This last summer I spent a few weeks in Ukraine. I was more or less along for the ride; my friend Sarah’s grandfather is Ukrainian-Jewish refugee who came to this country just before the Holocaust (his family, sadly, didn’t make it), so she was on a soul-searching, family-roots mission to see where she came from.
Sarah’s grandpa is from a town called Korosten, a medium-sized industrial city about 100 miles from Kiev, but his summers were spent in a tiny village called Turchinka at his grandfather’s farm. The village is still there, surprisingly, and, I was told, largely unchanged, but the farm is long gone for obvious reasons—still, there is nowhere you can really see a truer picture of rural Ukraine than in and around this town.
Driving along country lanes and dirt paths which serve as the only roads, you can see colorful farmhouse, giant evergreen windbreaks, golden fields, a country chapel. Rural poverty is rampant, but there is a kind of special peace in the air. Time hasn’t seemed to touch Turchinka; in fact, if it weren’t for old Soviet factory ruins on the outskirts the year might be 1920 or even 1820, or for that matter, 20. Light golden grasses have been waving in the wind, contrasting with the dark green, towering trees, for time immemorial. An occasional bike rider on some antique relic betrays the actual modernity of the place, but even so all the bikes I saw are easily twice my age. When Sarah’s grandpa saw the photos from our trip, he said the only difference between what we saw and what he remembers is that the roofs on the houses are now tin instead of straw. He’s 97; I think that chances are good that Turchinka will look the same when I turn 97.
By: Ben Britz