Workmen repairing potholes on the main street in the regional center. Several of the men are wearing rubber open-toed sandals. (Janine Winn)

KOSMACH, Ukraine — In addition to the articles I’ve been writing for the Franklin Journal, I’ve been writing for a local Ukrainian paper, the Hutsulski Krai (Hutsul Land), as an American in Kosmach.

Just like the Journal articles, the articles here include photos, but from my life in Maine. What follows is largely my most recent article for the Krai.

A Ukrainian friend teases me because I take photos that are not the usual tourist photos. This is only sometimes true. Yes, I do take many photos of beautiful scenery because this is one of the delights of living here. I take photos of the wonderful family with whom I live, and of their everyday lives and celebrations. I take photos of festivals, children at our English Clubs, and cows and horses and chickens. Having a camera in hand as I stroll around the village and the mountains has become one of my favorite activities.

The new wing of the Kosmach Central School is finally being finished after a 15-year delay. (Janine Winn)

But as my friend says, not all my pictures are “tourist” photos. I took photos of workmen repairing a road in Cosiv and others putting a roof on a new house. I took photos of the unfinished wing of the Kosmach Center School and the long-abandoned project that was intended to be a new House of Culture in Prokurava.

In my collection are photos are foot bridges, highway bridges, pigs being butchered. Recently, a workman climbing utility poles in Kosmach to install wiring for the internet became the subject of my photos.

Always in the back of my mind when I take photographs, are the words I would use to explain the scene to my American friends. Two personal traits that I value are my curiosity and my love of talking, so many of these photos will find their way into presentations for organizations like the Rotary Club, the 4-H Horse Clubs, my grandson’s Social Studies class, and the Historical Society in Temple. The photos will play a large part in making these talks come alive and I look forward to sharing my experiences.

A motorcycle with a sidecar modified to carry cargo is the closest Kosmach comes to pickup trucks.

Often, I take pictures of Ukrainians safely doing things in ways that would be considered very unsafe in America.

An example of this is workmen on a three-story scaffolding, painting the House of Culture in Kosmach without any safety equipment. One was even standing on a kitchen chair to reach the highest part of the eaves. I can only conclude that Ukrainians are very careful.

The subject of a lot of my photos are new houses under construction and very old, abandoned houses experiencing decay. Building materials, construction methods and housing styles have long been a special interest of mine. Methods here in the Carpathians are very different than in rural Maine, and I am intrigued by them.

Rather than using sheetrock on interior walls and wood or vinyl on the exterior, walls here are surfaced with stucco which is applied by hand. Curiously, there is little emphasis on insulation to help cut heating costs.

A tethered horse grazes in Prokurava near the deserted Soviet-era community center, a project that was started more than 30 years ago. (Janine Winn)

The resourcefulness of rural Ukrainians amazes me. Motorcycles with sidecars modified to carry lumber and other goods. Foot bridges supported at their center by a stack of huge tires. A photographer who needed a reflector for lighting passport photos constructed one out of cardboard and foil.

Machinery that has been created out of bits and pieces of older machinery also fascinates me, and I watch people skillfully working on homemade saws, grinders and presses without any safety guards.

While watching, I’ve learned a bit about building a wood-fired masonry stove, about installing wiring in a masonry wall, about shaping traditional wooden shingles for a roof. I already knew a bit about blacksmithing, but now I also know how to take the kinks out of a scythe blade without heat and therefore avoid having to temper the blade again.

A home-built tile cutter used when a new wood-burning masonry stove was built in my room. The work light is clipped to a mop handle; the mop head is frozen to the ground. (Janine Winn)

Of course, I have learned a lot about making traditional Ukrainian foods. The best banosh (a cornmeal dish) is made with the excellent local sour cream. Folding varenyky (think “pirogue”) so that it doesn’t fall apart while it is being boiled is a practiced skill. Rolling holubtsi (cabbage rolls) is a group activity. Making good vodka is an art.

Occasionally I am asked why I’m taking certain photos, and it can be a struggle to answer with my poor command of the Ukrainian language. With the Google Translate app on my telephone, I sometimes can explain that I have an interest in architecture, or that we do not have similar materials, methods or tools in my region of America.

Occasionally, I shrug my shoulders and answer “Tourist.” Sometimes I am asked to show the photos I have taken, and only once have been asked to delete a picture, which I respectfully did.

Recently, I took a photo of a man inflating a tire on his car with a bicycle pump. We had not met before but he knew who I was, and he was completely uncertain why I would want such a photo. “Because,” I told him, “I want to show Americans how the lives of Kosmach people unfold.” This was an answer that satisfied us both.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous column, I will be staying in Kosmach for a third year as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I feel very privileged to be able to do so. A two-year stay would just be too early to leave.

I am, however, going to be home for six weeks, early May to mid-June, and look forward to several grand events. Notable among these is my granddaughter’s graduation from UMF, and speaking to the Temple Historical Society on Monday, May 20, a meeting that is open to the public.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone.

This column does not reflect the opinions of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, but is entirely the observations and experiences of its author, Janine Winn, of Temple, Maine, currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kosmach, Ukraine.


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