Новости 24.12.2021
9мин. чтения

CHRISTMAS TIME WITH CHERNOBYL BABUSHKAS

December is a month when we feel a little magic flying in the air like snowflakes, when the winter atmosphere inspires us to watch Christmas movies with family, when “baby it’s cold outside” and you put on the warmest sweater knitted by your Nana. 

It brings us back to good old times — to childhood, when you wake up in the morning looking for Christmas presents, spend the whole day outside with friends making snowmen and after all the fun, being a bit cold, you come back home and see fresh-baked cookies made by your granny with hot chocolate or tea. 

In Chernobyl, we have a big family – our dear babushkas, who need help and love. 

Every time when we visit them, we feel that we are at home, we get warm hugs from babushkas, their smiles and happiness. They all call us their grandchildren and we are glad to be them. Just one thought pops up in our mind “Oh, how good to be home”.

Christmas Charity 

ImageChristmas charity with ChernobylX, December 2018.
Photo: ChernobylX archives

If you have known us for a while, throughout the years we have created such a tradition to organize charity tours on our own and with you, our dear explorers. Especially, before Christmas, when human connection, safety, and good vibes are the most important for festive mood.

ImageChristmas charity with ChernobylX, December 2018.
Photo: ChernobylX archives

Visiting Chernobyl babushkas, helping them around the house and their gardens, helping them to pay for the electricity, gas, and water, bringing them food supplies, warm clothes, even medicaments – with all our efforts, we are trying to make their lives better and healthier.

ImageCharity tour with ChernobylX, December 2019.
Photo: ChernobylX archives

Thanks to you we are able to contribute to making the Zone a better place. From each tour you buy, ChernobylX dedicates 1% to support the Chernobyl self-settlers. We are so proud of the tourists that have become our family and have contributed extra help during their visit to these babushkas homes. People in the Chernobyl Zone know us well, that is why we are the first they call in case they need help.

ImageThe October Charity tour with ChernobylX, 2020.
Photo: ChernobylX archives

Almost 100 Chernobyl babushkas that are still living in the Chernobyl Zone are safe and sound. However, in the last couple of years they felt more alone than ever before, as they missed our visits with you, the tourists, the explorers of Chernobyl.

Read about our previous charity tours:

ImageChristmas charity with ChernobylX, December 2021.
Photo: ChernobylX archives

On 21 of December we, ChernobylX family, had a very important and very warm day in this cold winter — we visited our dear Chernobyl babushkas — Valentina, Marusay, Masha and Hanna — to wish them Merry Christmas and happy New Year.


Christmas ban in Soviet Union

Celebrated on December 25th by Catholics and on January 7th by Orthodox Christians, Christmas is the most popular holiday in Ukraine. During the Christmas season, which also includes New Year’s Day, people decorate fir trees and spend time with family. 

In countries where people profess Catholicism, they have always celebrated Christmas, probably as the main holiday of the year, the Soviet Union didn’t recognize religious holidays. The irrevocable and complete elimination of the Christmas celebration took place in 1929, turning Christmas day into a working day.

ImageSoviet poster against Christmas, 1930. The poster shows drunk priests trying to stop a man from going to work. Translation: “Organized labor day instead of Christmas”.

During Soviet time it was not officially celebrated in Ukraine. Authorities banned all religious celebrations for over 70 years. Instead communist government tried to substitute Christmas with the holiday of New Year. But people did not forget their traditions. After gaining its independence in 1991 Ukraine started to celebrate Christmas officially as well.

Christmas Celebration in Chernobyl

While visiting our dear Chernobyl babushkas, we wondered how they celebrated Christmas before the Chernobyl accident and what Christmas traditions they have even with the Christmas ban during Soviet times. 

ImageChernobylX visiting babushka Marusya during Christmas charity, December 2021.
Photo: ChernobylX 

Babushka Marusya lives in Kupuvate village with other babushkas (10 self-settlers). Marusya already has 4 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren:

I love Christmas very much! It’s a very important holiday in my family. Before the disaster, all the family members came to our home and we had a really huge Christmas dinner together”.

All festivities begin on Christmas Eve — January 6 (Julian calendar) and last until the Feast of Epiphany on January 19. 

On 6th of January I, together with my friends and cousins, started caroling. It lasted from 3pm until 11 pm. We visited each house in our village singing Christmas Carols as loud as possible. Oh, we were a big group of 10 or 15 kids”, says babushka Marusya from Kupuvate village. 

ImageVisiting babushka Hanna during a Christmas charity tour, village Kupuvate, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, December 2021.
Photo: ChernobylX

So it all started calmly and at home. Kids prepared special songs and verses they took from house to house, entertaining their neighbors in exchange for sweet gifts and tips. It is believed, the more carolers come to the home, the more fortune and wealth will be brought to the family during the following year.

Sometimes house owners invited us in and we sang Carols at their home, sometimes outside when it was not so cold. When we finished, we got presents — candies, sweet bread, food from the festive table, money, and even a big bag of rye,”- remembers Marusya.


This amazing woman still remembers her favorite Carol and sang for us! It tells of a landowner who is awakened by a swallow and told to make preparations, because three guests are coming to his house to cherish him.

I am not participating in Christmas Carol singing anymore, as there are no people whom to sing in the Zone, but my great-grandchildren do it for me personally when they visit me during Christmas time or via phone call” — smiling Marusya.

ImageCarolers in the Hutsul village of Kryvorivnia, Ukraine
Photo: Ukraїner

Caroling was not a simple singing of Christmas songs — it was more of a folk opera. The carolers first had to ask for permission to sing. If the answer was yes, they entered the house and sang Carols for each member of the family, even for the smallest child. 

ImageChernobylX visiting babushka Masha during Christmas charity, December 2021.
Photo: ChernobylX 

After babushka Marusya our path headed to another part of the village to visit Masha – one of the most charismatic Chernobyl babushkas! Masha lives alone in the house where she has lived her entire life with her husband, who passed away 2 years ago. 

Every year we had a huge company of family members and friends who came to us for Christmas Eve — family from my side, family from my husband’s side, godmothers and godfathers of our children, friends. On New Year’s celebration we visited them”, says Masha. 

Christmas food

ImageTraditional Christmas table in Ukraine with twelve dishes.
Photo: kovalnadiya.ukr.net, Depositphotos

Christmas Eve or Holy Eve is marked by traditional family gatherings in the evening – the so-called Sviata Vecheria (‘Holy Dinner’). The festivities start with the appearance of the first star, though all preparations traditionally start from the very dawn. 

The festive table should be served with 12 dishes, which symbolize the 12 apostles. The main dish of the evening is Kutia (boiled wheat mixed with poppy seeds and honey).

Ah, I had a huge table, as our family had many guests for Christmas. It was well served with all my favorite dishes — holubtsi (stuffed cabbage rolls with meat), Olivier salad, pork stew, pyrizhky (sweet, meat, or cabbage buns). But the most tasty was Kutia, which I still make according to my recipe — I cook it in my pich (traditional Ukrainian stove) then add apple Uzvar and honey”, — shares babushka Masha. 

ImagePot with wheat porridge which is prepared on Christmas Eve Kutya is a traditional Ukrainian food on Christmas.

The Christmas Eve dinner begins with Kutia. It is one of the main dishes, cooked of wheat, barley, or rice and seasoned with grated poppy seeds, nuts, honey and Uzvar (a compote of dried fruit). It has a sacred meaning for the locals. After Christmas Eve, the dish was left overnight on the table so that the souls of the dead ancestors could also taste the treat.

After the Chernobyl disaster, only 126 people came back, but we still celebrated Christmas together, singing carols. We even had a bus which took us to the church to pray on Christmas Eve. It was nice to meet other Chernobyl self-settlers there and wish them Merry Christmas. Nowadays we have no such possibility anymore. Unfortunately I am too old to go to church on my own, as it is far away, but we agreed with other Chernobyl babushkas to meet each other on Christmas and celebrate with our tasty home-made wine,” — says Chernobyl babushka Masha.

Image

During a pandemic time it’s not so easy to visit someone and many of you are in quarantine. The same is for Chernobyl babushkas. Their kids are trying to visit them every two weeks, but they do not always succeed. That’s why babushkas are desperately looking forward to meet their children and, of course, you, Chernobyl adventurers! ⠀

The next charity tours will be held during 2022 and if you are interested in participating and helping Chernobyl babushkas in person, please let us know by sending an email to info@chernobylx.com with the subject ” I want to help Chernobyl babushkas”.

In this very cold Chernobyl winter, don’t forget to give warm hug your granny and grandpa 👴 👵

Merry Christmas 

Radioactively yours ChernobylX family

Helga
Helga

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