Wednesday, 30 September

Let’s slow travel: Radyvyliv Dream

Following the thought from “Let’s slow travel”: sometimes we know the neighbourhood less than things that are more distant: we take low-cost flights to the neighbouring country without travelling to the neighbouring region by minibus that pretends to be a blablacar. For instance, the Rivne region. It was a simple solo hiking trip without sleepovers, what can be more low-cost.

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The Rivne region is a bit less romanticized than Ukrainian steppe where I went hiking before. Meanwhile it is the Rivne region where (crossed out: milk rivers flow) wild cherry trees grow along the roads, the roads themselves are of black basalt, there are storks and storklings on every pillar, on the crossroads – there are crosses in rushnyks (a cloth embroidered with symbols, Ukrainian national symbol – E.D) and ribbons and the trip itself reminds of the film Arizona Dream. Here’s a little Radyvyliv Dream – it’s rather a photo with captions than text.

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In the present Radyvyliv region the Battle of Berestechko took place. Now in Cossacks Graveyard, there is an archaeological and historical museum and a very small monastery with inscription UOC (KP) – the plate has not been changed yet. On a Cossack-Baroque church, as well as on every pillar in the region, there is a stork’s nestle. These all are in the midst of flowers and herbs, and a dozen of bicycles is leaned at the wooden ancient church (it existed even at the time of the battle but in another place): all attendants are the village inhabitants who came to the morning worship, not the tourists.

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Here I managed to travel the way I like: to turn on even more side, distant roads where there are no cars at all. These roads between villages are often cobbled with black basalt, still in an excellent condition – my dad remembers how they were built when he was a kid (despite my stereotypes, these high-quality roads were built not by Poles, but after the war, in the Soviet era, basalt was mined here, in Rivne, near a village with a feature name Bazaltove). My granddad called such cobbled roads “sosha” (informal – ‘a highway’ – E.D).

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For example, basalt “sosha” runs from the Ostriv (island – E.D) to Mytnytsia (customs – E.D). Once the Mytnytsia was literally a customs: the border between Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. Due to the family legends, my great granddad was a forester and knew the area well. Bypassing the customs, he smuggled the vodka: he took one or two bottles with a long neck behind his shoulder (people called them “geese”) and went through the forests to the tsar-royal. Similar to current shuttles.

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After the First World War the borders were displaced – it again became the border zone but already Poland’s one. For awhile. Already in 1939 my granddad and grandmom without any agreement (this usually happens with civilians today) became the citizens of the USSR – and less than in two years, according to my granddad: “In the morning they said on the radio there is a war – in the afternoon I look out – the Germans are heading”. Both of them, granddad and grandmom, too young then, were grabbed to work as Ostarbeiters. In fact, my grandmom fled from such happiness but insidious Germans grabbed her mom instead so she herself went outside the village to the cart to appear for forced labour instead of her mother. However, granddad gladly fled to Ostarbeiters from the Ukrainian terrorists as a civic advocate of their political rivals (also Ukrainian, not Soviet) – but this is a separate and complicated topic which inevitably provokes quarrels. As my friend-psychotherapist says, we all have a hereditary trauma of World War II to the west of the Dnipro, same as we all have the trauma of famine to the east of the Dnipro.

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Today grandmom and granddad’s village isn’t far more crowded. Earlier I had roamed across the steppes and Poltava region – so in the Rivne region, especially far from the cross-cutting roads, the famous “extinction of villages” issue looks somewhat more prominent. However, it is the houses next to which the combine harvesters are “parked” – with new metal plastic windows, with satellite dishes, with metal roofing sheets. If you don’t treat the village as a living unit, but think about each particular person – I don’t know, whether this “extinction” should be perceived as something bad: everyone makes a choice depending on the will, depending on ambition, depending, in the end, on the job. (Personally, if I were the children of the elder generation I would leave for the city. So many of them did). Probably, with modern machinery, fewer workers are needed that it was in times of hoes and sickles. The fields are planted, not abandoned. Wheat and corn are already lushing.

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“We live here like on an island,” said the neighbour of my long gone granddad and grandmom.

From every side of her house – there are abandoned houses. The heirs decided not to live in the village. Even the houses, abandoned not long ago – are overgrown with vines and herbs. The jungles take over. Nature is wild and beautiful. Storches are sacred like a cow in India, nobody touches them. The old cunning foxes (unlike the naive foxes of the Poltava region) this time didn’t let take pictures of them: they looked contemptuously and slowly walked in the bushes, “having everything under control”. Unlike the quails that flutter from under the feet making me shudder all the time. The cuckoos foresaw ten thousand years.

Artem Chapeye

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