When it was discovered that was a sensation. People were writing, taking pictures, bringing an “avalanche of the boat” down on the social networks. Then they assessed, saved, and built non-existent museums to it. This is the most ancient boat that was found in the vastness of Europe. 12 meters and 20 centimeters (!) long. Until 2015 it was resting calmly in the Styr River in Volyn oblast. For now, scientists date it back to… the thirteenth century.
Today, covered in construction site dust, under the dirty black plastic confinement it looks at the mortal world with its hundred years old bods. Scratched and worn out from wondering.
From all the sides, walls made of white blocks are surrounding it. Around you can see piles of sand and other construction garbage. On the top, they’re already making a roof. And every day it hears swearwords of construction guys. In particular, when one more time someone comes here for the first time and asks to take off the confinement.
“Can we open it?” we humbly ask the director of the museum Petro Khomych from the district center Manevychi that’s in Volyn. Unofficially, he’s considered to be a patron of the site.
He waves his shoulders. It means no. He nods at the boys that are erecting the walls over the boat. He says it’s only possible in case they want… For they don’t get their payment on time, have lots of trouble with this boat, and almost every day people (sometimes scientists, sometimes journalists) come to see it.
We amicably wink to boys and in front of our eyes stands that very boat that in 2015 had made a lot of fuss not only all around Volyn oblast.
It’s somehow impolite to call it old. This boat is more than seven hundred years old. According to Petro Khomych, in 2016, at the international conference in Liublin (Poland), it was named “the finding of the year in Europe”. For 34 years he has been a director of Manevychi museum of local lore. However, he couldn’t have imagined that committing more than a few decades of his life to research of the region in the depth of Volyn, he would stumble upon such a rarity.
“So now, my wife says, ‘that boat would have better stayed there for 500 years more!’ For it takes all of my time. So many things to do and what’s the meaning in it… (gets lost in his thoughts – author’s note) Let’s go, you’ll see it with your own eyes,” he brings us to the museum’s backyard.
No matter everyone was excited about the finding, to “relocate” it from the thirteenth to the twenty-first century is not so easy. Today, behind the walls of the museum in the district center, they finish separate premises for one boat. On the paper, it is a reconstruction of the acting facility. In practice – this huge additional structure with a separate entrance is a “new home” for the boat.
Memories of finding something similar to a boat in the Styr River still warm the heart of the museum’s director. In 2015, there was a very dry summer in Volyn oblast. Styr River that divides Manevychi forest area was dried out from place to place. Between the villages of Starosillia and Kopyllia, Styr was so dried out that you could walk across a usually deep river. So then at the bottom of the Styr, local fishermen spotted twenty centimeters of some log. Fortunately, someone got the epiphany that the log was not what it seemed to be.
In this area, villagers are quite active. At first, they tried to dig out the finding on their own. They even brought some machinery to Styr. However, they couldn’t take away almost a thousand-year-old layer of land.
“It was twenty-seventh of August. I came there in the evening. I saw a hole dug in the ground and there, something really reminiscent of a boat was lying there. We called the police. And while they were watching the boat, I was sitting there for two days trying to figure out how to take it out. I was calling the archaeologists from all around the country – our guys, the others from Rivne and Kyiv – all of them were advising something…” Petro Khomych recalls that day.
Despite the fact that the finding became a sensation – it didn’t provoke a sensation in the official’s offices. So, back then, residents of Manevychi had to act on their own.
Local entrepreneurs had agreed to help the boat. They provided the crane and powerful machinery. Nobody asked a penny. It was businessman Bohdan Kyrychyk, who came up with an idea of how to take the boat from the bottom of the river without damaging it. After all, the work was quite risky. The man proposed to wash the sand out with motopump while adjusting the boat to the crane. Thus for a short period of time, it hung over the Styr River.
“Ten people for eight hours were working in water in order to get the boat out! A lot of people were gathered on both banks of the river. Villagers were bringing food and even vodka to those who were working. And you know, it was as if it had just left a fairy-tale,” Petro Khomych says.
The finding was placed in an artificial reservoir. However, the water was completely different from the Styr River, so it softened the wood. They sounded the alarm. They contacted the Khortytsia Reserve and the latter reacted immediately – quite soon, conservation specialists arrived at Manevychi, for the 12-meter boat had to be sprayed with preservatives and nobody knew how to do it.
A problem of how to move it from the reservoir had arisen again. The same Bohdan Kyrychyk allowed carrying it to his business premises. It was quite a long hangar with no good conditions for the finding, with wind gusts and dust, however, it saved it from death and became a roof over her head for several years.
Scientists weren’t the first to reach the boat, no. The first were those who were offering to buy the boat. Petro Khomych doesn’t hide there were different offers, however, he doesn’t specify the names for the general public. He says that, as soon as he publicly stated that while he’s alive, the boat will stay in Manevychi. The calling ceased.
Lithuanian scientists were examining the finding for a long time. The specialists are shocked by what they see. At first, they even were ready to fund the restoration project. But when Lithuanians conducted analyses of timber samples and found out that it had nothing to do with the history of the Volyn of the Lithuanian era, they threw their hands up… There was no reason for cooperation. According to the Lithuanians, the boat dates back to 1239.
The Polish scientists had also cherished their plans on the boat cooperation. However, they refused when it turned out that the boat has nothing to do with the Polish period of the Volynian history, for it’s much older.
“So, it turns out that the biggest problem of the boat is that it is ours, Ukrainian. Understand? Otherwise, we would have already found the money for everything,” the director of the museum comments.
He believes that the discovery “came” to us just from the period of the Chetvertynsky and Chortorysky princes reign in Volyn. And it was just in the middle of two generic towns – the village of Chetvertnia and the village of Staryi Chortoryisk, which are connected by Styr. The fact that the boat is extremely large can indicate that she belonged to the nobility.
The finding was buried at a depth of 3.5 – 3.8 meters, which also means the age of more than one or two centuries. Inside, two metal tools were found. One of them had an emblem composed of three arrows. Its mystery is still unsolved.
The dendrological analysis conducted in Gdansk showed that the wood from which the boat was made is a white willow. The Kyiv National Restoration Center believes that it is an elm. All of these are local trees. In Volyn, in recent years they found few dugout boats, but the uniqueness of this particular one lays within its huge size.
At first, in Volyn, it was announced loudly that they will build a separate modern museum for the boat at the entrance to the village. That must have been unique. The raion center is just on the road to Dolsk. Such an authentic object must attract the attention of tourists for sure.
However, the boat got out of one quagmire and, it seems, it got stuck in another one. On the other hand, local political rivalry and lack of money have also affected its fate. So a beautiful project turned out to be zilch.
Museum staff sometimes had to cover the boat with preservatives twice a day. Then it turned out that reagents formed the membrane that does not let any preservatives inside. In order not to lose the boat, it is necessary to remove the membrane and refine it again.
When it became clear that there would be no modern museum, and a 12-meter monoxylon (that’s how they call dugout boats), another option was found in the raion center.
“When there is one option, then the second is always ripening. They wanted a separate museum. Well, I didn’t mind it. However, not at the entrance, but in our park, where 6 hectares of territory require cultivation. At the same time, I made some calculations and understood – if we start construction, it’s going to cost a lot of money. One million will bring another one… So we’ve chosen the second option. That is the simplest and, at this stage, probably the most logical way to save it,” says the head of the local raion state administration Andriy Lyndyuk.
So instead of a separate museum, we have a modest annexe. Then there were three attempts to conduct a tender. Some say that a few wanted to work for pennies – 1.8 million hryvnias (300 thousand from raion and 300 thousand from oblast budgets have already been allocated). The others hint that they were delaying in order to give it to a “right” man.
However, in June 2019 a crane transported the boat to the museum, placed next to the building and workers began to erect walls. Although, it does not really match the old museum with Soviet mosaic about partisans.
Petro Khomych shows how the Museum, which once was offered to be built at the entrance to the village, might look like according to the design of a Sumy architect. As an option…
Today, he tirelessly keeps a diary of the monoxylon from Manevychi. Carefully writes he writes down the important dates of its new biography – every refinement, every relocation. He sighs when it comes to the boat’s future. He says the museum workers weren’t asked when the design of the museum for the boat was approved. Unfortunately.
Now the director of the museum often travels to conferences abroad, tells about the discovery, sees how professors are surprised with his antiquity, but admits – the largest and the most ancient of the boats known in Europe at the moment doesn’t deserve such walls.
However, he hopes that one day it will be recognized as a national monument and… “God willing, we will make a decent project.”
And it’s better for God to will.
Text by Olena Livitska
Photo by Iryna Kabanova