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The Village as a Time Machine
There is a village in the vicinity of Kyiv which over the years has become a major tourist destination. Oleksa PANAS, who is not much of a tourist, tries to explain why, once in a while, he also goes there.
Photos by Serhiy Horobets, Oleksandr Horobets.
The name of the village is Pyrohiv. If you go there without knowing what to expect you will surely wonder how come there are villages in the twenty-first century which look as though they have remained unchanged since the nineteenth century — or even earlier. Squat peasant houses with thatched roofs and whitewashed walls, some of which are definitely adobe; wooden churches, windmills, a tavern (you could have seen a similar one in an old painting), flowers in the gardens, undulating hills, ponds — and all of it having a definite feel of a living place, not just a collection of recently made, ethnographically correct but essentially dead replicas of authentic houses and all those other things. And when you spot people wearing traditional Ukrainian dresses it surely makes you wonder — a giant show? Time travel?
As a matter of fact, it is indeed a museum — an open-air museum which “exhibits” authentic peasant houses, windmills and churches of the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. ”Authentic” in the very literal sense of this word — all those houses, windmills and churches were spotted in Ukrainian villages across the country by history-of-architecture and Ukrainian-cultural-heritage enthusiasts; then they — the houses and churches and windmills, not the enthusiasts, were carefully taken apart by carpenters and master builders and transported to Pyrohiv where they were reassembled and restored, in case the reassembled “artifacts” needed restoration. So the old look of all those houses and churches and windmills, bearing traces of age-long exposure to the elements, is very natural and very real, not induced.
Years ago, when I found myself in Pyrohiv for the first time I was skeptical (in general, I am of a skeptical disposition) — I expected to see something artificial, without the true touch of life. And I was badly disappointed in my expectations, with disappointment paradoxically being a good thing — the place was truly alive with a life and old-time gentle charm of its own.
Since then I’ve been to Pyrohiv a number of times, and my first impressions were confirmed every time I went there.
Having no car and hating mass transportation, I was taken there by friends and close relatives who own cars. I do not remember anyone not sharing my quiet enthusiasm about that place. Even with very many people milling around, the place never feels crowded (anyway, that’s what I felt). A couple of times we were exceptionally lucky — in the sense that there were surprisingly few people and it felt we had the place all to ourselves.
Once it was in mid-fall, with Nature providing an amazing display of colors, from still bright green through bright yellow and red to subdued brown. Fallen leaves rustled underfoot. Breathing the air, untainted by any noxious smells (in spite of the fact of the village being located close to a huge urban area) was like drinking ambrosia of the gods; the scenery was of a kind that you only half believe what you are actually seeing and not a mirage…
Climbing a hill towards a windmill of a venerable age, I could not help imagining a Ukrainian Don Quixote riding a Ukrainian Rocinante, with a Ukrainian version of Sancho hurrying behind and shouting to the gallant rider that it was a mill not a giant and thus was not to be engaged in a jousting match…
The other time of exceptionally good luck was in winter, in the late afternoon when the night is about to pounce and envelop the world in its magic. To make the scenery totally improbable, the crescent of the moon provided enough light to ignite the snow with zillions of scintillations. The houses under the white hats of snow, the quiet churches, the lonely mills — everything was spell-bound in a fairy-tale beauty, straight from Gogol’s immortal Christmas Eve stories.
And if you feel like having a traditional Ukrainian meal of borscht and varenyky or of dozens of other delectables — you are welcome to partake of an affordable great repast at the local shynok, a sort of a pub, Ukrainian style.
And if you are super-lucky and happen to come to Pyrohiv when one of the many festivals is underway there, you will be… — no, I won’t tell — come and see!
During one of the festivals held in the Open-Air Museum of Folk Architecture and Everyday Life in the village of Pyrohiv.
The Church of St Paraskeva dates from the early 17th century. It was transported to the Museum from the village of Zarubyntsi in the Land of Cherkashchyna and it still functions as a church.
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