and Joan are sisters who spent 15 days in total on a trip this summer, August
2000. They started in Rzeszow, Poland where they were picked up by a
wonderful guide / driver/ translator Alex Dunai.
They spent the first night in Rzeszow, the second night in Lviv,
Ukraine and then drove east to
Krasilov, Ukraine where they stayed for the rest of the trip at the Hotel Paradis. They stopped at Volochisk on the way to Krasilov. For the remainder
of the trip they made day excursions to their other towns of interest, listed below.
Volochisk (Volyn province) 49 31 N /
26 10 E
Slavuta (Volyn province, Zaslavsk district,) 50 17 N / 26 52 E
Krasilov (Podolsk province, Khmelnitskii district) 49 38 N / 26 58 E
Cherni Ostrov (Podolsk province, Khmelnitskii district) 49 30 N / 26 45 E
Sharovechka (Podolsk province, Khmelnitskii district) 49 25 N / 26 55 E
Gorodok (Podolsk province, Kamenetsk district) 49 10 N / 26 34 E
Sharovka (Podolsk province, Khmelnitskii district) 49 13 N / 26 58 E
Kuzmin (Podolsk province, Khmelnitskii district) 49 15 N / 26 31 E
Veseltsa (Podolsk province, Khmelnitskii district, Kuzmin volost) 49 19 N / 26 25 E
Kalytintsy (Podolsk province, Khmelnitskii district, Kuzmin volost) 49 17 N / 26 28 E
Zhuravlintsy (Podolsk province, Khmelnitskii district, Kuzmin volost) 49 17 N / 26 28 E
Minkovtsy (Podolsk province, Dunayevtsy region, Kamenetsk district) 48 51 N/27 06 E
Kamemets - Podolskiy (Podolsk province, Kamenetsk district) 48 40 B / 26 34 E
Khotin (Podolsk province) 48 28 N / 26 30 E
Read notes from their journal and then check out the photos!
We continued to drive along, fascinated by the procession of unusual
vehicles on the road. We’ve previously mentioned the horse drawn carts carrying
huge loads of hay or being used to transport people. We were charmed, but
nervous because many people smoke, even those sitting high up on top of the
pile of hay in the cart.
The bus stops are shelters, built with three walls and a roof. Each stop has the name of the closest town on the roof. And each is completely covered with elaborate mosaic designs or pictures. In a country that is so poor, we wondered why so much money is spent on these shelters. Each design or picture is unique and some of them are quite elaborate and beautiful.
Most of the countryside is farmland. There are gently rolling hills and areas of forest, but most of the land seems to be devoted to farming. We believe many of the collective farms from the Soviet era are still functioning. We were fascinated by the huge mounds of hay in the fields. They were perfectly formed and resemble a Tootsie Roll more than anything, in gigantic proportions. Each must have been two or three stories high and as long as three or four trailers parked end to end. Some of them had a rectangle of earth turned around them to prevent fire from reaching the hay. Joan wanted to climb to the top of one and mess it up. We discouraged her.
Our first stop was in Volochisk in Volyn County.
This was the last town that Benjamin Kalick and his
wife Clara Broitman Kalick
lived in before coming to America in 1923. Clara’s great grandparents were Wolf
(Zev Ari) Broitman and Ida (Chaia)
Maschtalier. Our great great
great grandparents were Wolf and Ida.
Except for the main street of the town, none of the other streets are paved and most have deep ruts filled with water. We drove, or rather crawled, through the streets, gawking at the houses and people. Many of the houses are decorated with mosaic tiles or with carved designs. We saw communal wells at the street line and many times we saw women drawing water to bring home in buckets. Every house is surrounded by a fenced yard that is completely filled with fruit trees, flowers and vegetable gardens. We saw apple, pear, plum and cherry trees. We were surprised that the same flowers growing in New York grow here: zinnias, dahlias, sunflowers, roses and marigolds. We saw willow, birch and many varieties of fir and pine tree. We also saw a tree that resembles mimosa but has clusters of red berries. Alex told us it is the KALENA, the symbol of Ukraine. We thought the climate would be more harsh since we were at the 49th parallel and New York is at the 41st. The 49th parallel separates Washington, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota from Canada. It is far north of New York City but the flora is very similar to that in Joan’s backyard. Alex explained that one of the positive side effects of the collapse of the Soviet economy is that the birds, fish and wild life are returning because the factories are no longer running and, therefore, no longer spewing filth into the environment.
The typical houses in Volochisk are similar to those in many other towns we visited. We saw many partially built brick houses abandoned when they ran out of money after the collapse of the Soviet economy. The fences surrounding each person’s property are very attractive and each one is different.
The bus terminal in Volochisk was beautifully restored. We saw no people
there and there is no evidence that is being used.
We asked about older buildings in Volochisk. Alex found some which he thought might have been built in the 1930’s or 1940’s. They were in very bad shape but as far as we could tell, were still inhabited. There were none left from the time when our ancestors lived here. A whole separate chapter could be written about the apartment buildings. They are called Khrushcheka after Nikita. They were originally put up as cheap temporary housing during the Khrushchev era but show no sign of being torn down or the people being relocated. They are ugly, greyish tan high-rise apartment houses of more than ten stories. Each apartment has a terrace that is used for hanging clothing and linens to dry. Many of the terraces seem to be in such bad shape we wondered why they didn’t fall off the building. We also wondered how people could trust walking out on them. Alex said the apartments are very small, about 900 square feet, and cost the equivalent of a few hundred dollars a month. In most cases, the area around these buildings is also very unattractive with little vegetation even though the rest of the area is very lush and many varieties of plants grow quite easily here. We saw these Khrushcheka in many medium sized towns. In other places, we saw Soviet style buildings, although some towns had both. The Soviet buildings are equally as unattractive but seem to be more solidly built and did not provoke the same disgust in Alex.
We drove around Volochisk to an area of single family homes. We stopped at one house where a young woman was washing her floors. She carried a baby on her hip. Alex needed a little persuading but he finally asked the woman if we could see the inside of her house. After a little coaxing, she agreed. She said she was embarrassed because it was Saturday, cleaning day, and her house was not in order. We told her we wanted to see what a Ukrainian house looked like, and we would not judge her as a housekeeper. Her house consists of four rooms, almost completely unfurnished. There is a small kitchen but no sink since no Ukrainian house has running water. She has patterned linoleum floors and patterned wallpaper. Oriental rugs hang on the walls. The bedroom has two narrow, pallet-like, single beds against one wall, a crib and one single bed for their first grade daughter on the opposite wall. One other room has a large wooden piece with plates, glassware and decorative pieces in it and a couch. The other room has no furniture. There is a decorative clock on the wall in one room and all the windows have lacy curtains. The house seemed bare. Outside there is a single car garage and an outhouse in the yard. The entire property is fenced. We thanked the woman, told her how beautiful we thought her house was, and gave her a handful of colorful magic markers for her children. She seemed pleased. At least we’d like to think she was.
After driving around to see the town, Alex stopped people on the street to ask if there was a Jewish cemetery. We were directed to the old brick factory. We made several false turns but were finally rewarded. We came to what seemed like a deserted building with a high brick wall around it. There was a security guard in a shack so we asked him if the Jewish cemetery was nearby. He told us the fastest way to get to it was to walk through the factory.
Before going on with this story, now might be a good time to digress. We had
been watching Alex, a very jovial and friendly man,
speak to several people on our behalf. He spoke very quickly and with what
seemed to us to be a lot of passion. The two people engaged in conversation
always seemed to be having heated discussions. It appeared as though there were
angry words being exchanged. They would stand very close to one another, get
very excited and gesture quite a lot. At first, we were puzzled, because we
didn’t think the content of the conversation warranted such emotion. We
suspected that, since Alex was asking about Jewish people and Jewish
cemeteries, anti-Semitism was playing a role in the heated exchanges. It took a
while for us to realize that this was not the case and it was just the nature
of Ukrainian conversation. The people speak very quickly, with lots of emotion
and at very close range. Americans seem to need more space and are threatened
by the passion and gesticulating. It would be easy to imagine how problems
could start between people who didn’t understand the cultural differences.
Back to the brick factory: The security guard called the factory manager who led us through the deserted building and out the other side. He showed us a monument on a mound high up a set of stairs. We learned that this was a monument to people killed during WW II. It was in the middle of an untamed field, with high weeds growing up the steps and almost to the monument itself. Alex translated the inscription for us. There was no mention of Jews. The manager told us, through Alex, that the son of an SS guard involved in the killing had returned recently to see the monument. He also told us that there were many graves on the side of the hill but all were invisible because the weeds were so overgrown.
Behind the monument there were row upon row of greenhouses. We asked about them and the manager took us to see the cucumbers growing in them in well-ordered rows. Some of the greenhouse’s panes of glass had been broken recently in a storm and there was no money to fix them. After this crop of cucumber was finished, the greenhouses would be abandoned. It seemed a shame. Alex had been telling us about how much trouble the people were having shifting from a Soviet economy to a free economy. This was a very clear example. No one seemed to have any idea how to “fix” things, to make it better. The manager gave us some cucumbers to eat. They were delicious.
We asked the manager if there was an old Jewish cemetery in town but he
didn’t know. He did say there was one Jewish man living in Volochisk. He is Mr.
Isaacs, a former teacher. We headed back to the main street to find him. Alex
parked and went up to one house he thought might be the right one from the
description he was given. He was directed to another house, and then another,
but Mr. Isaacs was not at home. While we waited, we watched the people sell
their wares on the street. We were amazed, again, at how well dressed these
people were. A woman directly in front of us was selling fish from a galvanized
bucket. She was wearing leather pumps with low heels, velvet straight legged
pants and a lace top. We saw almost no women in pants unless they were what we
would consider dress pants. Even the children wore dresses. Several had very
ornate ribbons or lace bows in their hair. It looked as though they were going
to a party but this was their daily attire. We were surprised that these people
did not have more Slavic features. I think we both expected it. Any one of
these people could have been transplanted to America and could not have been
picked out of a crowd as “foreign.” Even in many parts of Europe, the people
have a distinctive “European” appearance. Here they are attractive and well
kempt, but strangely “normal” looking to us. I guess this says more about our
preconceptions than about the Ukrainians.
We decided to proceed on to Krasilov without waiting for Mr. Isaacs to return and without looking further for the old Jewish cemetery. So far, no one seemed to know where it was or in what state we would find it. Without Mr. Isaacs, we didn’t hold much hope. It was getting late and we still had a long way to go.
Photographs and Text copyright by Joan Adler and Bobby Furst 2000
This page is authored and maintained by Renee Gottesman and Helen May.
We welcome all corrections, additions, and comments.
Copyright by Helen May & Renee Gottesman 1998
Last updated July 1, 2012
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