harmyder
Photo by Yulia Kryzhevska