Saturday, 26 September

Let’s slow travel

Short story “The Ukraine” begins with a scene where the characters travel around Ukraine almost every weekend – “within the weekend one can go far in Ukraine. And return”. Of course, “every weekend” is simply my fantasy: for example I myself can do it only when children are at the grandmothers’. Other people have different duties and the majority can’t allow frequent journeys – but I wonder why so few people do this. It seems that there are more skateboarders and free runners. But there are even more people on picnics, who sit and booze.

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I myself invented the word “skovoroduvaty” – to roam around accidental (non-touristy) cities, villages and fields. If somebody needs a hipster term, you can say – to slow travel. Julian Barnes tells about his walking holidays – but it’s not necessary to walk. Once I hailed a “Ukrgasvydobuvannia” truck between the villages, another time – a school bus, the third time – a bus full of exceptionally young women, perhaps, from a poultry farm. There’s nothing bad in hitchhiking if you chance to be on the congested road – actually, the quieter the road the more pleasant is the walk. Ideally, it must be a dirt road but unfortunately, it doesn’t lead too far that’s why it will be impassable and asphalted after a while.

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You can, depending on your character and mood, choose places more or less crowded. You can search the places of interest: for instance, a remote monastery or a little-known nature reserve. (Sometimes I am guided by a name: Khryatska, Kryzhopil, Tsyurupynsk-that-no-longer-exist – or Horishni Plavni-that-now-exist). Depending on your health, you can walk only ten kilometres or the whole sixty within a day. Depending on your income, you can go to a further region or walk around your own. You can go for the whole holidays or just for one day. It isn’t necessary to save up for Marocco for a year, is it? And in Ukraine itself – it isn’t all about the Carpathians. Worse still. I remember walking on the Chornohora range like on the highway: “Good afternoon. Hello. Hi. Część Hello. Good afternoon. Część. Część.”

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In non-touristy places, it is no less beautiful and certainly more meditative. For example, Ukrainian steppe turned out to be incredible in the spring. And for several days of wanders on a long weekend, I haven’t met any other “tourist” there. It seems, locals – unlike the Carpathians – aren’t used to “tourists”. It even comes to such questions:

“Listen, are you a religious fan? Some baptist or a Jehovah’s Witnesses? Well, it’s, sure thing, your own business.”

I just religiously love this land. Or, until I got rid of a camera and paper maps, it was like this: you check the route, take a picture of some beautiful gates and suddenly it turns out you’d been watched.

“Are you an inspector or what?”

Yeah. As an inspector of Ukraine, let me answer: Ukraine has not died yet, the flowers are blooming, the ears are flourishing, “gas production” is producing gas.

But you can go on your own and make your own conclusions: whether the countryside is decaying or reviving; whether the towns are dying or getting lively; whether the Ukrainian dominates beyond the city boundaries – or Russian (spoiler: the jargon); whether the people are gloomy in this or that region – or with humour and a scathing sarcasm. You know, it won’t harm to have more people who live according to a principle “love and know your homeland”. Especially “know”.

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Download an offline map, get by train or blablacar to your destination, be sure to turn off the Internet – and ahead, to Zen. Meditate. Either on the life of your country, or your life or any philosophical problems. Once Nietzsche said that he trusted only the thoughts which came when he stood.

When tired – take a rural bus or a hail some Zhyguli. Or meet your younger namesake on a truck full of goslings and ducklings: your namesake drives poultry to villages but recently he and his wife have been to Egypt where he liked the markets most of all.

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Don’t you want to spend a night in a tent (me too) and have some money? In every regional centre with 20 thousand population, there must be a hotel (though you have to google it). Do you worry about the safety (nothing bad happened to me but I am a man)? Then find a fellow traveller and test “a friend in need” since you, for sure, will face, at least once, the situation “turn left or right”. However, in our time with offline maps and GPS, you should try hard to get lost. Even deciding on the place in Ukraine, where it won’t be raining (or it won’t be blazing hot) on weekend – in our time it’s also a piece of cake: just open a weather map and choose a destination region. Surprises and impressions are guaranteed. Mental rest as well. (Remember to turn off the Internet, GPS works without it). Oh! I nearly forgot! Take care of the water. At least three litres per person! Actually, nothing more in warm seasons is needed. I also take a thin book.

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Do you remember how Jack Kerouac dreamed that his country was filled with people with backpacks? Well, we had Hryhoriy Skovoroda, the history itself told us to wander around the country. So let’s skovoroduvaty together – I mean everyone on their own, of course.


(In the pictures, some of which has been taken with a phone: the south of Chernivtsi region in November; Mykolaiv steppe in April; Skovoroda’s and Hohol’s lands in summer. I am totally convinced that you know or you will find even more beautiful places).

Artem Chapeye

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