To go to Buchach

Vasyl Makhno

Briefly, the phrase “to go to Buchach” came to me when I was five years old. But what is this Buchach? Who is it? I didn’t know. Where is it, anyway? When Buchach was talked about in my grandfather’s house, it meant that you had to get up at dawn. Buchach is a road, a bus, or a minibus, and then, after returning home, a several-hours’-long account of the trip with every last detail. Buchach lived in our house, just like Chortkiv, Yazlivtsi, or Yahilnytsia. It was next to me, but at the time it was still out of reach. In September 2019 the green current of the Strypa River, flowing melancholically through the city, along with the flapping of turtledove wings, a flock of pigeons on a wire hanging over the river, car signals, the slamming of doors, and shouts of schoolchildren, brought me back to my once inaccessible Buchach. I was in no hurry. Finally, after arriving in Buchach, I can slowly place the impressions from my childhood, like books on a shelf, together with the ones of today. I live in Pidzamochok, behind a railway crossing. These are the outskirts of the city in the direction of Ternopil. All night long trucks trundle past the hotel, avoiding potholes. But you can’t hear any trains. Ever since Buchach Station became the terminus, there is only one direction from it—to Chortkiv—so trains appear here from time to time.

Why was it necessary to go to Buchach? Why go there? Well, for the sake of commerce, which, understandably, is inseparable from the history of the city, whether ancient, prewar, or postwar. Were the traders of Buchach more adept than the ones in Chortkiv? I don’t know. It is possible that toward the end of the 1960s, when I first became aware of “going to Buchach” as a long, long trip, Buchach continued to hold its commercial supremacy. One time, they even wanted to take me to the market in Buchach but changed their minds later. For half a day, I poured out my grievances to the ants and imagined Buchach as an extraordinary place on this Earth.

In the fall of 1969, my mother’s brother, Fedir, was demobilized from Perm Krai. He had served there as a driver in a motorized battalion. He went to serve for three years but, thanks to Khrushchev’s military reform, he served two years and a few months. He came back home in November when our Galician hills were covered with snow. That’s why the first thing that he did after he went to register at the military commissariat was to head to Buchach and buy civilian clothing. He left wearing a Soviet navy pea coat and army boots. It was difficult to travel to Buchach from our house. If you went through Yazlivtsi, then you had to reach the Buchach highway via a field road or make a huge detour to Koshylivtsi. That’s why everyone would go to Dzhuryn and wait there, on the Buchach highway, for a regular bus or a minibus. As Fedio’s account later revealed, he returned empty-handed from Buchach, where he had taken a liking to a wool sweater.  After a bit of haggling, he bought the sweater that had come from an American care package; a local trader sold it to him. It is anyone’s guess how an American sweater ended up in a Buchach market stall. At the time, packages started coming from abroad to relatives in Ukraine from those who had been deported to Germany for forced labor during the war. Ending up in America and spending the first two decades there, the new emigrés shipped clothing, shawls, and embroidery thread. American goods began appearing in the markets; in Buchach as well. So, after acquiring that American sweater (in our country we pronounced it “sviedyr”) Fedio said that he had met up with some colleagues from the Buchach driving school with whom he had taken driver training courses. The saleswoman wrapped the sweater in newspaper and tied it with string. And Fedio put the package under his arm and, together with his pals, headed to the first available snack bar. Where the American sweater wrapped in newspaper meandered to is not known. The last thing Fedio remembered was that he had made it to Dzhuryn with the package.

A long winter was predicted, and the following week Fedio had to go to Buchach again.

Vasyl Makhno

This essay was written during the author’s literary residency in Buchach, with the support of the Canadian philanthropic fund Ukrainian Jewish Encounter.

Originally appeared in Ukrainian

Translated by Marta D. Olynyk.
Edited by Peter Bejger.