Treasures of the past

[b]The village of Gorsk, in Bereza district, is home to several generations of my forefathers. It was founded about two centuries ago and, initially, was subordinate to Chernyakovo Orthodox parish. Church books remain today, showing the registration of the births of members of the Kozlovich, Kovalevich, Grishchuk, Yudchits, Chizh and Guk family. Sadly, the village of Chernyakovo (where St. Nicholas Church was built in 1725) is dying. [/b]Belarus is seeking UNESCO protection for this historic building — as it is for other Polesie Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. The possibility of Polesie wooden buildings joining the World Heritage List is now much spoken of at the Brest Regional Executive Committee and on a national scaleTo join the UNESCO list, it’s necessary to prove the unique nature of a site. So far, only such Belarusian pearls as the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Mir Castle, Nesvizh Museum-Reserve and the Struve Arc are included.
The village of Gorsk, in Bereza district, is home to several generations of my forefathers. It was founded about two centuries ago and, initially, was subordinate to Chernyakovo Orthodox parish. Church books remain today, showing the registration of the births of members of the Kozlovich, Kovalevich, Grishchuk, Yudchits, Chizh and Guk family. Sadly, the village of Chernyakovo (where St. Nicholas Church was built in 1725) is dying.

Belarus is seeking UNESCO protection for this historic building — as it is for other Polesie Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. The possibility of Polesie wooden buildings joining the World Heritage List is now much spoken of at the Brest Regional Executive Committee and on a national scale
To join the UNESCO list, it’s necessary to prove the unique nature of a site. So far, only such Belarusian pearls as the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Mir Castle, Nesvizh Museum-Reserve and the Struve Arc are included. Gaining status as a global heritage site confers a number of advantages, including additional guarantees for preservation, enhancement of prestige, popularisation and development of tourism, and priority in attracting finances.
Why is the wooden architecture of Polesie unique? Wooden churches are a unique phenomenon, as no two are identical. In Brest region, 112 wooden churches are worthy of attention. According to the chief specialist of Brest Regional Executive Committee’s Department for the Protection of Historical-Cultural Heritage, Leonid Nesterchuk, 88 are absolutely unique. Many 16th-17th century churches have been preserved; the oldest in Belarus was built in the early 16th century, in the village of Zditovo (Zhabinka district). Some churches are roofed in shingle, while some still have crosses showing pagan influences. Meanwhile, Polesie’s school of icon painting has Uniate accents. The narrowest church in Belarus is situated in Dobroslavka (Pinsk district) — only 5-7 metres wide.
Sadly, many buildings have lost their original form, with interiors and outward decorations much changed. For example, 17th century crosses were removed from a church in Drogichin district (the largest in Polesie) and new crosses were installed. Concrete fences have appeared around some old churches while others have been clad with modern siding (as in Khotislav, in Malorita district).
Polesie has many other unique wooden buildings in need of protection. The village of Kudrichi (Pinsk district) is a true treasure while the streets of Rozhkovka (Kamenets district) are paved with cobblestones; its houses were built in the 19th century. Sadly, its ‘smoky’ or ‘kurnaya izba’ (peasant’s hut without chimney has been dismantled. Its logs have been given to a farmer who has promised to build the house anew and make it a central exhibit at the local folk museum. There is no doubt that the house of folk master Yekaterina Dubnovitskaya, from the village of Zhitnovichi, in Pinsk district — would be interesting to tourists. Three letters (DED) on its faзade denote the owner’s initials…
Of course, no one can say for sure whether UNESCO will appreciate our efforts to popularise our wooden buildings. Importantly, the first major steps have been taken; we’ve tried to find out exactly what Polesie has to offer and what can be preserved. A file is now being prepared for the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, with information stating why these sites are unique and how they can be protected and used.

By Valentina Kozlovich
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