Saturday, July 01, 2006

West Ukraine

I knew going into my travels last week that there is less marriage agency activity in western Ukraine, but I'm still not exactly sure why. One entrepreneur I met in Kolomiya said it's because the women are more religious, and I certainly did pick up on the fact that religion plays a much more visible part in the lives of western Ukrainians. Each farm I passed had its own little cross surrounded by a wrought-iron fence, a Jesus on the cross, a statue of Mary, or an enclosed altar in which a candle could be lit. Many of the enclosures that I saw included a date over their door, invariably from the early 90s, when the Soviet Union ceased to be an atheist state. The Kolomiya entrepreneur I met crossed himself each time he passed the enclosed altar near his bed and breakfast, which is well worth recommending. This young man said both religions in western Ukraine, both the Uniate and the Orthodox, are now competing to build bigger, bolder churches, almost absurdly trying to one-up one another. I certainly saw the proof of this. Every town seemed to have a church going up or recently finished or refurbished. The one pictured is from Rakhiv, in the Carpathian Mountains region, only a few kilometers from the Romanian border. It was built in 1991.

Another person I know echoed something this man said as well -- that western Ukrainians are more likely to leave the country for work, often illegal, in "Europe," a destination that starts somewhere near Germany and continues on until you reach Ireland. ("We may be in Europe geographically," a waitress recently told me, "but not in our minds.") Anyways, these western Ukrainians send the money back to their families from their jobs in construction or the service industry, and with these funds large houses are going up in the villages. Ukraine is a country just waiting to be a conspicuous consumer, like every other country in the west. The only reason they're called villages in this country, rather than suburbs, is because there's not a Blockbuster video on the corner and the roads into the next big city aren't flat and straight and true.