Information & Chat > Russian, Ukrainian & FSU Culture and Customs

Western Ukraine - Life & Leisure, Village Life

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Chris:

Ukraine's villages and small towns are bastions of traditionalism and are in reality isolated for the most part from the outside world. People all live in separate houses, usually only a few meters from the next house and right up against the road.

Villagers go out to work in the communally owned fields during the day and return home in the early evening. Most people also keep small gardens, fowl, and livestock on their private plots. Life is mostly made up of hard physical labour, housework for the women, and home construction and repairs for the men.

In villages everyone knows each other, and conformity is the rule. Morals and behavioral expectations are quite strict, and everyone is expected to fit in to a few models. Village culture is generally patriarchal, and young women must marry young to avoid ridicule and constant pressure from other men, who generally only leave women alone if they are with a man or are known to be married.

Provocative dress and behavior is not accepted from women. Men very often drift into alcoholism, which starts early, but being married to an alcoholic is still better than being alone, and most village women take this in their stride. In parts of Western Ukraine where men leave to work abroad, alcoholism among women is also a significant problem.

Most village people are religious and take their religion very seriously. These people are usually very hospitable and will often treat you to the food that is considered the most valuable i.e. meat, even if they themselves eat a staple of potatoes, vegetables, and porridge. Villagers — like all Ukrainians — expect to establish an emotional tie to their guests and get to know them as best they can. They will often refuse money for letting you stay at their home, but tactfully insisting on payment ensures that you will be gladly accepted for a second visit.  :)

In many villages, vodka is the currency  :money:


About Ukraine in General.
Ethnic Ukrainians make up 73 percent of the population of Ukraine. Russians are the largest minority group at 22 percent. Jews (considered both an ethnic and a religious group in Ukraine) and Belarusians each account for about 1 percent of the total. Other numerically significant groups are Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians, and Romanians.

Since the end of World War II in 1945, the proportion of Russians nearly doubled, while the Jewish population declined by about half as a result of emigration. Ethnic clashes are rare, although some tension exists in Crimea between Crimean Tatars and ethnic Russians.

The Crimean Tatars, who were forcibly deported to Central Asia in 1944, are being allowed to resettle in Crimea. Of the 250,000 who have returned, about 100,000 still have inadequate housing and 70,000 have not yet received Ukrainian citizenship.

The official language of the country is Ukrainian, which forms with Russian and Belarusian the eastern branch of the Slavic language subfamily of Indo-European languages. Russian also is widely used, especially in the cities.

During most of the Soviet period, the state imposed severe restrictions on religious activity, banned many churches, and persecuted religious leaders. Many believers, forced underground, continued to adhere to their faiths, however. Religious activity remained relatively strong in Ukraine, and it has greatly expanded since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.



A majority of the population, or 67 percent, adheres to Eastern Orthodoxy through the Ukrainian Orthodox Church or the Ukrainian Autocephalous (independent) Orthodox Church. Until 1990 all of the country's Orthodox churches were part of the Ukrainian exarchate, which was subsidiary to the patriarchate (jurisdiction of the patriarch, or head) of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 1992 the Ukrainian Orthodox Church split into two rival denominations when the Kyivan patriarchate was formed, separating itself from the Moscow patriarchate. The autocephalous church, which was banned by the Soviet government in 1930, regained legal status in 1990. Nearly 10 percent of the population, based almost exclusively in western Ukraine, belongs to the Ukrainian Catholic (Uniate) Church, a church of the Byzantine rite (see Eastern Rite Churches); banned in 1946, this church was officially revived in 1991. Other denominations include Roman Catholics of the Latin rite, Jews, Muslims, and Baptists.



Literacy is almost universal in Ukraine, and education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 15. Ukraine's institutions of higher learning include ten universities and a large number of specialized academies. The most prestigious is the University of Kyiv (founded in 1834), located in the capital. L'viv State University (1784), located in L'viv, is the country's oldest university. In recent years private schools and universities have appeared, most notably the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (1992), located in Kyiv.

Ukraine's society was traditionally agrarian and village-based. With Soviet rule came rapid modernization and urbanization. By the 1960s, most inhabitants lived in cities. Important regional differences developed in Ukraine; today the west tends to be more agrarian, traditionalist, religious, and Ukrainian-speaking, while the east is industrialized, urbanized, and more often Russian-speaking. The highly regimented lifestyle of the Soviet period is slowly being supplanted by a consumer society. However, the transition to a market-based economy is difficult, and most people have been engaged in a desperate struggle to make ends meet.



A series of exploitative regimes kept living standards low during the Soviet period, although the government provided employment and other provisions such as housing. Apartments built during the Soviet period are small and cramped, and most of the buildings are now dilapidated. An average family has only about one-seventh the living space of an average family in the United States. People in Ukraine spend more than half of their income on food, and many families depend on garden plots to meet their food needs.



Due to economic constraints, families are small and getting smaller. Divorce rates are high. Despite formal equality, women are especially hard-pressed. Although they form the majority of the labor force, even in sectors demanding physical labor such as farming, few women have positions of influence in politics, business, or government. Vacations, once lengthy, have become less frequent for most people. New developments since the end of Soviet rule are freedom of expression and the growth of private property, especially in the form of dwellings.

The Ukrainian diet depends heavily on rye bread, potatoes, and borsch (beet soup). Pork and pork products, especially sausage and salo (a type of smoked bacon), are favored meats. Alcohol consumption, especially of the potent horilka, a wheat-based whiskey, is high, and smoking is widespread. Consumer goods are now more available than in the Soviet period, but few people can afford them. City residents usually have appliances such as refrigerators, telephones, and televisions; these amenities are much less common in the villages. Soccer is the most popular spectator sport in Ukraine. The main leisure activity is watching television. Cultural activities such as concerts, opera, and ballet are becoming less accessible for most people because of the cost.

Chris:
Life and Leisure activities in the Ukrainain Carpathian Mountain regions.

Chris:
Pictures and information of and relevant to  typical village life in Western Ukraine.


Painted trees are very common in most parts of the FSU, these are a little different in that they have only sections painted about a meter from the ground. I am told it is to prevent insect damage, the ones painted to the floor are most common and these are said to be again to prevent insect damage but also damage inflicted by rabbits and other vermin which are a big problem in Western Ukraine.



A small but well kept Dacha.






Notice how many of the graves in this cemetary have two names, but only one of the couple is dead. Many plots are bought in advance and when one dies the headstone is prepared for the partner also, only the final date is omitted until after they die when it is then added. This is common in village and rural areas especially, but mainly with the older generations.

Notice also how some headstones have the actual images of the buried persons etched on them, whilst others have a symbol of Christ or the Virgin Mary.


The man here has died, the womens headstone is unfinished.


and here we have the opposite, the woman here has died, the mans headstone is unfinished.


My wifes grandparents grave, only partly decorated getting ready for the Easter holiday celebrations. Decoration of a family member who has passed away is a big deal in Ukraine.

Followed shortly after Easter by prayers and a short mass held at the graveside.


Easter in Ukraine is surrounded by many more customs, rituals, and traditions that meld Christian and pagan practices together.

The specially-baked Easter bread, called paska, has great symbolic significance in Ukraine. The baker of the bread must keep her thoughts pure and the household must remain quiet for the bread to retain its fluffy texture while in the oven. It is customary to keep the baking of the paska a strictly family affair; neighbors or strangers are not permitted to enter the house while the paska is being prepared. In ancient times, the man of the house would stand guard at the door while the paska loaf was being made to prevent any intruders from casting the “evil eye” onto the bread and thus threatening the family’s prosperity for the coming year.

The paska bread, sometimes shown as having been baked in saucepans so that the shape is somewhat tall and cylindrical, is decorated with symbols welcoming springtime. While Christian symbols, like crosses, may decorate the paska loaf, many symbols are of pagan origins. Flowers, leaves, birds, and sun symbols are often formed out of dough and baked into the golden-brown crust of this Easter bread.

In some cases, three paska loaves may be baked at different times during the Easter season. The first one honors nature, the second the dead, and the third those on earth. These are not eaten until Easter Sunday, when the Easter feast is laid on the table and consumed by the family.


Here is an old Soviet tank, you still see many of these old relics from the past around the countryside. A lot of the old Soviet tanks were actually made in Ukraine, Kharkov being one of the cities with large military factories.


Horse and cart, still a well used and popular means of transporting goods to market and help with farming.

Chris:
A haystack, Ukrainian style. These are all over the countryside and are shaped like this to help shed water and snow from them, thus only the top 5 - 10 cm gets wet and the rest of the hay remains dry.



This haystack is from a modern farm - though Ukrainians have been farming for centuries. A lot of their beliefs about the powers of painted eggs (pysanky) evolved around protecting crops, blessing fields, and assuring good harvests.

Ukraine  has a huge farming potential, but it is clogged with small farms, growing patch-work quilts of near-subsistence crops, in between thousands of hectares of land abandoned years ago.

The soil is superb black loam and the rainfall in Western Ukraine at least is a very adequate 600mm - 700mm, long hot summer days ensure 6tonnes per hectare of milling wheat and 4tonnes per hectare of oilseed rape can be harvested under long summers clear blue skies.

However,  there is virtually no investment. Nobody will back what was the former breadbasket of the Soviet Union. Nobody, that is, apart from a few British entrepreneurs here and there who have already secured over 60,000ha of prime arable land and their goal is to secure over 500,000 hectares over the next five years.

This group of British entreprenuers are already the third largest farmer in Ukraine and soon it will be the largest.

Western Ukraine offers ideal growing conditions. Three hundred kilometres further east the soil is still as good, but rainfall is half what it is in this region.

Of course these British entreprenuers are using the latest farming equipment, and are therefore much more efficient than the horse and cart are in the pictures above. I have never seen Ukrainian farmers using anything as modern as this tractor below.

Chris:
Storks nesting on top of telegraph poles, seen throughout the countryside, usually there are two of them together, I will try and get some more pictures before the end of my trip.





Although my wife was born and raised in Chernivsti, her grandparents lived in mostly rural areas all their lives. My wifes grandparents house until they died in the early nineties.



and their yard where they raised chickens, geese, hens and pigs etc. Lower down the hill they also had a kitchen garden, most rural cottages had a kitchen garden, this was where they grew all their vegetables and so forth.



When my wifes aunt took over the house in the nineties following te death of her parents,  her water was cut off for the last  4 or 5 years that she lived here. So she had to walk up and down a very steep hill 2 or 3 times per day to collect water from the stream. it was about a 400metre walk and she did this until she moved to the city only around 4 years ago, she is 67 years old now.



Her water collection point, spring water from the mountains. This is also where she and her fellow villagers had to wash their clothes.

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