Saturday morning, Petro and I set on an arduous mission. We had to drive to a military zone about an hour from Lviv and convince the officers there to let us film the ruins of a Ukrainian church which had been used as a target by the Soviet military. Apparently, 58 villages that once stood in that region were all wiped out to the ground and the population either sent to Siberia or displaced. The only thing that remains of that time is the ruins of that old church.
Convincing the soldiers to let us film in a military zone was not going to be an easy task, but we had one element in our favor. That particular region is well known for its mushrooms and sometimes, people are allowed there in order to pick mushrooms. Before going on our adventure, Olia looked at me and noticed that I looked poorly equipped for that journey.
-Wait, I’ll give you my red overcoat, she said. Do you have a scarf to hide your curly hair?
-Well, I have one, I replied, but it doesn’t really match the clothes.
-All the better!!!
Apparently, with a red overcoat and a yellow and blue scarf on my head, I looked very much like a “mushroom gatherer”. Tusia, Olia’s daughter looked at me and told her mum I looked like a pirate! I like her version of the story better.
The pirate and Petro drove to the military area, the soldier on the entrance let us in to gather mushroom, but told Petro: today the soldiers are training. So if an officer sees you, you can’t tell them I allowed you in.
We drive for about 10 mintues. From both sides of the road there is nothing. Absolutely nothing. In the place where once 58 villages stood, now all that remains is nothingness; just trees, bushes and wild flowers against the clear sharp blue sky and the white marshmallow clouds.
We see the church in the distance. It stands alone on a small hill, pretty impressive in that landscape. As we drive closer, we notice two soldiers and a dog sitting right on the entrance. We were so close! I prepare myself to go back, when Petro (as usual) has a brilliant idea. He steps out of the car, walks to the soldiers, greets them and tells them something I don’t understand. He then turns to me and tells me they allowed us to film the church. Apparently, he had told them I was the granddaughter of people who used to live here, and my family asked me to come back and film what remained of the 58 ghost villages.
We were able to film amazing footage of that church; and not only the soldiers didn’t kick us out, but they even wished me good luck as they were leaving. They were so nice and polite that I felt bad for our little lie.
(I unfortunately have no still pictures of that day, but I will make up for it in the next post.)