Shybeny. A village at the bottom of Chornohora mountain range. The place where tourist routes start from. These routes lead to Pip Ivan Chornohirsky mountain, the third highest mountain of the Ukrainian Carpathians; to Marmorsky, Chyvchynsky and Hryniavsky mountain ranges. Nobody lives behind Shybeny, only animals and wild birds in the forest, there are only mountains behind Shybeny. And the border.
Ukrainian-Romanian border is 614 km long. A mountains part of the border is controlled by “Shybeny” Department border guards. They cover dozens of kilometers every day to check whether nobody is there either accidentally or on purpose, whether smuggled goods aren’t transported from Ukraine to Romania or vice versa.
Shybeny Border Guard Office is one of the remotest Border Guard departments in Ukraine. It is situated in the Carpathians Mountains. Only one road leads there. It connects Shybeny and the village of Verhkhovyna. You can get there by an old bus which provides only 23 seats. However, a driver can put in three times as many people together with locals’ bags and tourists’ rucksacks. The bus departures from Verkhovyna to Shybeny two times a day. It covers 30 km in 30 minutes.
It is not easy to work as a border guard in the Carpathians. Every day, they face difficulties and dangers, usually created by nature.
Vasyl Havryliuk, a senior warrant officer of the Shybeny Border Guard Department, has worked here for 19 years. He is a local but lives in the department. He has made a flat from one of the rooms for his family: his wife and two daughters. Halyna, also a Border Guard, says she likes it here more than living in a village. Besides, she doesn’t have to spend the time to get to work. “You leave the room, go downstairs to the first floor and you are at work. You don’t even have to go outside,” Halyna says.
It is not easy to work in a mountainous part of the Ukrainian-Romanian border. Except for dealing with contraband and illegal immigrants, they have to be careful because of wild animals: sometimes they can meet wolves, lynxes, boars and even bears. Weather conditions are also a challenge. Weather can be different just in some minutes. For example, now, at the beginning of spring, warm sunlight hide behind heavy dark clouds, which cover forest and mountains. Then it becomes windy and snowy.
“Sure, the job is hard. You have to walk dozens of kilometers while controlling the border. It can be rainy, snowy, freezing cold, boiling hot; we can meet wolves, wild boars, bears. But you get used to it, and later, you don’t even pay attention to that. Instead, you open the beauty of the Carpathians. And it starts to support you while you’re working,” Vasyl Havryliuk says.
It is a real challenge to work at the remotest corner of Ukraine. Local people overcome everyday difficulties, face weather changes and become a part of the environment. But they keep on living there because the Carpathians give them what they can’t find anywhere else – feeling of freedom and strength, you can feel it only in mountains.
Text and photo by Maksym Kozmenko