TUESDAY JULY 8
After a hearty breakfast, which included vodka, we are off to Krasne in Maryan's car. There is evidence of a building boom as many new homes are being constructed along this route. I also noticed this building frenzy as we travelled on the train. This may create some headaches down the road as there does not appear to be any community plans as houses are built without consideration to future roads. There appears to be some improvement in the condition of the road, but many large potholes remain. Later this afternoon we will find that our video camera that had been stored in the trunk during the journey to Krasne is no longer working.
The village is as I remember it. Nothing has changed in four years. Greetings are emotional. Cousin Anna has not aged, but is unable to get along very well due to arthritis. Bill is surprised at how much Ivan's wife Pauline looks like my mom. My cousin Mykhailo is older and thinner and Roman K. has aged. Maryanka is being raised by Pauline and Ivan. She is so cute but appears to be somewhat spoiled. Ira is spending the summer in the village. A precocious child, she takes on responsibilities far beyond her years. The day is spent catching up on our friendships.
The family appears genuinely pleased that Bill has accompanied me. Pauline is impressed when he offers to help her saying the Ukrainian "ya tobi pomozhu" (I will help you). Among other phrases, he has learned is "no thank you, I am drunk". Anna laughs and remarks that was a waste of learning as everyone will be able to see for themselves that he is drunk, so there will be no need for him to verbalise the fact. On the other hand, Ivanka and Maryan are learning to speak English. Bill offers to help Ivan cut hay and in the process breaks the scythe. So much for "ya tobi pomozhu" as Ivan's workload is increased repairing the broken tool. I must say that Bill is adapting very well even though he is finding the outhouse a challenge.
Water is heated for us to wash and we settle down to sleep at 2200, but it does not come easily. It is 0200 and I have to piddle. On our way to Krasne Ivanka had stopped to buy ten, litre bottles of beer. We by no means consumed it all, but it is evident that my bladder is incapable of retaining fluid any longer. A light is on outside when I get up. Pauline is returning from the outhouse. She stops and peers in my direction, but being nearsighted does not really see me. As I reach the gate, the light is turned off. Three flashlights I brought are still packed in the suitcases and with the moonlight hidden behind the clouds, I am left in the dark. No option left to me but to add nitrogen to the grass near the house. Tomorrow I will be given a pail to keep on the porch for such emergencies. The itch from the accumulated insect bites is intolerable and I cannot find the Calmitol in the dark. The pain in my chest from Ivan's hug is unbearable. I last hear the clock chime at 0300.
WEDNESDAY JULY 9
Anna arrives with her grandchildren. Hrystenka is six years old. We will develop a bond over the next two weeks by playing a game I used to do with my children when they were that age. Misha is eleven. I am surprised at how well he is attired. Ivan dresses us in hats with protective netting so we can take a close look at the bees in his three hives. He has no reservations of himself being unprotected as he moves the honeycombs around. The weather has improved, so we take a walk in the village accompanied by Ivan, Maryanka and her playmate. Our explore basically covered a route I had taken before. There is a dramatic monument at one end of the village that is dedicated to those killed during the war. The large statue attired as a gladiator is holding a tommy-gun. We found names chiselled in the stone that are the same as my maiden name, but apparently the name is as common as Brown or Clark is at home. On the road, we meet Slawko, the driver the family hired during the previous trip. He appears fit but older (aren't we all?). Ivan points out a good example of insulating a house for winter by covering the exterior with straw. It is still in place as the owner is elderly and is unable to remove it for summer. We show Bill Anna's abandoned house (the stork is nesting) and the collective farm that used to hold seven thousand cows and now has a population of forty. A trailer full of manure has tipped with the side-gate resting in the poop. A tractor has been pressed into service to pull it out. Although few modern tools are used by the farmers, there is evidence of more machinery being used in the village. The village council has been allotting parcels of farmland back to the people. The family farm has been given to others, while my family members have obtained parcels that originally were not theirs. We visit one of these plots that Ivan has planted with potatoes. There is a terrible infestation of a bug that threatens their winter supply of potatoes. Outside of distress voiced at the catastrophe of Chernobyl, little was said of the accident during my last trip. Now the locals are blaming all their poor crops and dying trees on that incident. They are incensed that the Soviets permitted this to happen in their homeland.
Anna has had no electricity for four days despite numerous phone calls requesting repairs, and so a cold meal has been prepared. Like Ivanka, she has only a hot plate to cook food. Her daughter-in-law Lida arrives from her mail delivery job. She looks great. Her husband Romko suffering from an ulcer, not so great. Ranitidine, available for him to take is probably not doing him much good as he persists in consuming alcohol. Romko and Mykhailo's son Igor are without jobs. Mykhailo's wife Magda has closed the village store early in order to see us. She looks tired. It is almost inconceivable that she is a year younger than I. We leave at 2130 and slog our way back through the mud as rain continues to plague us.
THURSDAY JULY 10
Pauline comes to terms that we do not want vodka, chicken and potatoes for breakfast, so we are left to enjoy honey, bread and coffee. Near noon, it remains cool but we take advantage of sunshine to go for a walk with Maryanka. There apparently is a physician in the village as she points out his house. A farmer is forcing his horses that are hitched to a wagon to scale a rocky hill. I am sad as I watch them struggle and note not only do the people lead a hard life, but the animals as well. A woman stops to talk to me, but on this trip I find most villagers are reserved, with few making eye contact. Most look very unhappy or at least preoccupied with life. When we return, Ivan is preparing to spray the potato bugs. The pesticide smells suspiciously like DDT.
At 1600 hours Bill and I head for the fairly large cemetery located at one end of the village. We find cousin Vasyl's grave quickly. I had brought candles from home. We sit for a couple of hours relighting the three candles as the wind keeps blowing them out. Located next to the cemetery is a large meadow where cows are brought to graze. At first, we do not recognize the kid hanging over the fence attempting to make contact with us. It is Misha who has this daily responsibility for Anna's cow. Slogging through waist high grasses and thistles, we explore the old section of the graveyard. I am surprised that I remember where to find other tombstones of my relatives. More bugging about gets us lost in the midst of the many fields, so we return to the road. A car stops as we are meandering back to Pauline's. I finally figure out that the driver is on his way to Kalush and has stopped to give us a lift. We thank him for his generosity but decline the offer.
After dinner I recount to Bill that most of the conversation between Ivan and I revolves around which of us is the most impoverished. Without a doubt, I agree that they are certainly more destitute than I, but I am having problems doing Ukrainian math. Maryan was paid $20.00 in wages last year. Despite the poor salary, he keeps his job as the employer provides him with his apartment. He states most of the profits from what he sells is turned over to the bazaar police. I am still not sure whether these are corrupt government officials or mafia types. Anyway, he has a colour TV, VCR, and a car that cost him $5,000.00. He has purchased a garage for $1,599.00 and pays maintenance. He is saving to buy an older house in the centre of town, which incidentally costs less than the car at an estimated $1,500.00. The relatives in Kalush have not been paid for almost a year, yet they found $300.00 for Stepan to spend a month at a health spa. Despite the men of the households being out of work, the children and wives have some pretty snazzy clothes. Somehow it does not compute.
FRIDAY JULY 11
I have decided that I have a broken rib. There is pain when I cough and I am instantly awakened when I roll onto that side during sleep. I have acquired a number of mosquito bites so again I sleep poorly. The sun is shining, but it is terribly cold. Ivan has constructed an outdoor shower. Pauline heats water which Ivan hauls up the ladder and Bill is soon squeaky clean. Ira is a typical teenager, so it is not surprising to hear her in confrontation with her grandfather. She wants to hang out with her friends and has used the excuse she is going to pick cherries. The request has been denied. I laugh when I hear Ivan telling her, he knows what she is doing when she is out "picking cherries".
Anna accompanies us to her home which now has electricity. She fills in some of the blanks in my family's history. My mother had a collection of old photographs, many taken in Krasne. I had not bothered to enquire who were in the photos while mom was alive so I brought them with me to see if these individuals could be identified. Pauline figured out a couple of faces of distant relatives and today Magda, Mykhailo and Anna add names to a couple more. Igor arrives with his lovely wife Nadya. They were married in October, 1995. He is leaving for Moscow in an hour as there is work in construction. Mykhailo is concerned for Igor's safety as apparently many of these migrant workers are robbed of their earnings when they return home on the train.
Anna has offered to accompany us to Vasyl's wife's home. En route, Darka, the woman who lives in what is left of my mom's house joins us as we walk. She says we are welcome to see the inside of the house. We had asked that Vasyl's Anna not be informed of us coming as I did not want her to spend what little money she may have to entertain us. Probably not a good idea as she was terribly embarrassed at not having something prepared for us. Nieces and nephews were helping her store hay, so I am content that she is not having to cope with survival on her own. Following the visit she accompanies us to my family's original plot of land.
She leaves us at the boundary and Anna acts as guide and relates stories of her youth working here. A woman who received a portion of this family parcel says that she pays an annual tax for use of this land. This varies according to the value of her crop. The soil here is very poor, consisting mostly of clay. In fact pensioners are paid a premium in these parts because it is so difficult to grow produce. Interestingly, I do not recall my mother ever complaining of hard times when she recounted life working the fields. Our explore takes us past Roman K's house and he too is preparing feed for his livestock. We stop in the store where Magda works. There is definitely more food and household products for sale, but no money nowadays to purchase these items.
Romko and Lida return with a flat deck full of hay. I am painfully aware that we in North America could not deal with the workload imposed on these villagers as they struggle to survive. Pauline has arrived to collect us as we have been invited to attend a festival in Kosmach in the Hutsul Region. We leave with Maryan and Ivanka to spend the night in Ivano-Frankivsk.
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