Millionaires, Olympic flame, posh villas, successful entrepreneurs – all this can be hardly associated with expression “Ukrainian village”. However, there is Bukovynian village of Voloka, which provides wedding dresses to the half of Europe (and not only) as well as breaks all stereotypes. How people live on that side of the Dniester, 40 km from the border with Romania: photo expedition to Chernivtsi region, Hlybotsky area, Voloka village.
We’re walking down the road through which the Olympic flame was carried. We stop at the gas station and go to a small store – you can buy here a line of elite alcohol: whiskey, Metaxa, Martini. We pass by the modern field for mini-football. We’re looking for a house where a millionaire lived, he used to have his own cargo aircraft.
On the left, there are a restaurant, bar with a private brewery, a school with a bust of Romanian king in the yard.
On the right, there are estates, three-story villas with forged gates, a two-story wedding salon with crystal chandeliers, an Apple store… Welcome to… the Ukrainian village of Voloka that is in Glybotsky area of Chernivtsi region.
Roughly speaking, Voloka was a part of Romania until 1940, and the majority of the population still speaks Romanian. Actually, both school and church teach and serve in Romanian. The impression that we are abroad doesn’t disappear even after we’re paying for coffee in hryvnias. The villages of Bukovyna seem surprising to inhabitants of the Southern, Central and Eastern Ukraine. Well, it’s obvious, all of them are working on that side of the border – this is the first thing that pops in your mind. Indeed, geographical, historical and cultural circumstances have created a favorable precondition for this labor.
However, in Voloka, everything is slightly different. The village grew rich by making… wedding dresses.
A resident of the neighboring village Ms. Olga, or Oltika, as she is called in the Romanian way, tells us that everything began with wedding candles in the 70-80ies. In Voloka they were made by local masters. The candles were very beautiful, original and inexpensive. Then they start making bridal headpieces, and then they’ve got to dresses.
Subsequently, almost all of Ukraine and half of Russia were married in wedding dresses made in Voloka. Every year, in the spring, brides set out on a pilgrimage to voloka where they choose the most beautiful dresses for wedding. Over the past few years, in connection with the closure of the Russian market, entrepreneurs from Voloka successfully began to master the global market. The countries of Europe, North America, South Africa, the UAE, Japan, and even New Zealand are buying stunning masterpieces of white, cream and champagne colors that are richly embroidered with Swarovski crystals and made by local designers and tailors. The linked business also developed – sales of fabrics and accessories of the highest quality from Turkey, France, Austria, and the UAE.
A millionaire, whom we mentioned earlier, bought a cargo plane to carry fabrics from the United Arab Emirates in order not to overpay for a charter. They say that he lent much money for those who needed it and, before his death, he ordered his wife to burn a notebook in which debtors were recorded.
Residents of neighboring villages note that Voloka residents are very consolidated, they help each other, provide with jobs and never abandon their people. Perhaps this is the secret of their success. They care about the welfare of the entire community, not just about their own. The high-quality road leads to the village is asphalted at the expense of the community. Voloka residents support the church choir, folk musical collectives, children’s football team.
By the way, part of the road that leads to Voloka runs through a village with a weird name Valya Kuzmyna (Valya – is not a female name, but a valley in Romanian) – it is an old route that goes from Romania. During the Olympic Games in 1980, it was that very road by which they carried the Olympic flame from Greece. A lonesome two-meter bear with five rings on the belt, the symbol of Olympics-80, rises along the roadside, which winds like a serpentine. Next to it stands an empty bottle of champagne, covered with snow.
And if you go down this serpentine, you can see a monument to the victims of the First World War with the inscriptions in Romanian and German.
However, let’s return to Voloka. Traditional Bukovynian houses, plenty of which stand in Voloka, are maintained in perfect condition as museum exhibits. Surprisingly, in a courtyard, there is an old hut with a barn and a stable, and a modern house with towers (trend of modern local architecture).
The fence, covered with a wild stone with iron sections, costs, probably, like an apartment in Odesa. Clean lawns, fountains, and sculptures, tiled sidewalks, covered with aluminum roofs and solar panels are harmoniously combined with crowing and classical car from Soviet times in the garage.
Each yard has a well, around which there is a wooden structure (tsymbrynia) with windows, jalousies, stained glass windows, under the tin roof with chimeric ornaments – roosters, storks, flowers, flags, and weathercocks.
In the middle of the village there is a bridal salon, next to it there is a fabrics store. Here, they treat people with cameras very carefully – it’s not allowed to take photos inside. In the street where the workshops are located, we were accompanied by suspicious glances – maybe, they suspected us of industrial espionage. However, we were struck by comfortable conditions that were created for workers. After all, here people work a lot, from dusk till dawn, whole families, both women, and men. They are supplied with lunches, and residents of neighboring villages are hired to run a household and take care of posh houses.
In addition to large manufacturing facilities, in Voloka, as well as in neighboring villages, there are many private entrepreneurs, some of them are united in cooperatives, some work on their own. One of the masters allowed us to visit her studio – she makes bras for dresses, sews them. Another lady decorates them, and the other sew skirts. The work is tedious and not easy – the job must be done perfectly, otherwise, the product won’t be bought. In addition to wedding dresses, evening and children’s dresses for any solemn occasion of life – baptism, the first communion, prom are made here. Glitter, sequin, lace, ribbons – the variety strikes your eyes. With all these skillful movements, the craftswoman creates a fairy tale for one day – a little dress for a little princess.
Persistent work and mutual assistance, ability to co-operate, quickly navigate in today’s market – unquestionably, these are the keys to success. And also it is a taste for a quality of life. In Voloka, as well as in the surrounding villages, you will almost never find an abandoned house and yards. Being poor is bad. Although this applies not only to Voloka but also to all the surrounding villages.
Once a week, volunteers from the nearby village of Korovia send food to Chernivtsi for those in need. It is a tradition here to help the poor and lonely neighbors or relatives, to look after the houses of those who went to work abroad. When in the village of Hrushevka we took pictures of the “Snow Queen’s palace” on a deserted street, an automobile stopped nearby, they were closely watching us.
Hrushivka is a village next to Voloka, where wedding business also flourishes. The rural newly built church is a styled Romanian medieval sacred architecture with “twisted” domes (similar to St. Nicholas Cathedral in Chernivtsi). The scale of the building is striking.
Voloka can also boast of its temple. It is the largest wooden church in the territory of Ukraine. It was erected in 1825-1831, during the same time the iconostasis was made and it’s still there. The building is constructed without any nail in the form of an ark. It holds about 500 parishioners. In 1991, at the expense of the community, the church was restored, but in such a way that its historical and architectural value was preserved. During the service, there is an old tradition when men and women are separated. The same way, the inhabitants of the left corner of the village (relatively to the Derehlui river) are on the left, and the inhabitants of the right corner, respectively, are on the right. From the hill where the church stands, the archaeological site of Trypillian culture can be seen
Another interesting thing about Voloka, which Ms. Olga told us is that here there is a tradition on the second day of the wedding to get dressed in folk clothes – linen long shirt and horbatka (skirt). They are completely embroidered with beads. Another trait of brides from Voloka is a row of Chervintsi (golden coins in Russian Empire – translator’s note) on the red ribbon, which is inherited and is a family relic. They symbolize the wealth and status of the family. In Bukovyna, there was a tradition to lay golden coins in the corners of the building that is under construction, and in difficult times the inhabitants of the nearby villages exchanged these treasures for bread.
So, leaving a small village of Voloka, which can give a head start to elite districts of Odesa, we draw conclusions. “There’s no law against living the good life” but it is necessary to work a lot, to help each other, to take care of community’s interests, not only about personal ones, to adhere to traditions and not to be afraid of experiments and healthy competition, and most importantly, believe that Ukraine has the opportunity to earn money with the help of your own business and live in prosper.
By Daria Harmyder
Photo by Yulia Kryzhevska