From Galicia to Bukovina

April 26. Chortkiv is our last stop in Galicia, a former center of Hasidism. Then we travel further south, into the Bukovina and towards Chernivtsi (former Czernowitz).

Chortkiv is a strange mixture. In the city center you will find many buildings from the Habsburg period. They are situated close to Soviet apartment blocks and over all is a vivid layer od Ukrainian life – chaotic traffic and bustling farmers’ markets.

In the morning we leave our hotel “aircraft carrier” and start our search for the two remaining former synagogues in the city. Chortkiv had a significant Hasidic court, which was part of the Ruzhiner dynasty. We easily find the Hasidic synagogue. It is a library today. I am amazed at how much it resembles the synagogue in Sadagora – a central building with wings and polygonal towers at the outer corners. The Hasidic court of Sadagora also belonged to the Ruzhiner dynasty.

The search for the second synagogue proves to be far more difficult. We walk through a large market area and finally find it. A nondescript gray building in the middle of a farmers’ market. As we circle the building and take pictures, a man comes up to us and asks if we are interested in something special. “Yes,” we say, “the synagogue.” He pulls the key out of his pocket.

The interior of the synagogue is a surreal backdrop. Apparently the building has been used by a carpenter. We’re looking at a tangle of chairs, doors and window frames, which are stored here. In between lies a dusty bust of Lenin. In a few places on the wall Hebrew characters are visible. The paintings around the Torah shrine are still there. If this would be a movie set, one would imagine, the set designer was crazy or a genius. But this is not a movie. This is reality.

After a short coffee break we are back on the road. Which proves to be better than expected. The last kilometers in Galicia. Then we cross the Dniester river and are in Bukovina. The landscape is green and woody. Stork nests line our way. We see the foothills of the Carpathians. Chernivtsis (Czernowitz) is in front of us. Friends are waiting.

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