Solotvyno is just a Ukrainian village, on the banks of the river Tisza, right at the border with Romania.
Perfect location to investigate plain Western Ukrainian lifestyle, I thought, and that’s why I visited it.
The village is on the edge of history and geography one could say. But in Central Europe what appears isn’t always the whole of the image.
There are hidden streams of history everywhere in Central Europe; borders have always been almost liquids here. Some of the oldest residents of the area have been during their lives Soviet citizen, and earlier Hungarians and Czech and before citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
And did you know that Solotvyno gave birth to a VIP?
Yes Robert Maxwell was born as Ján Ludvík Hyman Binyamin Hoch in Solotvyno, that at the times was a Czech village called Slatinské Doly.
You see, how liquids are the borders here…
There are some ghosts in Solotvyno’s past.
The area where it lies is not only a tiny piece of land disputed by many countries during the years, but it also belongs to Galicia.
And Galicia is synonym of “liquid borders”. An hypothetical place. What was it: a kingdom, a duchy, a region, a disputed territory? A bit of everything. For a long time it was part of Austria. In 1918 it became Poland. After 1945 a part was incorporated in the USSR, and it is now divided between Poland and Ukraine.
Until WW II Soltvyno, similarly to all the other Galician villages, was inhabited by Jews.
They all suffered the nazi genocide.
With the Hungarian occupation of Solotvyno in March, 1939, Jews were persecuted and left jobless. In 1941, the Jewish population was 2,537. The Zionists and religious political parties were especially active.
In 1940-41, dozens of Jews from Solotvyno were.
In 1941, a few Jewish families without Hungarian citizenship were expelled to Nazi occupied Ukrainian territory and murdered there, other Jews were drafted into forced labor battalions and others for service on the Eastern front, where most died.
Following the German occupation, in March 1944, 2,044 Jews from Solotvyno, and another 3,000 Jews from the surrounding area, were deported to Auschwitz and most of them never came back. A few dozen surviving families returned to Solotvyno after their liberation, but later decided to move elsewhere.
Neither the subsequent soviet regime was much friendlier towards the few surviving Jews still living in the area. Solotvyno’s synagogue was transformed into a bakery and today there is no more visible Jew evidence in Soltvyno apart from the old cemetery and some memorial plaques. One of them is embedded in the wall of a building under reconstruction. The slab bears a date: 2004. And the building is still under reconstruction!
Few years ago there were only three Jews living here.
There aren’t many tourist attractions in Solotvyno; the main spot of the village is the nearby salt mine, so important for its economy that it gave it part of the name and appears on its coat of arms.
The salt mine gave Solotvyno just part of the name, yes! The first part actually (Sol). While “vyno” means wine, but I couldn’t see vines and grapes around.
The salt mine was closed when I was there: a red and white bar prevented me from walking further towards the salt lake that occupies one of the huge holes drilled to collect rock salt. It’s the main tourist attraction of the area and they call it the Ukrainian Dead Sea, mostly because its water is so salty that a human body can easily float without drowning. The same phenomenon happens down South, between Israel and Jordan.
My only choice was to walk through the almost deserted streets of the village. Few young girls were around and one was visibly ashamed and maybe scared when she suddenly met me in a dark area of the town park, where I discovered a relic of the soviet times, a concrete star (maybe once it was a res star…) with a plaque. I don’t understand Russian so I couldn’t translate it, but I could see the number 1944, and so I think it’s a memorial of the liberation of the area by the red Army.
This is the short visual diary of my visit to Solotvyno: hopefully the atmosphere I caught and my feelings are both in the images.
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