In the National Park “Synevyr”, among the high mountains and spruce walls, on the river Chorna Rika, there is one of the two timber rafting museums in the world. 20 years had passed after the most terrible flood of modern times. This year, the museum’s reconstruction was started.

The first days of November 1998 are black and terrible times in the history of Transcarpathia. The worst and most devastating flood not only destroyed property, buildings, roads, and bridges, it also killed people. Here, in the Mizhhirshchyna, a rapid, but a small Chorna Rika (its other name is Ozeryanka, which is a tributary of Tereblia River) has turned into a fierce stream.

Timber Rafting Museum, 1996

“It was scary,” says Vasyl Syatynia, the caretaker of the Timber Rafting Museum, “Back then I was working in the forestry, I remember how my colleague ran into the office early in the morning, saying that the big water comes and we have to do something! There was already water here on the floor… We ran there, opened all the locks: six on this side, six on that one then we opened the central gate and the water level dropped down a little. However, it came back, especially at night… The stream washed the trees around the river, they were falling down. The locks were blocked, so the water had no place to go. The river flowed along the road, stroke the bridge, it started to float. Everything was completely flooded right to this place. A lot of exhibits followed the water. It was dangerous and scary, but we tried to save as much as it was possible. The dam was destroyed.”

That’s how the unique Timber Rafting Museum was destroyed (the other one is in Canada). It was founded in order to preserve a memory of a special and dangerous profession – the bokorash métier (bokor is a raft, a tied trees’ trunks).

Timber Rafting Museum, 1996

In 1973, they carried out restoration works and added a superstructure to the museum, in the 1990s they erected new premises above the dam, where exposition was presented.

Timber Rafting Museum, 1996

In addition to the 1998 disaster, 2001 flood also left its footprints. Instead of a hydrotechnical system and magnificent observation building, there is a welcoming point built on the remnants of the dam.

However, now, in the autumn of 2018, rumble and chaos are also there, as it was in those terrible days 20 years ago. However, this noise is of another essence: powerful machinery clears the riverbed in order to strengthen it and rebuild the dam in the end. It is 80 meters long, and this dam was the main exhibit of the museum. More precisely it is the entire hydraulic system (they name it “clausa”, because it was built according to the project of the Austrian engineer Clause) with gates-locks that allowed to accumulate water, and then let it go together with the rafts. The reservoir, which was formed thanks to the dam, reached 300 meters in width and was about 2 km in length.

The water reservoir on the Chorna Rika, created by the dam, 1996

Territory near the Timber Rafting Museum, 2018

The system was designed in the middle of the XIX century, construction works had begun in 1868, and it was operating until the 1960’s. The dam also served as a river regulator. In the Carpathians timber was rafted until 1962, when the last official, even solemn, timber-rafting took place. The descendants of bokorashes – “Carpathian thrill-seekers”, can still tell you about this event.

“Clausa” on the Chorna Rika (Ozeryanka),  photo from archives

“I was 12 years old then.  Here on the slope we had a “dacha” (so-called summer houses, where people live during a warm season and take care of cattle – author’s note). I was grazing cows there. As we heard that there would be a timber-rafting, my friends and I climbed four kilometers uphill, I saw that father was driving a raft… “Daddy, may I?” – “Come on!” We jumped on the raft and were riding it right till this dam. As soon as we got out of it, we started to run uphill again in order to catch another raft. It was fun and interesting! Frankly speaking, even now, I would do timber-rafting. Because of curiosity, not for money,” a man gets nostalgic.

The métier of bokorash was the best paid among “working men” of that time, this difficult and dangerous profession was prestigious. Bokorash’s reward for one timber-rafting was equivalent to the monthly wage of the others, or even more. All of that was due to the separate payment for lumberjack’s and rafting-man work. Men worked all year round: they harvested timber, stacked, knitted it in “tablas”, which like cars form a train, formed a “darab”, and only them made “bokor”.

So, in fact, they rafted it from the forest warehouse to those places where timber was bought and sent by the railroad to Hungary. Approximately 70 kilometers were covered by bokors-rafts from here, through Vilshany, then Tysa and right to Bushtyno station. Later there was built a woodworking plant. 350 cubic meters of wood could have been in one “darab”, which was usually driven by three bokorashes, the rafting lasted for 4 hours.

Bokorashes at Tereblia, 1930s, photo from archives

From time to time crosses appeared on the banks of Chorna Rika: that’s why this job was not for the faint-hearted, a lot of bokorashes died.

“My father had buried a lot of friends. Besides the rapid water, the danger is in the other thing: when the first bokor is going, and if it somewhere crushes into a rock or stones, then the next raft will crush into it… Furthermore, a rapid mountain river is cold, so it was necessary to be very healthy,” tells former master of the forest, now an employee of the Museum, and the son of a bokorash.

By the way, the hard-workers were immortalized by the Transcarpathian painting school: the pictures “Lumberjacks” by Havryla Hlyuk (1954) and “Bokorashi” by Yosyp Bokshay (1961) belong to classical works.

Things that were used in the everyday life of bokorashes, as well as models of rafts and even buildings, as well as tools with which those brave men (only such a man could become a bokorash) logged and organized timber… in a small building of the museum we’re examining rescued exhibits. These are not just things – these are material tales of the history. And labor.

“This instrument for turning of trunks was named keel: so a lumberjack fells a tree, cuts down knots, removes a bark from one side, then he turns it with a hook to complete this work,” explains Mr. Vasyl. On the territory you can still see “ryzas” – “backwards elevators” for trees, something like a gutter through which goes a logged tree. It saves work, prevents soil from erosion and saves other trees. Now they don’t do it like this, they mostly skid. The last time the master of the forest saw similar but metal gutters, around 10 years ago.

…Manaryna, tsapyna, kliobaka, shuhlia, gryf – all these words and things are from the everyday life of lumberjacks-bokorashes. All of this, as well as hooks and “claws”, oil lamps and gaffs, cleavers, as well as “besagas”(bags) and shirts embroidered with local pattern, may seem insignificant, but with a keen interest, they can tell a lot. “Yes, it’s a woody, tinder fungus. Why is it here? Bokorashes, who also spent their nights in the woods on the banks of rivers, used it in order to light a fire. And dried mushroom smoulders for a long time, it can be left overnight, then you put a few twigs and have a “vatra” (a bonfire in Carpathian dialect – author’s note),”says Vasyl Syatynia. “This is a bokorash shack. And this is how “guzhvarnia” looked like. It was a special building where hazel was twisted and dried. Out of it they made ropes for fastening trunks, something like cable, you see, how strong and flexible it is.”

The museum’s room smells of dust and even more it smells of wood. And outside for the first time it smells of a fuel, it is construction equipment that works. The foreman is Oleksandr Voronyuk, a representative of the company LLC “PMK-77” from Ivano-Frankivsk. This company won tender for Museum’s reconstruction. He says that to restore such an object is both pride and responsibility.

“We are rebuilding the dam not by modern technologies, but as if our grandfathers would do it. We could have poured it with concrete, but it does not correspond to our goal – preservation, or restoration of historical heritage. We plan three stages of work. At first we want to rebuild the dam, lifting it to the mark where water goes down, it is 4.5 meters. We’re going to make it with stones. Also we will make special walls of different levels on oak logs, which will strengthen the banks.”

The next step will be to take care of the left bank, and it will take place after the autumn flood and “spillover of water” to the temporary stream bed. The same way, they will strengthen the banks with the help of special construction elements, and then finish the dam.

Timber Rafting Museum, 1996

The third stage is construction of Museum’s facilities and site-planning. In the large-scale project, they plan to build both the road and the power transmission line. Although it is possible to get here, it’s not too simple to do it. As for electricity it’s absent both in the museum building and in house of the National Park’s staff.

“The facility is unique. Our task is to restore not only its appearance: after all we’re speaking about hydrotechnical system on the mountain river, which can be calm one day, the other it may be rapid and mighty. That is, we are talking not only about museum, it’s also about functional matter – it is a construction of a working dam with locks, where the rise and fall of water level is regulated,” says the builder. He answers the questions: yes, they have experience of working on hydraulic objects, but they haven’t dealt with such a project, and this is a professional challenge for them. “We worked at berths, in ports, we made banks, built bridges. Of course, few companies in Ukraine dealt with a similar historic object. No doubt, it is interesting. In addition to complying with the requirements of maximum reproduction, we must take care of its quality, we really want it to work and amaze people for many years,” says Mr. Oleksandr.

There’s a lot of work down here. Local workers take part in it: laborers are from the local villages, construction workers from Ivanofrankivsk region work with machinery. “It is possible that these are grandchildren of Carpathian rafters. That’s why they are interested to work on such an object. They also have an understanding: what they do and why,” the foreman smiles.

We walk beneath the spruces and the builder shares: yes, it is about emotions: “Maybe somehow I’ve heard that there were such people as bokorashes. But it is something special – to see almost with your own eyes, where and how it happened, to explore their life, how they tied together trees and drove these rafts on the river. As a builder, of course, I’m struck by the fact that people, often without special education, had built such a serious object. No power tools and all stuff like that; they did it manually, with axes… Of course, it’s hard and dangerous work of that time’s men: lumberjacks and raft-men at the same time. I’m sure that this is worth of everyone’s attention and I’m convinced: there will be a lot of tourists when we finish! ”

However, construction works are a little bit late: they should have started if not during the spring, then at least from the beginning of the summer. At the same time, unexpectedly warm autumn in the Carpathians offers workers a head start. It so happened that the beginning of the work coincided with the anniversary of that devastating flood. However, it’s just a coincidence. For a long time they were talking about reconstruction of the Museum, the plan was declared for years; in the end the Ministry of Environmental Protection gave the green light. That is, the money was put into the budget (53 million hryvnias); however, the bureaucracy “ate” a lot of time, until finally the funds have come to the accounts. And now, when we ask when it will be possible to see the finished museum, they say quite unconfidently: three years, no less.

“Come back to see how we will finish the dam before the winter!” the builder Oleksandr invites us.  Mr. Vasyl welcomes everybody here at any time. For, the Carpathians are always beautiful. With tenderness and some bitterness, he mentions the times when you could drink from every stream in the forest, the time when they were pure. He recalls those days when in the mountains hunters’ and lumberjacks’ shacks were well-kept and stocked with everything you may need. Nobody dared to trash, to steal, or to destroy. People didn’t go “for a picnic”, they came here to talk to nature… However, even now the local landscapes are beauty, joy and greatness. “Make sure that you go to the Dyke Lake, it’s three kilometers from here by the mountain trail, it’s very beautiful there!” says the son of a bokorash, who knows almost every tree here and who is in love with these places and their history. The history, which we’re losing, even though it’s not lost and not forgotten…

By Alla Khayatova

Photo (1996 and 2018) by Serhiy Hudak

Photos and illustrations from open sources were used

An excerpt from the 1958 film “Above Tysa”, these scenes were shot in the place that was in the spotlight of this material.

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