All the Way back

March 5, was nearly the last day of our one week trip through Ukraine and Moldova. Coming from Sharhorod, we bridged 400 kilometers at that day until we reached Ternopil in the evening – with Jewish heritage sites in Sharhorod, Luchynets and Khotyn on our way.

It was the last day of our common trip. In the evening Iryna and Anna would stay behind in their hometown Ternopil, while Marla, Jay, Vasyl and I would make our way back to Lviv the other morning. I felt a bit melacholic when we got up early and it was a gray and rainy morning anyway; hard to photograph under these light conditions and knowing, our journey would come to an end soon, didn’t make me feel better.

Sharhorod has two Jewish cemeteries. An old one, of which is not much preserved, and a new one, which overlooks the town from the top of a hill. Both are easy to find and accessible.

It took us more time to find the Jewish cemetery in the small town of Luchynets – another one of these dying places, left by its inhabitants one by one to find a better fate in Ukraine’s cities or abroad. Finally, an old lady adviced us where to go. The cemetery turned out to be bigger than expected. Partly it is densly overgrown, partly well maintained. A huge obelisk, a memorial to a local land or factory owner, stands near the top of the hilly location. Another memorial commemorates the deportees from Câmpulung in Bukovina to the Sharhorod ghetto during World War II. Here you have it all – the good times and the bad times.

The town of Khotyn is mainly known for its imposing fortress at Dniester river. It is a touristic hot spot in the summer. But the town also had a vibrant Jewish past and there is still a Jewish community with a functioning synagogue. The former Great Synagogue is now an apartment building; its size is striking.

Khotyn’s old Jewish cemetery was destroyed, its tombstones dumped into the river. Some of them appeared when the water level was low during a hot and dry summer some years ago. But there is still a new cemetery, consisting of tombs from the inter-war and post-war periode. Many of the post-war tombstones have portraits of the deceased on it. I know this practice is against Jewish tradition, but I can’t help myself, I always liked these bleaching photos. For a moment they open a window to the past and let us have a look into it.

Late in the evening we reached Ternopil, had a last dinner and last talks. 24 hours later I would already be back home in Cologne. Hard to imagine at this moment. But at the next morning, there were still some discoveries waiting and anyway I don’t believe this was the last trip of our group.

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