Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tales from the Village 1: Beet Harvest in Pictures

This is Oksana Kolodnyts'ka heading with me up to the fields where we will be harvestingher family's sugar beets. The view is of the village of Sil'tse across the Koropets River Valley from her grandmother's (Ol'ha Sybul'ska) homestead in the village of Halych. Sil'tse rests on a hill on the eastern side of the valley, while the town of Pidhajtsi and the village of Halych are on a hill to the west of the valley. Mind you, this is not the Halych for which much of Western Ukraine is named; that Halych is 45 km away from Pidhajtsi, and was a fortified town in medieval times. Remains of the medieval castle still stand. The village of Halych is basically a suburb of Pidhajtsi; you need a native to tell you where the town ends and the village begins. One can refer to the whole area, the town and surrounding villages, as Pidhajtsi. The population altogether is abut 7,000, and Pidhajtsi is 75km from Ternopil (pop. approx. 250,000) and 35km from Berezhany (pop. approx. 25,000). The town of Pidhajtsi also is the seat of the Pidhajtsi county (Pidhajets'kyj rajon).

The area between the town of Halych and Pidhajtsi is quite desolate. Many of the villages between the village of Halych (or Pidhajtsi) and the town of Halych have a disproportionate population of old people, as many youngsters have left in search of work in bigger cities or abroad. This means that the roads and other infrastructure in this area are quite run down even by Western Ukrainian standards, because pensioners don't pay taxes.

Last summer, that of 2004, Oksana and I once had to hitchhike from the town of Halych to Pidhajtsi. We didn't think that we would make it, as traffic was practically nil. The desolation of the area made a strong imperssion on us. An old couple returning from work in the fields that evening told us we were crazy to be traveling by auto-stop (Uki for hitchhiking; i.e., avtostop) that late in that area, and they waited with us until a car came. In the meantime, they told us about their hardships and how depressing it was in their village with so few young people around. Their own children had worked abroad, and now are living in other parts of Ukraine.

Altogether these are the Halychyna heartlands, and to some extent they are becoming depopulated. In other words, this is rural decline Ukrainian style, and which is something that the West underwent for a period of generations. The processes of deruralization in the West and the ongoing one here in Ukraine may be different, but either way, in both places, deruralization is the effect of rural neglect and profiteering by powers beyond the contorl of rural populations.

(One great book about the process of "rural modernization" in the US is Wendell Berry's classic The Unsettling of America. Berry also is a fabulous poet and essayist.)

In this region in general the villages and most of the towns are built from the valley floor to mid-way up the hills, and usually on one side of the hill. On top of the hill and on the opposite slope usually are the fields. The above photo is another view of Sil'tse from the fields above Halych.

These fields were all part of collective farms, but now each family has about one and a half hectares (or about 3.7 acres). This is enough for subsistence and for a degree of produce to take to market. However, here is an important point: the fields surrounding Pidhajtsi could easily be worked by a few American farming families using all the contemporary agribusiness techniques; however, if you were to apply them here, you would displace hundreds of families and ruin their livelihoods. This has been a problem in some parts of Ukraine, and is one contributing factor to rural flight.

Here I appear for the first time ever on this blog. This is proof that I do actually work sometimes. The real reason I am posting it here is that I somehow managed not to get a picture of someone else picking the beets from the ground.

This year I was lucky. The Kolodnytskis all decided to pool some money and hire a guy with a tractor attachment that would dig the earth up from under the beets and turn it over, thus leaving the beets in loose soil near the surface. Last year, we picked each beet through the wet earth one by one. You can read an earlier post of mine here in which I talk about what is so important about wet earth at harvest time. In a nutshell, the Ks decided on this course of action this year as there has been no rain, and when the soil is dry, you can't pull the beets up from the earth. You have to dig each one from the ground. We tried waiting for rain before starting the work, but alas it got much too late to wait--we risked having to work in the rain, blowing winds, and the cold of the Pre-Carpathian autumn (as you can see from the photos, we are not far from the Carpathian Mountains).

Of course, the work went faster this way--last year we worked almost a week and a half, while this year the work took just three days. The Ks also gathered together a small company of neighbors and family to help out. These folks all owed the K's some help in return for their help to them. The K's have a tractor, and Taras, who is Oksana's brother and who is, like Oksana, my second-cousin, has been helping these others haul their beets to the burjakpunkt (the Beet Point), where you go to drop off and weigh your load of beets. In return you get a certain number of sacks of processed sugar, while the factory also takes a cut of the sugar for its work in processing the beets into sugar. All the sugar in Ukraine comes from sugar beets. Sugar beet is the main cash crop in the subsistence farming regiment of most of rural Western Ukraine. Lesja K, Oksana's and Taras's mother, will go to the weekly bazaar through the winter to sell sugar as the need for money arises. She is pictured below, as are Taras and Oksana again, and most significantly, as is their beloved Vladimirets Tractor. (Which makes me think of the book A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, which is a decent read; you can go to Neeka's site for her review of the book.)

Lesja has not held a job since the early 90s. She used to work in a preservatives factory in Soviet and early Post-Soviet times, but the managers ran the business into the ground while enriching themselves wildly. When the business closed, they sold the equipment. 100 or so people were out of work. This also happened at a woodworking plant in Pidhajtsi that produced sheets of wood out of the forests surrounding this area. From the environmentalist's perspective, it is probably a good thing that the plant shut down. However, the shut-down occured in such manner that again some managers got rich by mismanaging their business and selling off the equipment (which citizens of the Ukrainian SSR paid for, mind you), and ultimately by destroying the livelihood of another 100 or so people. I have other family who worked in that plant.

Oksana and Taras now have jobs, but for years no one in their family, not even their father Hryts, had a job. I will be posting a piece I have been working on about Hryts later. Their family's main source of income came from money sent from my grandmother in Minneapolis (their grandmother is my baba's sister), these beets, Baba Sybul'ska's pension, and the money that Hrtys made while working in Germany some years ago.

Things are a bit better for them now, as Hryts has now become a high-ranking official in the county administration. This was in part a reward for all the hard work and effort he put into the Yushchenko campaign and in organizing the OR, but his appointment also was made possible due to his local reputation as one incorruptible man. Someone in Ukraine's overwhelmingly paternalistic, connection-based kleptocracy made it into government based on principles of a meritocracy! That is, he got his post based on his merit, and not on his connections! Perhaps this a small sign that the OR has succeed a little; however, it is true that kleptocrats and nepotism still run amok in rural Ukraine, and this is why Yushchenko's cooperation with a plan to grant immunity to local officials is absurd, is indeed a betrayal of OR goals, and is why so many people in the countryside are PISSED off and disappointed.

More on Hryts and all of this some other time. . .

One of the neighbors "obligated" to help out. It is not as bad as it sounds. People rather willingly help each other. Without this kind of exchange, labor for labor, the people of rural western Ukraine would not survive. There is a self-organizing specialization that happens here: this one guy knows how to fix clocks, this guy locks; that guy has a tractor, but that guy who used to have a tractor has certain combine attachments, etc.

The fellow pictured above lives in the house that is brightly illuminated in the first photo above, across the street from Baba Sybul'ska. I forgot his name, but he remembers my grandparents and recalls in vivid detail the day that they left Ukraine in 1944. By-the-way, my paternal grandparents (my mother's side is also from Ukraine) left their village on June 26, 1944. My first ever day in Ukraine and in Pidhajtsi was June 26, 2004. That I should arrive sixty years to the day that my paternal grandparents left was not a consciously planned event, as I discovered the relevant date only a few weeks before I returned to the states last February. The fellow who gave me this info was Ivan Kolodnyts'kyj, Taras and Oksana's grandfather, and husband to my baba's sister. I had asked him if he remembered the day that my grandparents left, and he said that he remembers it vividly, as he was quite fond of my grandfather. Ivan himself did not know what day I had arrived in Pidhajtsi, and after I told the date, his mouth opened in wonderment and his eyes welled with tears. Ivan is a passionate and gentle kind of man, and this is quite refreshing, given the stuffy air of machismo that far too many of the village youth try to put on and that makes me feel like I am beginning to suffocate after I have been in the village world for long enough.

Dealing with the stupid machismo is much, much worse for me than dealing with the sense of isolation one can get while in the village; or perhaps the machismo is the main source of the feeling of isolation I get when in the village world for long enough. Because of this, I generally prefer the company of women and of a few gentle fellows I know when there, and of Dido Ivan. However, I do like to go out for drinks once in a while, and the unmacho, but still real guys that I know are not drinkers (you know, if you ain't macho, you must be holobyj or some weirdo, or wait, the word that the kruti-macho guys like is a pedarast. . .). I don't much enjoy going out drinking with the macho men (the kruti) because, of course, drinking for them is a ritual of displaying extreme machismo by extreme drinking. I need to find some unmacho, but still cool, drinking buddies in Pidhajtsi. So far, such buddies have all been much older men. Anyway, I could perhaps someday write some pieces called "Tales of the Kruti". . .but nah, for they will just be scathing rants!

The above fellow's wife. Check out the hilliness of the terrain.

Taras, Oksana, and Lesja K tossing beets into the trailor of the Vladimirets. That's not a jug of moonshine (samohonka), but of water. The moonshine will appear in a photo below.

At the end of the work, we sat for a bite to eat, and to drink and be jovial. This is the moment that makes all the work SOOOO valuable, the sitting, resting, chatting, eating, and singing in the fields. This, in so many ways, is what life in rural Ukraine is really all about. Below is a photo of the third, or fourth, or wait, was it the fifth, toast? Well, if it was the fifth, that means there was a sixth, for God loves all things in threes.

The view from the northern edge of Pidhajsti, where the K's live, to yet another village, Stare Misto.

The Vladimirets parked safely back on Sunny Street (vulytsja sonjachna) in front of the K's home in Pidhajtsi, in front of another few tractors, at the end of the day after the stop at burjakpunkt.
A few moments later, Oksana and I were all cleaned up and quickly headed to the local Cultural Center (Dim Kultury) for what turned out to be a rather entertaining concert in honor of the day--this was last Friday, Oct. 14, the traditional UPA day in Western Ukraine. They are trying to make it an all Ukrainian holiday, but because of the lingering effects of Soviet ideology, this holiday remains controversial in Ukraine. Check out Neeka's blog (see my links list) for some of her commentary one what took place in Kyiv (communists and others brawled with UPA veterans and celebrants on Independence Square).

As you can see, the rain started to fall just as Taras and I were heading back from the burjakpunkt in the Vladimirets. We are lucky that we got the work done, because it has been very cold and raining ever since then, including here in L'viv from whence I right.

Us'oho najkraschoho (All the Best),


1 comment:

Veronica Khokhlova said...

A wonderful text and wonderful photos - thanks! I'll put up a link to it on my blog in the morning. Please do continue posting these stories - very interesting, very not abstract, very moving and very important. Again, thanks and all the very best to you and your family!