Saturday, 31 March 2012

Returning to the Church, when the service came to end, people were almost queuing up to furnish me with kind gifts of money or provisions including fruit and chocolate. In my turn i was at least happy to point out a colourful ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’ electric lamp among the things which happened to be inside the Church. There were no leaps or bounds in the walk from there along a medium-sized, fairly straight country road, but the day was distinguished by yet more squally snow showers; particularly galling, i imagined, for our amphibian friends – in fact they must have been hopping mad! In early evening i came to the small town of Lanivtsi, where an inquisitive fellow gave me a loaf of bread, after which i enjoyed a nice hot bowl of borsch and coffee at a little guest house place. Rooms turned out to be very inexpensive, partly because they had no heating, so i opted to stay the night, then in the morning went to the town library, hoping to have a go on a computer. The two lady members of staff were friendly and helpful, and asked if they could call two journalist friends of theirs, which was fine by me. Two more women arrived soon afterwards, and we recorded an interview in Russian, part of which was taken up with an impassioned litany of historical grievances suffered by Ukraine at the hands of the Russians, not all the details of which i could understand. Apparently the recording was to be used for a local radio broadcast. Before leaving the journalists insisted on going to buy some lovely provisions for me, including a smoked fish, sweets, chocolates, jam and bananas; and i was obliged to accept a little glass of very sweet red wine from the librarians, before photos were taken and i got underway.

   In the next village, Krasnoluka, at the shop i was given free coffee and some pryaniki, which the lady kindly swapped for a Lenten variety – i might not usually have asked, but a lady on a TV talk show was just that minute talking about the benefits of fasting. Then in overcast but dry conditions i trekked quite a long way through uninhabited countryside to a place called Yampil’, where it was a surprise to see a statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. You see him in Russia, but i thought he would have gone from Ukrainian towns. Later i realised i must have crossed from a district (‘Ternopilski’) which was in pre-war Poland, to a region inside the boundaries of the pre-war Soviet Union, named after Khmelnitsky, who of course rose up against Polish rule. And not co-incidentally, i learnt that this was the beginning of territory which calls itself Orthodox; one seldom saw any other type of Church.
  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.    

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