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“If those seniors had relatives, they would not have been sent there,” explains Ms. Batyiovska.

As council president, she oversees the process by which elderly residents enter the nursing home. The individual must consent and the council must provide a written intervention. In general, the elderly in rural Ukraine prefer to stay in their homes, even when they receive little or no family support.

Eighty–one–year–old Natalya Palykh–Tomkiv is one such widow. In 1996, her husband, Yosyp, died. And, in 2006, she lost her daughter. She now lives alone in the family home, ambling about her vegetable garden and shuffling to church as often as she can. Most days, the radio keeps her company, which she listens to full blast all day long. She also stays in touch with her granddaughter, named Natalya after her, who teaches English in Lviv. The two speak to each other regularly, and Mrs. Palykh–Tomkiv always keeps her mobile phone close at hand.

As do so many of the elderly villagers, Mrs. Palykh–Tomkiv has an extraordinary story to share. When she was 16, she and a few of her friends served as messengers for the nationalists.

“Even our parents didn’t know about it at first,” recalls the octogenarian, who wears her gray hair pulled back in a thick braid. “Our task was to deliver secret reports written on cigarette paper to a target person. Usually, I would hide those scrolls in the braids of my hair when I walked barefoot across the pastures as if I were going to or from school.”

In 1949, the Soviets arrested the youth and jailed her at the infamous Lontsky Street Prison in Lviv. The imposing structure, used by the Soviets to confine political opponents, now serves as a national memorial museum to the victims of Polish, Nazi and Soviet occupation. After a short stay, she was sent to a forced labor camp in Vorkuta, a northern Russian town above the Arctic Circle.

“I remember when we were being deported, it was so cold in the train car that my braid froze to the side wall.”

Miss Tomkiv was detained in a camp where workers lumbered the forests in and around Vorkuta. While there, she met her future husband Yosyp Palykh, a Ukrainian villager who was also exiled for political opposition.

In 1956, after the government granted amnesty to its political prisoners, the couple returned to Ukraine, first settling in the Donbas region in the east before moving home to Yakymiv.

Though a widow living on her own, Mrs. Palykh–Tomkiv has three sisters living nearby, 61–year–old Daryna Palykh, 70–year–old Iryna Tomkiv and 80–year–old Olha Tomkiv. The sisters survive their parents as well as two brothers and a sister.

On the feast day of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God, the family gathers at Iryna’s home. “Glory to Jesus Christ,” she says, using the traditional greeting in the village to welcome visitors, who include several relatives from the area and two nieces from Lviv.

Iryna has earned a reputation in the region for her exceptional embroidery skills. Her elaborate needlework adorns almost every item in the house, including napkins, tablecloths, pillowcases, curtains, wall décor and icons.

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