Verkhovyna District, located on the Romanian border in the far southwest of Ukraine between the cities of Ivano Frankivsk and Chernivtsi, is not only a rural paradise of pine-tree covered valleys and undisturbed panoramic views but is also the beating heart of the Hutsul culture- Ukraine’s most treasured ethnic group. Steadily making your way around the winding, forest-lined bends of the district’s main road from Vorohkta to Kolomyia will take you on a journey of tradition, legends and unspoilt nature. At every wooden settlement, some off the beaten track and accessible only on, you’re guaranteed to be met with a heartfelt welcome and endless stories and demonstrations of the perfectly preserved folklore, music, literature, legends, crafts and the colourful identity of the ethnic Hutsul region. As you enter this isolated, mountainous region, you’ll quickly understand how life here has remained so true to its traditions, one which flourishes to this day and has so much to offer the passing visitor. Discovering this region in one or two days is easy with Beinside Ukraine. But for now, let’s begin with this little journey through some of the treasures awaiting you.
Hutsulshchyna Regional and Ethnography Museum, Verkhovyna
This museum, located in the district’s capital, is a great place to start. Being one of the oldest museums in the region, created during Ukraine’s independence, the informative thematic tours and exhibitions in this museum will introduce you perfectly to Hutsul history, folk culture and arts. Being ‘larger’, in Verkhovyna terms, than other museums in the area, the Regional Museum is more general and as well as numerous artefacts, it also houses Hutsul photographic archives from Hutsul festivals and ceremonies in Ukraine and neighbouring countries including the “Meadow Summer”, “the “Regional Festival of Hutsul Dance” and “Ethnic Hutsul Cuisine Festival”. On the subject of food, as Verkhovyna is the ethnographic centre of Hutsulshchyna, delicious, locally sources food is to be found in the traditional restaurants in this town.
The Nativity Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Kryvorivnya
What sets this church apart from other fairytale-like wooden churches in the area is its turbulent history. Built just under 300 years ago, this beautiful roadside church has never closed its doors despite wars, political stability and extreme weather conditions. A legend exists that this church was moved from a tiny village which no longer exists to its current location on the other side of the Black Cheremosh River. Whether or not, 1719 is the year of its foundation or the year of its relocation to where it is now is unknown, with a small inscription being the only testimony to this date. Don’t let the brown exterior deceive you, the fabric-laden interior is as vibrant as the welcome from the local priest!
Spiritual heritage is a major attraction in this corner of Ukraine and, although this church is stunning and worth you pulling up by the river and climbing the uneven stairs, it is the tip of a very colourful iceberg!
Museum of Hutsul Life and Art- Visiting the “Man with Trembita”, Verkhovyna
If there were a prize for unassuming and isolated museums, this would get it! Climb the hill from the town of Verkhovyna until only trees stand before you, following the makeshift signage sprayed onto woodstores and neighbours’ terraces, until you reach the family home of Mykola and Maria. Perched on wooden benches in their living room, decorated with musical instruments and traditional dress, Mykola begins his show. With great pride and excitement, he exhibits each one of the Hutsul musical instruments in his possession and sings along to folk songs in local dialect. Don’t shy away from the opportunity to join in with bells and wooden pipes nor to attempt a note on the Alpine-like blow horn outside the house with the breathtaking Carpathian Mountain scenery.
Museum of Hutsul Magic, Verkhovyna
The address of this little log cabin is technically Verkhovyna, but after a few kilometres down an idyllic country lane leading away from the town, you begin to wonder whether you’ll find anything at the end! The dense forest location and the no photography policy just add to the spooky atmosphere as you enter this peculiar, small museum. Here, a local expert will guide you through the supersticions and “magical” practices of the Hutsul people, using various objects on a nearby table. These include teas and herbs used for miraculously healing people and an Aspen cross used to control the clouds. Believe what you will, you’re sure to leave with a head full of questions and unique and interesting stories to share.
Buying authentic products from local craftspeople
One of the greatest pleasures we found during our trip to the Verkhovyna District was visiting local craftspeople in their homes and workshops, dispersed along your journey. The products they sell are truly unique, inspired by local culture, made by hand and a fraction of the price of alternatives in the big cities. Visiting them will give you the chance to ask questions, learn how they make and design the products and even have a go yourself! We came back to Kyiv with warm hand-threaded blankets with traditional patterns and a warm heart from the embroider’s loving demonstration of her beloved craft. All local guides know where to go!