In the Borderland

My destination today is called Uhniv, with just about 2,000 inhabitants, the smallest town with the status of a city in Ukraine. From Lviv (Lemberg, Lwow), there are rarely direct buses to Uhniv. I decide to go first to Rava Ruska and to change the bus there.

Rava Ruska is located in immediate vicinity to the Polish border. In just 14 kilometers distance was the Belzec death camp. 400,000 people were murdered there during the German occupation. Via Rava Ruska rolled the trains with the Galician Jews to their final destination. In the city itself, the Jewish population was forced into a ghetto. There was also a detention camp for prisoners of war. In both locations conditions must have been unimaginably horrible.

I ask some people for the bus to Uhniv. My asking seems to have awakened one’s suspicion, soon a border guard appears and would like to check my passport. He asks by phone if there is anything against me, he would like to know where I come from, where I’m going to and why. I try to explain and succeed despite my non-existent Ukrainian language skills. Now I finally get the desired information, when and where the bus departs to Uhniv. The officer says goodbye with a firm handshake and a broad smile.

The road to Uhniv is close to the Polish border. First we pass vast wheat fields. Harvest has begun. Trucks are waiting to be loaded. Storks walk behind tractors and harvesters. Then we pass dense forests. Finally, it is slightly cooler in the bus.

The first building that strikes me, is the ruin of a large Baroque church. Through a crack in the wooden door I have a look inside. The building is completely empty. Pigeons fly in and out. Nearby there is a small museum on local history. If Uhniv is the smallest city in Ukraine, this must be the smallest museum. A cobweb at the door indicates that the number of visitors is low.

Behind a Soviet style factory building are a former synagogue and a Beit Midrash – a Jewish house of study. The synagogue appears to be used as a garage, the house of study as an office. Both are closed – it’s Sunday. I walk around the buildings and take pictures. A stork has settled on a lamppost and flies up as I get closer. A friendly young man joins me and asks questions. He is a bit disappointed that I’m only from Germany and not from far away America. Whether I like the synagogue? I nod my head. Beautiful, he says, beautiful. He leaves me for a short time, but returns a few minutes later to tell me that the bus to Lviv leaves in 5 minutes. In Uhniv they are pleased about guests, and they are pleased when they’re gone again.

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4 thoughts on “In the Borderland

  1. Where is Uhniv? a synagogue like a fortress!! Amazing. You really lead us through wonderland. The hidden Synagogue, I wrote a comment which you might or might not have gotten. I’ll try again. The fate of the wandering Jew throughout history is and amazing one. This might have been one of the hiding places during a pogrom in Poland, never known as Jew lovers. Here, years and years ago tourists had a tour through Jerusalem’s old city with different synagogues and the different ways of prayers. There was the Yemenite community who prayed on the roof swaying in the rhythm of the camel while the Eastern Europeans pray leaning forward, the Sefardy (Spanish) community prayed in cellars as during the Inquisition, the Berber community prayed sitting on rugs woven by the women etc.etc. I suppose it’s stopped because few want to be identified with one community only, today it’s Israel.So maybe this explains the need to hide, the world around them was never kind.
    Thank you Christian again and again for taking us to the furthest Jewish world.
    Have a good week-end, regards, anny

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