"It's not always easy to characterize a place that's close to one's heart.
There is that one place which is ever personal, and that one shared by the
rest of the world. Buchach, by rights, should thus beckon others."
By Natalia A. Feduschak, Special to the Kyiv Post
KPNews.com, Kyiv, Ukraine, October 24, 2002
BUCHACH, Western Ukraine - My first memory of Buchach is of a tiny,
half hidden stone cross, placed on the side of a dirt road not far from my
The year was 1974 and my father and I were in this western Ukrainian town
illegally, and therefore he was not able to visit his frail mother and other
family members, whom he'd not seen for more than 30 years. The trip to
Buchach was my father's final trip to the land of his birth. Terminally ill
with cancer, he wanted to see his homeland one last time, to come full
circle in the journey that was his life.
As I looked at the cross, I remember walking down the road quickly so as not
to be noticed by the curious - and frightened - neighbors. People who
associated with foreigners could face questioning by Soviet police or worse.
Over the years, long after my father had died, I returned to Buchach feeling
drawn to a land that, although I was the child of landed immigrants, always
beckoned. My closest family members in Ukraine lived in Buchach: Aunt
Mariyka, a fierce and not always pleasant woman who had spent eight hard
years in Siberian labor camps; always industrious Cousin Bohdanna who for a
number of years in the early 1990s supported her husband and two sons by
running bootleg across the Polish border. Cousin Ihor, whom I met and
remember as a joyous teenager, died tragically in an accident the year after
The ratusha (town hall) in Buchach, which was constructed with the help of
Mykola Potocki in 1751. Built in accordance to Bernard Meretyn's project,
the sculptures adorning it - many now in very poor shape - were done by Jan
Pinzel, the famed 18th century Polish sculptor. He constructed many
important structures in Western Ukraine, including Lviv, then disappeared
from the region.
There were other relatives, like my aunt's distant cousin, who in later
years was so impoverished that she slept on a bed of straw among cows and
geese in a half constructed house. Buchach was the place where my father and
generations before him were born, where the graveyard was full of tombstones
marked with the last name "Feduschak," and where I could gaze at an empty
plot of land at the bottom of the hill from my aunt's house where the family
mill once stood.
On all my visits, I looked for the cross on the roadside but could never
find it. I asked my family and their neighbors if they remembered a cross,
made of small stones and dating back to 1974. None did and, to this day, I
don't know if the crucifix was just an apparition in the mind of a child - a
sign that she was not alone - or if many adults, their heads filled with
everyday concerns, never noticed it and over the years it crumbled in decay.
Still, the idea of that cross has come to symbolize Buchach for me as a
revered place and, try as I might, I can't shake this image.
It's not always easy to characterize a place that's close to one's heart.
There is that one place which is ever personal, and that one shared by the
rest of the world. Buchach, by rights, should thus beckon others.
One could easily drive through Buchach on the winding road that leads to
Ternopil or Lviv and think about how quaint a place it is, but without ever
pausing or stopping to take it in. The Western Ukrainian landscape brims
with picturesque towns like Buchach - Pochaiv, Berezhany, Monastyrsk -
each with its own story that melts into the history of the region.
Buchach is worth a stop, not only because of its quaint hills and quiet
castle ruins, but because it was once a crossroads of cultures and an
important city in its time. Several renowned people have their roots here,
including literature Nobel Prize laureate Josef Agnon, who has a street
named after him, and even Sigmund Freud's ancestors lived here (although
there is some debate whether Freud himself was actually born or simply
The first written mention of Buchach was in 1260, when the great empire of
the Kievan Rus was on the decline and another - that of Halych Volynsk - was
on the rise. The city took its name from an archaic word "bucha," which
translates literally as, "a native water, in the early spring, which is wild
and deep." An old booklet about Buchach notes this description quite well
and describes the surrounding environment.
The native water referred to is likely the Strypa River, which cuts through
the middle of the town. At some points, the river luxuriates and is like a
broad mirror, reflecting gracefully the homes and forest around it. At
others points, however, the river seems angry, particularly on cold autumn
days when gray skies drizzle over Buchach. The most furious part of this
winding river is in the very heart of the town, just steps away from the
ratusha (town hall), which stands at the foot of Fedir Hill leading to the
From this vantage point, across the river and atop another hill stand the
ruins of a stone castle, Buchach's crowning jewel, which was long ago
governed by two important noble families, the Buchatskys and the Potockis.
Both families played an important role in the development of Buchach and the
The Buchatskys were first to incorporate Buchach into their land holdings.
Between the 14th and 17th centuries, the town was the main bastion of
defense in Podilya, a geographic region in Western Ukraine. Buchach and its
outskirts were guarded by a system of towers and castles. The Buchatskys
made the castle their home and even built underground tunnels to allow
residents to escape in the event of an attack. The castle was rebuilt
several times, after increasingly frequent raids by the Turks and Tatars.
Four hundred years later, when the Buchatsky clan vanished and the Potockis
ruled the region, Mykola Potocki decided to build a new fortress for his
family and the castle was abandoned as a place of residence.
The Buchatskys left to Buchach more than their castle. Copies of a 14th
century religious document state: "Mykhaylo Buchatsky, the possessor of
Buchach, founded on July 28, 1397, the Roman Catholic parish in Buchach."
Arguments continue over the actual date, as other documents read the year as
1379 or 1387. No matter, Buchach became home to a Roman Catholic church
that stood for almost four centuries, surviving fire and other potential
ruin. Over time it became evident a new structure was needed. The Cathedral
of St. Mary of the Assumption was erected in 1761-63 and still stands today.
Never to be outdone, the Potockis also went on a building spree. In 1610,
Stefan Potocki and his wife Maria erected the Church of St. Mykola, the
first stone chapel in Buchach. Excavations in the cellar only a few years
ago uncovered human skeletons bearing signs of torture. Historians had
little doubt - this was another memorial to the brutality of the Soviet
On May 12, 1751, Stefan's descendent, Mykola, laid the first stone for the
magnificent Basilian Monastery. At the beginning of the 17th century, Stefan
was given permission by the archbishop in Lviv to invite Basilian Fathers
from Lithuania to found a theological school in Buchach. The abbey remains
one of Western Ukraine's most beautiful and has in recent years been
undergoing a facelift.
The Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Buchach,
erected in 1761-63
(Photos by Ivan Vynnychenko)
For many decades, the abbey was the center of religious education. By
coincidence, both my father and my mother's father attended mass there,
although in different years; this last summer my cousin Bohdanna's eldest
son was married there. (Both my father and grandfather also attended
Buchach's Gymnasium, a three story building just around the corner from
The monastery functioned periodically until 1944, around which time my
father and his brother fled Buchach to make a new life in the West. In 1995,
the monastery was granted the status of a historical philosophical lyceum by
Ukraine's education ministry.
I may never find that little stone cross half hidden on the side of a dirt
road, but I will always look for it. I will always climb up Castle Hill to
its ruins and gaze across the ravine with the Strypa River running below to
get a view of the monastery.
And the view is breathtaking.
How to get there: Buchach is accessible from several western Ukrainian
cities; it is about an hour and a half drive from Ternopil, which can be
reached by overnight train from Kiev. The trip costs about Hr 50 by cab, or
Hr 5 by bus (if you have the patience for an overcrowded and slow ride).
Buchach can also be reached by bus from Ivano Frankivsk. The connection is
convenient with buses leaving from the train station shortly after the Kyiv
train arrives. Buchach is also connected to other cities and towns in the
region since it is a main transit point in western Ukraine.
Where to stay: Buchach has one hotel used largely by truckers traveling
through the region. It is best to make the city a day trip unless staying
with someone you know.
Where to eat: Buchach has several restaurants that boast a surprisingly
active nightlife for a small town.A favorite of many is the pizzeria located
in the heart of Buchach.
The Kyiv Post, Kyiv, Ukraine--To read the original article click on: http://www.kpnews.com/main/12106/
This article for personal and academic use only
Natalia A. Feduschak is a freelance journalist and has written for several
publications including The Washington Times, Washington, D.C.