Demonstrating their naïve, yet distinctly European mindset, the locals in Kolomiya call their town a small Lviv just like somebody calls Lviv little Vienna or little Paris. Ukrainian Week travelled to visit them in what is one of the brightest towns in Prykarpattia.
THE UNOFFICIAL HUTSUL CAPITAL
Cultural life is thriving in Kolomyia, a town of 70,000 people. The local Academic Theater, named after Ivan Ozarkevych, a public activist and co-founder of the amateur theater in Kolomyia, stages the Brokage in Honcharivka, a comedy play with lots of folk elements and several other plays. A comedy duet called Wild Hutsuls performs at the concert hall for railway workers, competing with Russian stand-up comedians from the silver screen. Hutsuls love martial arts – Kolomyia hosts competitions in karate, boxing and taekwondo every spring.
Khvalena Khata (the Praised House) serves fast-food with a Ukrainian menu, and Verkhovyna – a restaurant topped by the red-and-black flag carried by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) – offer good food and service.
The town hall was built in 1877 and Kolomyia's churches and Art Nouveau buildings remind visitors of how close Europe is. The locals here are very patriotic as shown in the intense history of their struggle for independence. The city boasts a monument to Taras Shevchenko which was recently built even though the legendary poet never visited the city.
Small business is doing slightly better in Kolomyia than elsewhere in Ukraine with a ratio of 108 small businesses to 10,000 people compared to the average 85 in the country.
The town has a chain of Vyshyvka – embroidery boutiques – an interesting combination of European and Ukrainian business practices. Also, it hosts some unique things, such as a recent master class on how to wear women’s headscarves run by Bohdan Petrychuk at the National Museum for Hutsul and Pokuttia Folk Art.
THE LAND OF DISSIDENTS
Kolomyia has the most dissidents per capita – not only in Ukraine – but in the entire former Soviet Union. People who live in the town and nearby villages fought in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), cooperated with the underground activists of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), or were persecuted by the Soviet regime for their religious activities. Some of the locals, including Bohdan Germaniuk and Myron Ploshchak, tried to establish an alternative political party in the USSR, while others, such as Dmytro Hrynkiv, Mykola Motriuk, Roman Chuprei and others were in the armed anti-soviet youth organization of Halychyna.
The Kolomyia area was also one of the longest-lasting armed opponents of bolshevism which it viewed as an alien occupational regime. There is even a joke that the Communists wanted to launch a special train from Kolomyia to Kolyma where they had massive camps for political prisoners.
This attitude of rebellion can be traced back far into the 19th and 16th centuries to the time of the opryshky who struggled to liberate their lands from slavery under Polish nobles, Moldovan feudalists, and Hungarian and Austrian landowners in Halychyna, Zakarpattia and Bukovyna. The most well-known leader of the opryshky, Oleksa Dovbush, was born in a village near Kolomyia and is often compared to Robin Hood. The tradition also stretches back to Sichovi Striltsi, the Sich Riflemen, one of the best regular units of Ukrainian People’s Republic Army in 1917-1919. And of course, Ivan Franko, the brilliant Ukrainian writer, spent several months in the local Austro-Hungarian prison.
NO SOVIET PLACE NAMES
Kolomyia 's clean, cozy streets are named after Hetman Ivan Mazepa; Symon Petliura, the head of the Ukrainian State in 1918-1920; Stepan Bandera, the leader of Ukrainian insurgent movement; Yosyph Slipyi, one of the most well-known leaders of Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church; Andrey Sakharov, an academic and human rights activist; and UPA heroes. Notably, all variations of Marx, Voroshylov, Klara Tsetkin and other Communist leftovers were erased from the city map for good in the early 1990s.
The town has a memorial to the soldiers who died in the Afghan war, but the attitude towards the war is somewhat different in Kolomyia than elsewhere in Ukraine. Ihor Kychak, a prisoner of conscience and one-time UPA fighter, believes that the USSR's war in Afghanistan was colonial and criminal. Ukrainian troops in Afghanistan, armed by the enemies of Ukraine, he said, followed orders in the Russian language and died under the red flags of another country, not for Ukraine. The fallen in the war have the sorrow and compassion of Kolomyia's residents.
THE ONLY EASTER EGG MUSEUM IN THE WORLD
The museum for pysankarstvo, the art of paining Easter eggs, comes as an architectural surprise at Chornovola Prospectus shaped as a three-storied painted pysanka, an Easter egg. It was built by a project of a Carpathian architect Ihor Shuman. The modern shape with a hint of constructivism perfectly fits its traditional contents. Kolomyia researchers collected over 12,000 items from various regions of Ukraine and the world. The collection includes Easter eggs from Algeria, Canada, USA, France, Sri-Lanka, Egypt and, of course, Ukraine’s neighbours – Poland, Russia and Israel.
KOLOMYIKY – CARPATHIAN FOLK SONGS
These are short folk dance songs with a name that hints at where kolomyiky come from. They focus on daily routines, social issues and jokes. A souvenir shop at Chornovola Prospectus and Easter Egg Museum sell licensed CDs and DVDs with authentic kolomyiky.
CENTER OF WEAVING
Before Ukraine became independent, the Hutsulshchyna company produced nearly 70% of decorative woven items in Ukraine, including floor and wall carpets, rugs, car seat covers, and so on. Many Hutsuls also used to have their own weaving machines at homes.
There are dozens of carpet designs, but Hustul-style carpets are still the most popular. When the borders of the Soviet Union opened, carpentry plants in Kolomyia and Kosiv which were still operated Soviet-style could not compete with Turkish and Chinese products and closed shop.
At the end of the 20th century, the artist Mykhailo Bilas created a collection of over 300 carpets and woven blankets which is now preserved at the National Museum of Hutsul and Pokuttia Art in Kolomyia. Of course, the museum's director Yaroslava Tkachuk says she believes "synthetic, low quality imported carpets" are much worse than those made in Ukraine.
Before Easter, the museum hosted a show of arts and crafts students of Kolomyia Pedagogical College, exhibiting nearly 90 pieces made by young artists using various techniques.
The life of the well-known writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was partly tied to Kolomyia. Many of his West European fans called him Columbus of the East. Why was that?
Prior to his travels, the only Europeans who had heard of the Hutsul's land were geographers. Masoch was born in Lviv in 1836. His nanny, a Rusyn woman named Gandzia (the Hutsul version of Anna), used to sing him Ukrainian lullabies and kolomyiky. He visited Kolomyia and the Carpathians many times, and later wrote stories whose characters lived in Halychyna, such as Don Juan from Kolomyia and the Moonlit Night.
There is a memorial plaque next to the town hall honouring Ivan Bohdan, another Columbus born in Kolomyia. The locals say he was the first Ukrainian to cross the Atlantic Ocean. They believe he sailed to the New World in October 1608 in the Maria and Margarita with a mixed crew of English, Dutch, and Polish sailors.
WHAT TO SEE:
The Church of Annunciation is the oldest church in town and was built in 1587. This classical Hutsul-style wooden church is a national monument. According to local legends, Bohdan Khmelnytsky used to pray and write his universals here.
The Easter Egg Museum is a painted egg-shaped building with a collection of nearly 12,000 Easter eggs from all over the world.
The Monument to the Fighters for Independence is in a park at Chornovola Prospect where a monument to the Communist Party of the Western Ukraine stood before. Myroslav Symchych, a former UPA fighter, was used as a model for the monument.
Every Thursday the night market for embroidered shirts brings artists from Prykarpattia and all over Ukraine to offer their products from 3 to 8 a.m.