Family HIstory

The Old Country: Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast

  • September 26, 2017

Annunciation (The Savior) Church, a 15th Century Carpathian Wooden Church.


Dolyna [Долйна].

Well if the itinerary for Day One was ridiculous — four towns, 350 kilometers or more round trip, and roads that were in places more like obstacle courses — Day Two would prove to be insane. We’re talking about a tour of Sub-Carpathian Ukraine that involves at least 400 kilometers of driving in one day — a weekend day at that — smack in the middle of August which is high tourist season for this part of the world – not the smartest of plans.

My guide Diana Borysenko had alerted me that trips to Kolomyya and Yaremche in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast normally call for a night’s layover, and on top of that I wanted to go to Dolyna as well and beat the bushes for signs of the mythical, mysterious and most-likely ficticious Babij Mountain, a local байка or rural legend from Dolyna that a distant Polish relative named Wlodzimierz Macewicz pinged me about via our Geni.com family heritage site some years back — which we posted a blog about then. But now I couldn’t even retrieve Wlodzimierz’s original message regarding the place nor could I find its location again on Google Earth — both ominous signs. Yet at 8:00 AM sharp that Saturday morning in Lviv, Diana picked me up in “Mary” and we were off on “Шлях” again. Remember that “Bat Out of Hell?”


The origins of Dolyna (which transliterates to “valley”) date back as far as the 10th Century. The city is located in the largest oil-producing region in Ukraine with a population of nearly 21 thousand souls currently. Somewhere among those 21,000 there had to be a Babij or Babiy or two or at least someone who knew something about them, since Wlodzimierz seemed certain people with our patronymic lived in the area.

The Search For Babij Mountain

However I wasn’t holding my breath as Diana piloted “Mary” along the main thoroughfare headed for the center of town. “We will have to ask someone for directions”, she muttered and just then, right on cue as if by magic, there appeared a man clutching a package – perhaps a breakfast of varenyky — approaching on the right hand side of the street. Pulling the car to a stop she powered down the window and with a captivating smile began querying him about the possible location of a “Babijova Hora” (Babij Mountain) or a location where we could find out more about it. Again the smile and the long blonde hair worked like pixie dust as the man was soon doing his best to give Diana directions, gesturing towards a place some distance further down the road to the West that he seemed to call “babiy-yeeka”. So, after thanking him we were off, now searching for a place with a slightly different-sounding name that actually might even exist. But was it really a mountain? Dolyna seemed surrounded by foothills and we had come into town earlier via a route that passed through them.

About a quarter-hour later we reached an intersection and Diana pulled over, unsure of how to proceed; turn to the right, the left, or to go straight. Kitty-corner to our location sat a local store with small patio fronted by several parked cars. Outside there were a half-dozen or so young men standing around drinking coffee apparently just chilling or waiting for someone or something to happen. Little did they know what was about to hit them.

Yup. We headed straight for the lot of them, and once Diana bounced out of the car, twelve eyes followed her around to where she stood and the “Blonde Magic” started to work once more. After a brief exchange during which “babiy-yeeka” was uttered a few more times, one of the men, evidently having agreed to show us the way up the hill, jumped into his car and we were off behind him in hot pursuit. The search for Babij Mountain was about to reach critical mass.


So after about ten minutes of driving up a one-lane dirt track — suitable in places only for an all-wheel drive vehicle — we happened upon an elderly couple who were out picking blackberries that lovely morning. Here is their tale of one or two of the legends associated with Babiy-yeeka [Бабїйєка?]:


So there we have it. Babij Mountain was either in fact or in legend a region called “Babiy-yeeka” and existed, perhaps only in the oral mythos of the area which alleges that this mountain or ridge or plateau was named “Бабїйєка” (??) after a WW II era Ukrainian Nationalist – surnamed Babiy – who used this mountainous region as a base of operations, together with other insurgents allied with the OUN leader and Ukrainian national hero Stepan Bandera, against the Soviet regime. Evidently his only surviving son, who was named Stepan (after Bandera?), had recently died but there were third or fourth generation Babiys still living in the area. If only we had the time….. Yet another reason for a repeat visit.

Next stop, Kolomyya.

Kolomyya [Коломия].

First settled in the 13th Century, Kolomyya is major center of the Hutsul [Гуцули] culture which includes much of Sub-Carpathian Ukraine and northern Transcarpathian Romania [Maramureş] just across the border. Up to this point, I had neither the time nor the inclination to buy any gifts or souvenirs of my trip, but Diana assured me this was definitely the place to start at least looking so that became part of “The Plan” for the day which would first include stops at two famous local museums.

Hutsul Folk Art and History

First on the list was the National Hutsul Museum of Folk Art which features installations of art, woodworking, ceramics, metallurgy, fabrics, music, and even cheeses developed by this mountain culture. One of the installations that we were allowed to shoot featured a unique papier-mâché painting by a Hutsul artist:


The museum’s website also offers a limited virtual tour — no substitute for a literal tour given by Diana of course — which features links that
provide audio samples of several musical instruments that the Hutsuls used, including the bagpipes [Duda], a hand-held horn [Trembita], the hammered dulcimer [Tsymbaly], and mouth harp [Drymba]. Diana was especially insistant that I be allowed to hear what these musical instruments sounded like as we’d been sharing music tracks in our travels, so when the museum’s computer that visitors use to access the recorded sound samples froze up, she found a docent who re-booted it. What can I say? More of that Blonde Magic.

Pysanky Museum

Next it was on to a very unique museum. The Pysanka Museum, which possesses thousands of pysanky or hand-painted Ukrainian Easter Eggs, is the only one of its kind in the world and is considered to be a cultural landmark of modern Ukraine. No, pysanky are not to be confused with the Faberge’ Eggs — those are Russian, okay? The building that houses this collection, assembled from most of the oblasts in the country as well as from around the world, is itself shaped like a giant pysanka. The art and craft of painting or should I say “writing” a pysanka is a very delicate process as described here from a post by Irina Bilan:

Kistka or Pysaltse Pens

The traditional method of drawing intricate patterns on eggs involves a stylus and wax. The word ‘pysanka’, that we use for naming Easter egg, comes from the Ukrainian word ‘pysaty’, which means to write. This is because the ornamentation is most commonly applied with a writing tool (called ‘kistka’ or ‘pysal’tse’) through which melted beeswax flows in the same manner as ink flows through a fountain pen.

How about a quick tour.


Yaremche [Яремчe].

Bridge over Prut River near Craft Fair

Next it was on to Yaremche, a tourist mecca and gateway to the Carpathian Mountain ski areas and water rafting areas along the Prut [Прут] River. Situated next to the Probiy [Пробій] Waterfall is a popular souvenir market, specializing in Hutsul crafts and embroidered collectibles where the local entertainment apparently was to witness the machismo (read: insanity) of young men hurling themselves from the pedestrian bridge spanning the gorge into the whirlpool 20 meters or so below – not something Diana could watch, given that she has two sons and a daughter (“one slip and they are crippled for life”).

We had planned to shop and then sample the local cuisine at a nearby restaurant, but the restaurant was closed for a private wedding party, so we had to improvise. The problem was that — well — it was Summer plus it was a weekend and people tend to get married and have their receptions at restaurants and resorts in the area in the Summer and on weekends, so after several more rebuffs we just hit the road for the long drive back to Lviv.

Of course Diana subsequently found a place to stop; again booked for a wedding but which also had a lovely quiet garden where we shared a dinner consisting of some tasty local trout. Then it was back on the road for Lviv hoping to get back before darkness fell.

Here’s a short clip — of what Mother Nature had in store for us…


In case you missed it you can read all of our posts in our continuing series on The Old Country: The Old Country – Ternopil Oblast recently updated with hot information; our second installment entitled The Old Country: Lviv where we visit a House of Legends and finally track down Pigs-in-a-Blanket at the 7Piggies; our fourth post entitled The Old Country – Salt of The Earth where we explore our Ukrainian heritage in Galicia; our fifth installment “The Old Country — In Nomine Patris” in which we trace our extended family first and surnames, parse them and speculate as to possible ancestral connections between the families; and our from our most recent visit to Galicia “The Old Country — Between The Forceps And The Stone” in which we expand on even more ancestral links with actual living relatives. You will not want to miss these updates.

And don’t miss all of the videos on our trips to Ukraine featuring our indispensable guide, translator, driver and coordinator Diana Borysenko, including two shorts exploring Pysanky Masterclasses on the art and craft of writing pysanky under the tutelage of Folk Art Master Halina Syrotyuk; plus two travelogues, The Old Country – Galicia and “The Old Country – Echoes In Time“, documenting our journeys to the oblasts that made up historic Eastern Galicia, where we explore the sights, sounds and the undiscovered past of our paternal heritage —- and heard some great jazz!


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