Mykolaiv Sketchbook: A Taste of Bulgaria in Ukraine

Posted on 11.07.2017 in Of Note

by Gabriela Bulisova and Mark Isaac

At 4:00 am on October 24, a woman awoke in Ternovka to bake a traditional Bulgarian cake called a banitsa. The cake was baked to help welcome us to a community in Mykolaiv where many people of Bulgarian descent live. And it is a symbol of how warm and welcoming the community is, and how much they reach out to other cultures in friendship.

Later in the day, we arrived with our friend Sveta on Sofia Street, named for the capital of Bulgaria. We were met by her Bulgarian friend Nadya, and we all walked together to the nearby Children’s Art School #1, focused on serving local Bulgarian youth. There we saw many examples of outstanding artistic talent and dedication, including drawings and paintings that suggest a bright future for young local artists. Several Bulgarian teachers also modeled traditional costumes for us and sang songs whose melodies resonated through the ages and across national boundaries.

Our visit was made especially warm and productive by the Director of Children’s Art School #1, Irina Ivanovna Zaychenko, who explained that many ancestors of local residents fled to this area of Ukraine during the 19th Century in the face of a Turkish invasion. She also elaborated on many Bulgarian traditions, including the creation of handmade woven blankets that hang above the cribs of newborns to provide them with protection.

But the biggest highlight of the visit was the banitsa, a wonderful cake in layers of soft cheese and pastry dough, with a little bit of sweetness. Though we worried that Nadya’s mother had to work so hard to create it, it was extremely unique and special to taste it. It united us with the Bulgarian community in a manner that can never be undone.

As part of our ongoing photography project, supported by a Fulbright grant, we will feature a portrait of a member of the Bulgarian community and a photograph of the cake, which was chosen by the community as an item of great importance to their heritage. Ms. Zaychenko has also provided us with a short text explaining the cake’s special meaning.

We give thanks to Mykolaiv’s Bulgarian community for their warm welcome and feel honored to understand their culture — and how it fits vibrantly into today’s Ukraine — better than before.

 

 

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