At a cafe restaurant there called ‘Shance’ (Chance) i wasn’t allowed to pay for two cups of tea, and was treated to a delicious bowl of soup and a very useful bottle of drinking water. Walking on one got a sense that the town had aspirations to be a sort of miniature Las Vegas. The only hotel was self-consciously plush, and quite expensive by Ukrainian standards, but still much less than one would expect to pay even in Poland, for example. I checked in and had a very comfortable night, then set off next morning ‘ponchoed up’ to deal with the showery conditions. In mid morning a fellow, who turned out to be a pharmacist, pulled over in his van and insisted on taking me “just 10 or 15 kms”, so i accepted, but soon after dropping me off down the road he was back, and basically telling me i had to be taken quite a lot further(!), about 70km in total. To be honest this made sense, as i had no chance of walking all the way across Ukraine before the start of my Russian visa on the 9th of May, and pilgrimage is not an exact science. He also told me about a much revered pilgrimage destination for Orthodox Christians to the west called Pochaev Lavra (monastery), whose foundation legend is quite similar to that of Zarvanytsia (Kievan monks in flight from the Mongols, a revered Icon of the Theotokos*). It remained Orthodox within the pre-war Polish Republic, though for a spell earlier in its tempestuous history, it was in the hands of Ukrainian Greek Catholic monks, who won recognition for the miracle-working properties of the Icon from the Holy See. This region, then, lies on the historical frontier between the competing claims of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, claims which have usually been coterminous with territorial feuding between Poland and Russia**. The particular relevance of this concept of frontier, moreover, is underlined by the meaning of the word ‘Ukraine’ itself; approximately ‘on the frontier’ (or sometimes march in English). But i was struck by the way in which generally, nowadays, all linguistic as well as religious differences are powerfully overridden by a very strong sense of Ukrainian national identity. Ukrainians are not Poles – and neither are they Russians.
*meaning ‘God-bearer’ – an appellation for Our Lady which is frequently found in Orthodox Christianity.
**allowing for various complicating factors, among them Habsburg Austrian dominion over Southern Poland (including Lviv) from 1772 until 1918.