December 10 was the third day of our four days trip through Ternopil oblast in western Ukraine. Starting in Chortkiv we traveled further south until we reached Zalishchyky in the evening. In between we visited Jewish heritage sites in Probizhna, Skala-Podilska and Melnytsia-Podilska.
Our team – Marla, Jay, Vasyl, Iryna, Anna and I – started in the morning of December 10 to continue the heritage trip in Ternopil oblast. We knew that Chortkiv had three Jewish cemeteries of which one – the old cemetery – was destroyed by the Soviets. What survived is the new cemetery and a Jewish section in a cemetery that was originally established for the victims of a cholera epidemic in early 20th century. Both cemeteries are densely overgrown – in summer we woudn’t have seen much.
At the new cemetery we saw big piles of tombstone fragments and that takes me to another story. Thanks to Facebook friend Kate Baklitskaya, who grew up in Chortkiv, I got aware of tombstones in the pavement of Roslyanka Street. The tombstones are still there, just like Kate remembers them from her childhood. As a child “I never though of them as gravestones”, she wrote me.
When we took pictures a man came out of his house and showed us more spots where tombstones are still in the pavement. “They were more before, most of them have already been removed”, he explaines. “This pavement was done by the Soviets; they were Vandals”, he said. He is of course right. Nevertheless, the question remains why a quarter of a century after the implosion of the Soviet Union some tombstones are still in the pavement of Chortkiv’s streets. These tombstones were once created in memory of a deceased. “We are walking on the memory of someone”, a local resident wrote on Facebook. One day later a lawyer – born in Chortkiv, now living in Kyiv – wrote after reading one of Marla’s posts to Chortkiv’s mayor and asked him to remove the tombstones and return them to the Jewish cemetery.
We had a short stop in Probizhna and revisited the synagogue and the cemetery, where Marla, Jay, Vasyl and I had already been in April 2017.
The decay of heritage sites concerns not exclusively the Jewish sites. Some kilometers further south we stoped at a Polish Catholic church – a building with uncertain future. The roof already collapsed. Thanks to Anna we saw many of these churches.
Skala-Podilska blew our mind. On recommendation of Iryna and Anna we visited this town and it was good we followed their advice. Rarely I have seen such a picturesque Ukrainian small town with such a density of heritage sites. The former Jewish neighbourhood is outstanding with its old houses – a mezuzah trace on nearly every doorframe – and the well maintained Jewish cemetery is one of the most beautiful we saw on this trip.
Melnytsia-Podilska was our last stop on that day. The original purpose of the former synagogue is invisible now. The building has been renovated, but no plaque reminds visitors its history. We were able to locate one of two Jewish cemeteries but found mainly empty space. To a big extent the cemetery was destroyed. There is only the reerected tomb of a rabbi, a single upright standing tombstone and fragments in the bushes.
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