Enthusiasts live in Zhuravichi

[b]Whatever age we live in, young people are attracted by large cities. New horizons call. However, modern reality is sometimes different: it’s possible to achieve the greatest heights even in the quietest provincial village.[/b]The village of Zhuravichi, in the Rogachev District, is well known to lovers of Belarusian classical literature as the birthplace of famous writer Andrey Makayonok. Meanwhile, entrepreneur Natalia Gaponova is also making a name for herself in Zhuravichi, being a driving force of private initiative.We agree our meeting by phone and, on arriving at the train station in the agro-town of Dovsk (a dozen kilometres from Zhuravichi) I await collection. I’m expecting a mature lady but Natalia is no more than 30, arriving in her modern silver jeep. My surprise clearly shows on my face but she explains that her father and husband have helped her with their support and faith in her abilities.
Whatever age we live in, young people are attracted by large cities. New horizons call. However, modern reality is sometimes different: it’s possible to achieve the greatest heights even in the quietest provincial village.

The village of Zhuravichi, in the Rogachev District, is well known to lovers of Belarusian classical literature as the birthplace of famous writer Andrey Makayonok. Meanwhile, entrepreneur Natalia Gaponova is also making a name for herself in Zhuravichi, being a driving force of private initiative.
We agree our meeting by phone and, on arriving at the train station in the agro-town of Dovsk (a dozen kilometres from Zhuravichi) I await collection. I’m expecting a mature lady but Natalia is no more than 30, arriving in her modern silver jeep. My surprise clearly shows on my face but she explains that her father and husband have helped her with their support and faith in her abilities.
On our way to the village, Natasha tells me her story. Her father was born in Zhuravichi but moved to Russia for work long ago, meeting Natasha’s mother there. The family returned to Belarus and she grew up in Zhuravichi (then a busy district centre) until the Chernobyl disaster. Natasha’s family then moved to Moscow, like many others who relocated. “However, I wanted to return to my family home. It had been boarded up but I felt a compulsion about a decade ago to change my life. Initially, I spent time revamping the house and, later, decided to raise cows, goats, pigs and bulls. I even had my own beehives. All my ventures have proven successful but I began to dread sending the animals to slaughter… and other ideas came to me,” she explains.
Her huge eyes sparkle with enthusiasm, which must be what inspires her to new ventures. She continues, “The district authorities invited me to collect milk from villagers: a job previously done by a local agricultural company. I visit homes to purchase milk from villagers and then send it to a processing facility. It aims to encourage private enterprise.”
Ms. Gaponova met her husband in the village and they run the business together using a mini-bus (bought on credit), alongside collecting vats and equipment to measure milk quality. “I was shocked to learn that people get up at 4am to milk their cows, so I have to collect from around 5am; it took some time for me to get used to the routine and there were bumps in the road at first. You need an individual approach, as everyone is different; some elderly people are more keen to chat than sell their milk; one wonderful family of pensioners lives in the village of Prilepovka, keeping seven cows. There are few strong enough to undertake such work of course,” admits Natalia.
Ms. Gaponova is a ‘pioneer’ in the district regarding private milk collection but similar entrepreneurs now operate across most of the area, visiting villages, sending milk for processing and then transferring payments to villagers. The Gaponovs have two mini-buses now and have even bought refrigerators to store collected milk. The couple visit over 250 houses across several villages every day. It’s low-season now, so Natalia only collects about a tonne of milk daily. In summer, this rises to 2.5 tonnes. “We need to work hard — to collect milk and help people earn money,” she asserts.

Post office host
Ms. Gaponova also has another business in the off-season. She’s the first countrywide to buy a former post office at auction (for Br100,000 — around $11). Several years ago, it closed, being no longer needed. The single storey building has a tree growing through the roof and the floorboards are cracking but Natalia is determined to convert it into a private home. I feel quite sorry for her, asking where she lives at present. In fact, with her husband and two year old daughter, she lives in her parents’ old home, which she plans to rent later on. There are people in our village who need a place to live. In addition, some come to our village on business and we don’t have a hotel.”
All Natalia’s plans seem reasonable and she clearly has everything well thought-out, despite being a real ground-breaker. Natalia’s ideas for her new home are just as exacting. She tells us, “I’ll definitely keep the stove as it’ll be lovely for guests to sit by in the evening; you rarely come across them in the city. They’ll be able to warm their hands and won’t want to leave.”
Natalia clearly loves her native Zhuravichi, mentioning the village endlessly and praising its tranquillity. She feels confident of running her own business and raising her children here. She also keeps an online presence, via social networks, regularly adding new photos and updating news on Zhuravichi. She is eager to let everyone know about the beauty of the village.
Not long ago, Natalia’s father returned to Zhuravichi and bought a building at auction, intending to open a shop. No doubt, the story will have a happy ending.

By Violetta Dralyuk
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