Their Pockets: Real-time borshch and chichky at the Ukrainian
Cultural Heritage Village
By Marilynn McAra
It's going to be another hot summer day. In cities, office workers
scurry off to the comfort of air-conditioned high-rises, but, at the
Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village east of Edmonton, interpreters
don heavy costumes before walking to their work in its fields,
gardens and townsite. With luck, there will be a breeze today—to dry
perspiration-soaked clothes and discourage this year's plentiful
crop of mosquitoes.
When the first visitors arrive at her farm, "Axenia Grekul" stops
hoeing her garden, wipes her brow, adjusts her kerchief to shade her
face against the sun's glare and greets them. Chatting is a welcome
interruption to this back-aching work, even if her English-speaking
callers have difficulty with her Ukrainian accent and persist in
talking about things she's never heard of. It's a bit of a time
warp, because Axenia is living in 1918.
The visitors admire the bright orange California poppies splayed
open in her flower garden, and Axenia tells them that both she and
her husband love chichky (flowers). She beckons them to smell
the sweet peas and points to the dahlias in bud. A young guest is
fascinated with the ragtag scarecrow which, Axenia explains, keeps
birds from eating her strawberries.
Modestly, she asks whether her guests would like to see her
vegetable garden near the house. This fence-enclosed garden—neat
rows of vegetables randomly sprinkled with explosions of poppies and
dill—is very large, and the guests assume she has a large family to
feed. But no, Axenia and Hryhorii are young, with no children yet.
However, they like to share their abundance with neighbours and
relatives less fortunate than they. "God grew it, so you will have
some and so will I," says Axenia in Ukrainian, before attempting an
Last year, she collected 13 sacks of cucumbers, Axenia recalls. Even
after they'd used as many as they needed, fed them to their cows and
given away as many as possible, she still had cucumbers left over.
Axenia is particularly proud of the watermelon she has coaxed into
growing here: it's a treat she grew back home in Bukovyna.
Down the road from the Grekul farm, hidden among the trees, another
interpreter works barefoot in her garden. This is Anna. Her husband
is away working for the summer, leaving Anna alone to care for the
children, her garden and their small crops of wheat, barley and