My birthday comes near the end of August. Once again, I dine amongst distant relatives near the village where my grandfather was born. Twelve months ago these people were all unknown to me, but we’re closer relatives than before, even if I still don’t know exactly how we’re related. What I know is that when we arrive in town everyone wants to feed us, house us, and spend time with us. That’s family.
Overnight rain from Volovets in the Karpaty to Vinnytsia. This is the Uzhorod-Kyiv train line.
Bus from Vinnytsia to Bershad.
You can take a bus from far eastern Ukraine all the way to Munich. Or at least, at one time you could.
First business in town is to visit with Lida and Lonya. Lonya is my mom’s first cousin and our closest relative in Bershad and in the nearby village of Romanivka. His father Simeon visited us in New York when I was young, shortly after Ukraine gained independence in the 1990’s.
Last year, a kind young man drove us to Romanivka and patiently assisted us as we visited with family. Not until the end of the first day did we realize that our driver is also our cousin, Yaroslav. His mother Olya and his father Vitaliy provide a place to stay on our brief visit this year. They have a simple house near the edge of town. Their location allows them the space to keep animals and grow most of their food. They buy bread and some specialty items.
In addition to fruits and vegetables, they also keep cows, pigs, and chickens; make homemade samohon and fruit compote; and keep nearly twenty young pigs for sale. Both keep jobs in the small city of Bershad as well.
No such thing as too much garlic.
As in the mountains, I suspect the nearby forest is also a food source. In the right season, mushrooms are abundant, although in general, much of Ukraine is hot and dry in the summer.
We return from a walk to a house transformed, with a table set for 15 people.
Even the kovbasa is made of their own pork.
Слава Україна! Героим Слава!
Glory to Ukraine! Glory to its heroes!
We all drink to Ukraine. We all drink to my birthday, and to our family, and to Ukraine a few more times.
Moments before dark, we all find our way outside for pictures. All throughout the day we’ve looked at every personal photo archive at each house. For the older generation in Ukraine, and elsewhere around the world, real photos are powerful and memorable. I’ve got to remember to print and share more photos. The young people all want to know if I have Фейсбуки, or Facebook.
The young man on the left is on the right in the next photo, all grown up.
Our hosts Olya and Vitaliy, and my mom.
High ISO, a 12-second timer, and a flash make 15 smiling faces.
Inside for some cake, coffee, more samohon, sleep, and in the morning another 30 hours of travel back to our bikes. It is a brief visit and at one time I questioned whether it is worth it. It was.