A first trip to Podolia

Writing is difficult for me today. More than 20 people have been killed in Kiev yesterday, the special police forces continue to besiege Maidan, the center of protests. It is impossible to ignore. Unfortunately I can not do more than express my solidarity with the brave Ukrainians, who are fighting against a corrupt and criminal government, and to report on what I see and experience. That’s why I hold on to my travel plans. Today I was in Sataniv.

I’m up very early, shove some food in my bag at the breakfast buffet and make my way to the bus station. Again the “marshrutka” rocks me through Galicia. I can not imagine something more beautiful. The landscape is still winterly. In some places there is snow, which contrasts sharply with the black Ukrainian soil. The landscape flows in gentle waves.

After 2 hours the bus reaches Sataniv. Sataniv is – seen from Galicia – situated on the other side of river Zbruch, which formes the border between Galicia and Podolia, once the old border between Austria-Hungary and Russia – and between Poland and the Soviet Union in the interwar period.

Finding the former synagogue is not difficult. The synagogue is still the dominant building in the old part of town. However, it has little in common with the photos I know. The building has been recently restored. Some craftsmen just climb down a ladder – I ask if I could visit the inside. A friendly gentleman welcomes me who is monitoring the construction work. Unfortunately, he does not speak any foreign language, but nevertheless shows and explaines everything to me. The synagogue dates from the 16th Century and is a typical fortress synagogue. Parts of the interior decoration – especially the Torah shrine – are very well preserved. We climb up to the roof via a narrow spiral staircase. A new roof has been built over the dome of the synagogue. Clearly visible are now the loopholes through which the synagogue could be defended. Five years, the restoration took tells me my companion. He is clearly proud of what has been done. He has good reasons to be proud. Many former synagogues are in very bad condition, this is one of the few cases where a synagogue was restored and saved.

The Jewish cemetery is located a few minutes walk away and is overwhelming. Not only because of its size but also because of the high quality of the sculptor works. So artfully decorated grave stones I have never seen before. Add to this the variety of motifs. I see lions, birds , bears, unicorns and griffins on the reliefs. I take my time to take pictures. A treasure!

The marshrutka brings me safely back to Ternopil. I buy a ticket at the bus station for tomorrow’s drive to Chernivtsi (Czernowitz). On the way to the hotel I stop at the local Maidan. The crowd is much bigger today than last night – probably four times bigger. A church service is going on. People sing – a festive church hymn. Also today, they are very serious. After that, a young girl speakes – I wish I could understand something. There is a constant coming and going. I wish I could do more.

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11 thoughts on “A first trip to Podolia

  1. Dear Christian,
    your trip reports I read every night very interested. There are already special experiences that you describe. For your further journey, I wish you all the best. My thoughts are of course with the courageous people of Ukraine. I hope we meet us after your return.
    Ulrich from Lohmar, Germany

  2. Pingback: New photos — restored Sataniv, Ukraine, synagogue and Jewish cemetery | Jewish Heritage Europe

  3. Curious about the relationship between Podolia and Galicia—cultural and geographical. My maternal grandparents were from Kemienetz Podolzki-/and this is only the second or third reference I have found to these places. I live in Canada now because, as my grandmother said when she saw the pogrom depicted in “Fiddler on the Roof ,” —“That’s exactly how it was.”
    jacquelinebuckman701@gmail com
    In my possession were the Russian passports for both grandparents —at least until my house was fire bombed and everything was destroyed. Pogroms are not events limited to the old, vanished world.

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