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What’s Next for Ukraine’s Villages?

As Ukraine’s villagers age, the memory of the 20th century’s hardships and triumphs fades

text by Mariya Tytarenko

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It’s the best place to have an apiary,” says Father Volodymyr Protsyk of his village of Yakymiv in western Ukraine. “It’s like the edge of the world surrounded by fields and woods,” the Greek Catholic priest continues, smiling behind a beekeeper’s mask. “And it’s heaven for bees!”

A skillful beekeeper — the priest’s 15 beehives, painted patriotically in bright blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, produce a half ton of honey a year — the 70–year–old is better known among the locals as the pastor of St. John the Baptist Church. Ordained secretly during the Soviet era, he was assigned to the village when the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church resurfaced in 1989 after more than 40 years of Soviet suppression.

Situated at the end of a country road, about 18 miles from the provincial capital of Lviv, Yakymiv is a frontier settlement. Youngsters trek more than a mile each way to the larger, neighboring village of Vyriv to attend school. Yakymiv, Vyriv and nearby Horphyn belong to a single village council, one of 22 such councils in the region.

“Our villages are phenomenal,” says 36–year–old Mariya Batyiovska, who has presided over the council for the past five years.

“Despite following three different churches, we are all quite friendly. In 1993, we made a joint pilgrimage with an icon of the Mother of God of Zarvanytsia.

“While poor, our villagers are very generous. Recently, we gathered two tons of potatoes for the region’s nursing home — the largest donation among other more prosperous settlements in the area,” she adds proudly.

Though difficult to locate on the map, these villages have played a pivotal role in Ukraine’s modern history, serving as strongholds for Ukrainian nationalists during World War II and the Soviet era.

Yakymiv, in particular, functioned as a major center and military base for the nationalists — and for this the village and its inhabitants have suffered tragically. In 1939, the Soviet army seized the village and burned it to the ground, just when residents began building a school. The Soviets then rounded up members of a Ukrainian cultural and nationalist movement that had been established in Lviv in the 19th century, murdered them and exiled their leader to Siberia.

Undeterred, surviving villagers remained loyal to the nationalists, offering protection and assistance. In 1944, locals again paid dearly. Soviet forces raided the village and set it aflame a second time. Before the ashes settled, the army had killed 23 nationalists, exiled 22 families to Siberia and arrested and deported 42 people to labor camps. The church was shuttered, homes ransacked and property confiscated. The Soviets then established a collective farm on the villagers’ lands, naming it after Kutuzov, a Russian general who defeated Napoleon by scorching the land as he retreated.

Roman Kuk, a 79–year–old resident of Yakymiv, vividly remembers the World War II period. His older brother, Petro, headed a regional division of Ukrainian nationalists.

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Tags: Ukraine Village life Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Caring for the Elderly Soviet Union