“They’re stingy with money for coffee”, the business made with the help of hand trucks and “it’s like Lenin’s Mausoleum”… The other side of the famous tunnel of love in the Rivne region.
Her table with magnets is in a very lucrative position: almost over the track.
“Have a nice walk”, she says with a note of mystery. Apparently, she got used to seeing people off to the tunnel of love.
Ms. Larysa from Klevan was the first to do sales at the famous tunnel of love. Back then it was unknown throughout the world, it wasn’t a famous selfie-place, on branches of trees there were no ribbons with extreme-desires like “I want you …” As well as Japanese people, they weren’t traveling here in order to make proposals.
A weaver and “sundari”
She took a basketful of mushrooms and brought it to the track, as soon as she realized that people were coming to take pictures of their railroad. She lives above the railway track in the closest house of the industrial nook in the Klevan village of Rivne region. Tracksuit. Pink lipstick. Blue shades with glitter. In her ears hang earings-cherries. Short haircut: gray hair is mixed up with orange locks.
Larysa Kulikova was once a weaver at the Rivne Linen Mill. Then she “retrained” and started to work at a chemical plant, where synthetic rubber was produced. After retirement, she sells simple trinkets in the tunnel of love.
Weekday. Everything is clean outside the track. From time to time you can find some sort of trash bins – black plastic bags stretched between the branches. It seems that someone was tidying up here recently.
From the other side, we hear someone asking in Russian: “Tell us, where we will go out?”
This is an assault on Ms. Larysa. Here, she’s like a guide, vendor, cleaning lady, and even a fortuneteller. She predicts the fate of couples. She quickly shifts to Russian.
“You will go nowhere,” she says. ”The length is more than 6 kilometers.”
She confesses that here, in the Klevan tunnel, she learned how to say “goodbye” in Japanese and “beautiful” in the Hindi language.
“I’ve already learned a bit of languages: ‘sixteen’, ‘twenty’, ‘twenty-five’…” she skilfully tells us the prices of her simple trinkets – magnets for tourists. “Bye-bye,” an Indian lady passes by, and Ms. Larysa says her: “Hey, sundari.” It means beautiful.
Each vendor here has her own industry of love, her own story. Larysa is not an exception.
“Why have I started to sell stuff? They make you do so, don’t they?! I won’t survive with fifteen hundred hryvnias per month (less than 50 USD – an average amount of pension in Ukraine- translator’s note). So, I stand here and vending. I’ve started with mushrooms, as for souvenirs, I’ve been selling them for four years already. Even in winter: I look out of the window, see that the bus is coming, so I take my bag and go to do business,” recalls Ms. Larysa.
She says how it really is. Her first magnets she got from the store for 5 hryvnias and sold for 10. The table of Ms. Larysa is the closest one to the tunnel. There are rows of magnets and keychains there. A little further there is a bench, where the homemade broom is laying and a mug of tea with lemon is getting cold. A warm jacket hangs on a tree.
“Dear Lord, it’s so boring here, when there’s nobody. And you’re waiting for those people… Here, it’s like Lenin’s Mausoleum. Back and forth. They take pictures and go to the woods.
“All the business plans will go in vain”
There are a lot of such “Larysas” near the Klevan tunnel. Young and old. They are simple smiling women from Klevan who make their industry of love here. They’re making it with the help of Ukrainian stickers and Chinese magnets, which these ladies take out every morning from their bags and put back every night.
“Are they Ukrainian?” we ask.
“Come on. This is China. We order a frame and make our own print,” one of the saleswomen answers.
She’s doing here her business here while on maternity leave. It’s just a hobby, as long as this tunnel stays here. She’s sure: in several years, the trees will straighten up: “and all the business plans will go in vain.”
Meanwhile, even pavilion for trade was made for girls. In the village council, they said that there will be a contest: the one who wins will trade there. However, nobody went to that pavilion. They are standing with their own tables, tents, and chairs, behind which big checkered bags are laying. This summer, during the storm, the oak tree fell on the roof of the new pavilion. It broke the cover. So those apartments are staying with a holey roof…
In the kiosk with coffee, a saleswoman is sitting sadly. From time to time she shouts in the direction of the tunnel and offers to warm up… Then she confesses that here the vast majority of tourists are stingy with even 12 hryvnias for a paper cup of americano, “not that they’re going to spend 20 for a magnet.”
Nearby was built a hotel for lovebirds – 700 hryvnias for a double room. Girls are laughing. They say: “What a fool is going to spend 700 hryvnias for one night here?” Here “people arrived, people departed”. The hotel is still empty. The restaurant doesn’t work. There are toilets, but it’s empty next to them.
What’s in the end? Scrapyard!
At a table next to the coffee shop, a woman is seating on a cart. Shawl. A bag under her legs. She comes here to look at tourists.
For Neonila Savytska it’s like a social event. For almost half a century she worked in the store of the military unit.
The railroad above current tunnel of love was connecting the fuel and lubricants warehouses with the neighboring Orzhev. 6.5 kilometers of romantic railroad ends with a huge scrap yard in Orzhev.
Ms. Neonila saw with her own eyes, how from warehouses of the once uncrackable unit, a fuel was taken away. She saw a collapse of the army. She says that there were times when nobody was allowed here. Now a huge area is in private property, and beneath it, there are still empty fuel tanks…
“Hey, you, come here!..” the former vendor calls our backs.
“Write, and make them build a store here,” she adds. “You know, people are living in this unit. They’ve already privatized everything, but to buy bread you have to go to Klevan. You cannot eat the tunnel.
“If I have time – I tear off ribbons from the trees”
Everyone tidies up the place where she stays… Usually, the same girls are taking care of the tunnel. Although from time to time the village council does cleaning. Somewhere in the middle of the railroad, there is romance. Both sides of the first kilometer are covered with ribbons. As well as balloons and dirty napkins on the trunks and branches… That is love: scarred, dirty, with tightly carved “Tanya + Ihor”. Realistic. Until the knot stays.
Ms. Larysa in her free time tears off these ribbons from trees.
“Back in our time, it was the alley of love, not a tunnel. We were skipping classes here. We were coming here to make love. I say how it really was. Such a romance… That was during those times when the trees weren’t making the tunnel, then they grew up and somehow it happened,” she nods in direction of the railroad.
She tears ribbons off despite the fact that somebody writes there their secret wishes. She says that trees start to dry out. Therefore, she’s cutting them. No matter who put them there, whether it was a loving couple from Japan or some kind of “sundari” from overseas…
By Olena Livitska
Photo by Pavlo Berezyuk