Saturday, 31 March 2012

After attending the Byzantine-rite Sunday Liturgy in their chapel and enjoying a delicious bowl of borsch for lunch, under another sunny sky i was off again, though for much of the way to Xhodoriv i hitched a ride with another Victor and his daughter, then took a very crowded bus back to Rogatin. After a stop for a drink there in a cafe ‘Victor’ i trooped eastwards, reaching a village by the name of Lopushna at about 10pm. Stopping there to rummage in my bag for a pair of gloves, a woman in her thirties came by and asked if she could be of any help. After further questioning she very kindly invited me to stay at her house, which she shared with her mother and brother. As it was Sunday (therefore not one of the forty days of Lent), the thought of joining them for a few glasses of vodka and some nice food didn’t trouble my conscience, and we discovered a common fondness for the village of Bortniki, where my hostess’s grandfather still lived. She also insisted on giving me a Russian language book of prayers to Our Lady, and her mother gave me a beautiful Ukrainian image of the Madonna and Child, from an old calendar. In the morning, after a great sleep on their sofa, i left them a card with a Russian Icon and a Miraculous Medal, besides promising to write.

   Being Monday i had an appointment at the travel agency, so i took a minibus back to Rogatin, then a larger but slower vehicle from there which wended its way past a giant state-of-the-art football stadium, under construction on the southern outskirts of Lviv. Needing to get to the centre i took another taxi, whose driver was a Liverpool and Karpaty (Carpathian) Lviv fan. Among other things our conversation turned to the air of inevitability hanging over Tottenham’s impending clash with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Alas, having overcome the mighty AC Milan in the previous round, they would not escape very close scrutiny from Mourinho’s fearsome Galacticos. The lady at the travel agency said the visa in fact would be ready for collection on Friday, so i spent part of the afternoon collecting things from the house, went to a Mass in Polish, and pinged off some emails to various people and places. I also came across a discarded but very usable winter police uniform, which was too heavy to take with me, so i put it in a bin liner and stashed it in a space under a building, in case i had an opportunity to retrieve it. The best way to resume the walk to Zarvanytsia from where i’d left off, i decided, would be to take a late train to the city of Ternopil, which left the station in Lviv around midnight. I got a few hours sleep before its arrival at 3.50am, and thankfully could grab a few more in an out-of-the-way place in the station there. Two bus journeys later i was in an attractive if slightly unkempt town called Berezhani, not far from Lopushna, which i’d reached on Sunday night. After attending a service in the baroque Church of the Holy Trinity on the main square, at a nearby cafe-restaurant a formal lunch was in progress, attended by two priests, one of whom recited a prayer, at which the diners kept a reverent silence. In Lviv and around it was not unusual to see people of all ages cross themselves as they passed a Church, and a favourite greeting in this part of Ukraine is a hearty “Glory to Jesus Christ”, to which one replies “Glory forever!” Not however that there wasn’t a full complement of social problems in evidence, many of them related to the abuse of alcohol.

   I set off from there, past the remains of quite an impressive castle, and reached a village called Lityatin, where i was kindly given a free coffee and pryaniki at the shop. Inside the adjacent Church the ceiling was being painted exquisitely by a pair of artists who turned out to be identical twin brothers. They made their living from bigger commissions, but were doing this work for free, Lityatin being their home village. Feeling quite weary, after a brief chat in which i explained about the pilgrimage, i gladly accepted a kind invitation from one of them to come to his home, just over the road, for something to eat. Back at the ranch, his wife and daughter were instrumental in putting some lovely hot food in front of me, and he clarified a very important difference between this western region and other parts of the Ukraine. The extraordinary degree of religious observance is chiefly explained by the fact that, until 1945, it was in Poland. In other words, like Lithuania for example, it had been part of the (atheist) USSR for only 45, instead of 70 years, and moreover it was the great Polish tradition of Christianity which communism had tried (and clearly failed) to extinguish here. I was also told that the ruined castle in Berezhani was at one time the home of Polish nobility. Asked if there was anything else they could do to help, i replied that i would love to lie down and rest for an hour, which was fine, but it was decided that in fact i should also stay overnight! After the nap i enjoyed a most congenial evening, with more nice food, and was shown an album of some of the twins’ frankly magnificent previous commissions. Kiev has a long established school of superb ecclesiastical painting, and my hunch was that these brothers are among its greatest living exponents. I also spoke briefly with the second of the brothers in my first ever ‘Skype’ conversation - a confusing experience as initially i thought i was looking at a video of my host! Then i saw on the internet that Spurs were trailing 2:0 to Real Madrid; later i learnt that they suffered a 4:0 defeat.   

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