WORLD

Village Life In Rural Belarus -- Europe's Last Dictatorship

Many villagers still live off the land - planting, harvesting and pickling crops according to the season and ancient folk traditions.

21/11/2017 10:39 PM AEDT | Updated 21/11/2017 10:39 PM AEDT
Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters
Women gather for a May-time ritual in honour of their pagan god Yurya. For this, villagers don national dress and make offerings out of colourful ribbons and paper in the hope of plentiful harvests in the future.

KHRAPKOVO, Belarus, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Just a few hours drive from the Belarussian capital of Minsk, many villagers still live off the land - planting, harvesting and pickling crops according to the season and ancient folk traditions.

Nearly 80 percent of the former Soviet nation's 9.5 million citizens live in towns and cities, but for the remainder, being close to nature can outweigh the hardships of country life.

Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters
Ekaterina, a granddaughter of 75-year old Ekaterina Panchenya, bathes her daughter Dasha in a basin on a hot summer day in the village of Pogost, Belarus.

"We're far from civilisation - and that's a good thing. I feel comfortable here," said 41-year-old Vladimir Krivenchik, who is raising a young family in his native village of Khrapkovo, close to Belarus's southern border with Ukraine.

"We survive thanks to this scrap of land," Krivenchik said. "You go to Minsk for half a day and your head starts to hurt and you want to go home."

Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters
Vladimir Krivenchik, 41, and Nikolay Skidan slaughter a pig at their house in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus.

Krivenchik supplements his income as a watchman at a granary by raising pigs for slaughter and hunting.

Most villagers also grow crops close to their one-story homes - on vegetable patches and fields that are often plowed by horse and sown laboriously by hand.

For 75-year old Ekaterina Panchenya, the biggest change in daily life is that young people have become more lazy.

"In the past, children didn't go out partying. They worked in the field or carried sheaves to the threshing mill," she said.

Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters
Nikolay Skidan harrows the field after it was sown with barley in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus.

Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters
Yulia Panchenya, 82, makes Easter cakes on the eve of Orthodox Easter in the village of Pogost, Belarus.

But it was "cars, noise and dirt" and the sight of city-dwellers standing in line to buy groceries that dissuaded Panchenya from leaving her smallholding in the village of Pogost.

"I do everything myself: feed the animals in the barn, the chickens in the yard, and I pickle and preserve all the vegetables. The river is nearby, the forest, mushrooms and berries in the summer. No, I'll never in my life move to town," she said.

Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters
Oleg (L), Lada and Ulyana Skidan sit at their home before Oleg goes to classes on the first day of school in the village of Khrapkovo, Belarus.

Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters
Valentina Zhih, 77, hangs linen on the washing line at her house in the village of Danilovichi, Belarus.

Panchenya is also skilled in local folk traditions such as floral embroidery, a cappella choral singing and ancient pagan ceremonies, which survived the ideological white-washing of the Soviet era.

These include a May-time ritual in honor of the pagan god Yurya, when villagers don national dress and make offerings out of colorful ribbons and paper in the hope of plentiful harvests in the future.

"I give all my strength to preserve these ceremonies and songs that make everyone cry, to give them to the young," Panchenya said.

(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Richard Balmforth)