Sunday, November 10, 2013

A few days in Ukraine

 with my host dad, Sandor, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains

I just returned from three days in the Carpathian region of southwestern Ukraine.  A story relayed to me by a Canadian-born Hungarian missionary tells the story of the region well:
An elderly man who lives in the southwest corner of present-day Ukraine recalled the many places he's live in his lifetime: the Austro-Hungarian empire, Kingdom of Hungary, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Ukraine.  When someone said to him, "You've moved around quite a bit!" he replied, "No, I never left home."  By this he meant that the same area has been under the control of half a dozen sovereign governments in the last century.  As I've said before, the layers of nationalism and identity in this area are thick and fascinating. 

Our group of 13 included Pastor Misi and his wife, some women from the Nyirtelek church, four of us who live in Gorogszallas, and a Lutheran pastor who lives in Nyiregyhaza.  The objective of the trip was to worship with and learn about Roma outreach activities in the Carpathian region.
one of the impressive greenhouses

We stayed in the town of Nagydobrony at an orphanage operated by the Reformed church, whose historic presence in Ukraine remains strong.  The orphanage is home to 45 girls, many of whom have some physical disability.  In addition to being a place to live and learn, the facility also provides various vocational opportunities for people in Nagydobrony.  On-site they have 10 greenhouses, a bakery, the guesthouses where we stayed, a mechanic shop, and a farm that raises pigs and cows.  

our tour bus/tank

The leader of the institution, Lotsi-bacsi, took us around the region on Tuesday to give us a sense of how people live in Carpathia.  In the 13th century, the Hungarian King Bela IV had a fortress built ever 40 kilometers to defend against invasions from the east.  We explored several of these, some of which lie in ruins while others are preserved and display various pieces of local history which reflect the Hungarian identity still held by many Carpathian people.

an abandoned fort built by Bela IV of Hungary in the 13th Century

The vast majority of people in Carpathia speak Hungarian and go so far as to observe the Hungarian time zone instead of that of Ukraine.  Before the 1940s, 44% of people in the region identified as Jewish; roughly 65% were ethnic Hungarian or German.  The Soviets sent the Jews to work camps and death camps; many of the Hungarians were sent to Siberia and never returned.  Some were forced to work in the immediate area and eventually killed and buried in mass graves. As an outsider, it's impossible to even imagine these atrocities and their lasting effect on the region and its people.  
a memorial for the Hungarians who disappeared under Soviet rule

Wednesday morning we visited a Roma camp on the outskirts of town.  We delivered toys to all of the children in the Children's House after we sang some songs and listened to Misi speak.  The joy in the room was overwhelming when the stuffed animals appeared.  It was a scene I won't soon forget.

The few days away from Gorogszallas provided new material for how I think about the expanse of Hungarian nationalism and the conditions of Roma people in central Europe. For today, it feels good just to be back in Gorogszallas, get back into the routine, and get back to learning Hungarian!


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