Life with village colour
[b]Yevgeny Malikov is an expert on historical and cultural heritage. A historian, candidate of art history, the teacher of the Belarusian State University of Transport, he is well-known in Gomel. Yevgeny is very proud of the fact that his family originates from rural remote places. The basic part of the life and work of the young scientist is connected with the big city; however ‘rural motive’ remains a priority for him, as he explains.[/b]
When I was a child I happened to be in the homeland of my mother in the Vetka District near Gomel, I was surprised at the unusual names of my great-grandmothers — Lyudviga and Ulita. Later I learnt that great-grandmother Lyudviga reckoned herself as being a ‘Pole’ and frankly speaking, this fact puzzled me.
After all, it did not coincide with the exclusively local Belarusian origin of all my maternal ancestors. According to family legends, nobody from them moved more than a distance of 40 kilometres from their places of residence. At that time I, being a student-historian, knew that there were no ethnic Poles in the east of the Gomel Region, just 30 kilometres from Russia. In principle they could not be here.
The crucial point came, when workers of the Vetka Museum of National Creativity, having learnt, whence my mother comes, asked me again: ‘From Garisty village? After all, it is gentry!’ Clearly, I did not hide my surprise: ‘What gentry? They were peasants! They everything did themselves — sowed, reaped, dug potatoes…’, I said trying to counter their claim. However, the workers of the museum answered ‘Ask your grandmother who is gentry, she will explain it to you’.
My grandmother, Nadezhda Sivakova, helped me as much as she could ‘Well, there are simple people, and there are gentry people. Gentry did not marry simple people, gentry married only gentry. Gentry lived in the village Garisty, while simple people lived in Khlusy. Since childhood, my parents told me ‘We… are gentry people’.
Only now I gradually realise why my great-grandmother Tereza Drobyshevskaya, who had five sisters — Alena, Yuzefa, Rusya, Frantsiska and Anna and two brothers — Martin and Grigory, became wife of Anton Abukhovich in 1880, with whom was born my great-grandmother Lyudviga (Catholics). And why another great-grandmother Ulita became wife of Mitrofan Yazersky (Orthodox Christians).
This history of the origin of my family which had settled down on the rural crossroads in the dense forests of the Vetka District of the Gomel Region, led me to the history of my profession, an interest I’ve had all of my life.
I am sure, that the time has come now when it is necessary to preserve the village in the city. It is especially important for Gomel. I will explain why.
Many years ago, in my small Motherland I became interested in wooden architecture. In my childhood, rural houses, thanks to their carved decor, looked very elegant and alive, but now, at the background of modern urban architecture. When, more than ten years ago, I went deeper into this theme, I found that such unique constructions still remained, even in Gomel. So I believe that they are worthy to represent ancient architecture. They are characteristic only of our city. It is part of Gomel’s DNA, a feature inherent in Gomel, and this feature, with such detail, cannot be found in other regions of Belarus, Russia or Ukraine.
The main point is that the tradition of unique carved decor appears in the southeast of the Gomel Region. The most expressive samples of folk architecture and wooden decor today can be seen on Gomel houses from the late 19th-first half of 20th century. This is unique to Gomel. 70 such constructions still remain in the city today.
But these carvings are not simply beautiful. The symbolism of wooden house decor reflected the imagination of the ancient farmer, with the house being a three-storied representation of the World in a water-solar code. He tried to organise his living space, fight the chaos and anarchy of nature and thus guarantee the protection of his home against natural evil.
Therefore it is desirable to leave this visual language of our ancestors, the ancient art of architecture, for new generations and for centuries to come. For this purpose we work on a reconstruction project of the ‘old city’ in Gomel, a project filled with wooden architecture. It is possible to carry out such a project within five modern streets. In the centre of the city, several dozen monuments of architecture, which are officially under protection of the state, remain. The house, transferred from other parts of the city, would become a good addition to the existing quarters.
I think, that the rich historical originality of Gomel would allow for an increase of tourists. After all, people basically come to look at the city as a whole, instead of its separate monuments. The main thing is that the interest in the ‘magnificent Gomel wooden architecture’ by townspeople and visitors to the city grows every year, with pedestrian excursions along Spasovaya Sloboda and other districts of Gomel where historical wooden building remained, are popular today. And nowadays nobody says that narrow specialists, historians and museum workers, clutch at the old, trying to defend the appearance of the village in a city. Everybody understands it today: it is a basis of bases, our past for future.
Ideas coming from childhood
Over the years of work I have travelled through hundreds of villages. And every time, appearing in this almost unreal time-like dimension where all is subordinated to the rest, deliberateness and regularity, I plunge into a parallel world. It resembles my childhood. At times, just several days are enough to become impregnated with the energy of this land. Time and again I noticed that new ideas arise immediately.
The ‘sandy’ open air project was born in the same way. Once I was on business in a rural settlement, Chenki near Gomel. I was looking at the bank of the Sozh River and was impressed, because here it was possible to create sandy masterpieces! After all, all of us in our childhood liked to make cakes and castles from sand. Everything started since then.
During the last several years, I, together with the students of the Belarusian State University of Transport and volunteers, have made creative trips to Chenki’s bank. Ideas of sculptures come on their own. Several tonnes of sand, water (obviously), free days off and dozens of hands and we had a knight’s castles, a dragon, a sandy beacon and a fern flower. Two years ago we erected the oldest monument on the territory of the eastern Gomel Region, the church in Staraya Belitsa of the 18th century. Last year we also ‘put into operation’ the first station of the Gomel metro ‘Chenki-Tsentralnye’.
By Violetta Dralyuk