Murder, hardship and love affairs: The khroniky tell the story of Ukrainians

Explore Slovakia's wild swimming spots and the Liptov region.

A truck sprays water on the main square in Banská Bystrica on July 7 to cool down the area amid the summer heat.A truck sprays water on the main square in Banská Bystrica on July 7 to cool down the area amid the summer heat. (Source: Ján Krošlák/TASR)

This week, we are reporting on almost forgotten Ukrainian songs, how a swimmer helps save Slovak rivers. Our podcast throws light on the Liptov region.

Khroniky: Nearly forgotten but powerful Ukrainian songs

The year 2014 was not just marked by an emerging war conflict in Ukraine. Slovak filmmaker Lucia Nimcová and experimental musician Sholto Dobie travelled to Rusyn villages in the Carpathian Mountains to rediscover and make a documentary about khroniky – Ukrainian folk songs.

Seven years later, the two have released an LP of four field recordings titled DILO, which was an important independent Ukrainian daily newspaper that was closed down in 1939.

The folk songs describe hardship, murder, torture, death in gulags, heavy drinking, outsmarting men, and love affairs. But many of the songs also make fun of marriage. There is even a subcategory of khroniky songs called potka (vagina) songs.

“The khroniky have never been properly documented because they were considered too crude, or contained lyrics that were problematic, politically,” wrote Edinburgh-based freelance journalist Claire Sawers in her review of the LP.

Nimcová, who grew up in eastern Slovakia where the Rusyns also live, remembers the khroniky from her childhood. Despite coming from the region of the Rusyns, she said it was hard to win people’s trust and hear them sing.

“The Rusyn community is a very closed one,” said Nimcová, now living in Ethiopia. “We’d stay up until five in the morning at a wedding, then go straight to a morning baptism, or collect haystacks with the villagers, hoping they’d sing while they were working.”

Dobie added that the songs have their own atmosphere and intimacy from the spaces they were recorded in. Sawers agrees, noting that the feel of the album flips between laughter and raw, painful truth.

In one track, a woman sings about selling herself to buy a cow, while another song recounts a story about an adult son asking his mother why his dad, who has gone to war, will not be back for dinner.

Other culture news from this week

  • Film: The French animated short film Polka-Dot Boy by Sarina Nihei won the main prize at the international animation festival Fest Anča. Eva Matejovičová's film Sanctuary won the Anča Award for the best Slovak animated film.
  • Restaurant: The popular Bratislava restaurant Kubista announced it is closing its business.
  • Music: One of the largest music festivals in Slovakia, Pohoda, takes place this week at Trenčín airport, but only its smaller version.
  • Oscars: Slovak cinematographer Martin Štrba has joined the Oscars Academy.
  • Festival: The international festival Košice Music Spring (KHJ) starts on Friday, July 9. Over the course of three weeks, visitors can look forward to symphony and chamber concerts.
  • Tour: The "Začnite s vysťahovaním" walking tour will be held in the town of Kremnica at 17:00 and 20:00 on July 10. It will recount the history of the places linked to the 1944 Slovak National Uprising.

A swimmer helps save Slovak rivers

Last year, she achieved a big personal success when she swam the English Channel with other female long-distance swimmers from Slovakia. This time, Soňa Rebrová decided to take on another swimming challenge to save Slovak rivers.

By mid-August, she aims to swim six large water dams in the country, which total 60 kilometres in length. She already swam in Sĺňava and Kráľová, both of which are located in the Trnava Region.

“At Sĺňava, right before I got into the water, I saw two plastic bottles and a plastic bag on the shore,” Rebrová told the Sme daily.

In mid-July, she will travel to Žilina Region where she is going to swim the Oravská priehrada and Liptovská Mara water dams. As she told the daily, she is looking forward to Liptovská Mara since she swam there once before. At the same time, she is frightened of swimming in Oravská priehrada.

Through her ongoing initiative, Rebrová hopes to draw attention to polluted Slovak rivers, which are full of plastics and other litter. Others can help her cause by donating money to the Slatinka environmental organisation. They can also pick up litter near Slovak rivers, which is what Rebrová does in her spare time.

In early August, Rebrová should swim in two other water dams, Domaša and Zemplínska Šírava. The latter has long been dubbed the Slovak sea.

Where to swim: During the scorching days, nothing is better than swimming in lakes and water dams, which Slovakia has many of.


Tatralandia, Vlkolínec and Jasná? Liptov is more than just that

It is surrounded by mountains on each side and the longest Slovak river flows through it, but its “sea”, which was created by the inundation of several villages, is what has dominated the Liptov region for decades.

Swimming near the almost untouched shores and in the bays of the dam or going on a boat trip while enjoying splendid hill views are memorable experiences. Water and mountains are important for tourism in Lipov, but villages in the region have their own unique spirit as well.

“Sometimes there are small pearls, and one of them is Partizánska Ľupča,” Vanfleteren said about this former town with a rich mining history and extraordinary architecture in the podcast.

The region also contains the mythical peak of Kriváň, a Celtic site above Liptovská Mara, a number of wooden restaurants called koliba and salaš, tasty cheeses, and the longest cave system in Slovakia. Visitors should start their trip throughout this diverse region in one of the two major towns: Ružomberok or Liptovský Mikuláš.

Travel news in short

  • The synagogue on Heydukova Street is the only remaining synagogue in Bratislava.

  • Dobšinská cave is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with ice that was formed during the Ice Age.


He went from Airbnb property manager to beekeeper: "The pandemic was a redemption"

For Sefo Raclavský, renting flats via Airbnb was initially just a side gig, a way to make money. The earnings helped him repay his mortgage. And he was also driven by the idea of foreign tourists taking home nice memories from Slovakia thanks to him.

"It was a great time that I like going back to. But it did not last long. When my friend and I started renting out more flats, the charm disappeared. It became a job I could not catch up to," said Raclavský in an interview.

Before the pandemic, Raclavský was renting out 80 flats via Airbnb, which is the capacity of a medium-sized hotel. His mission became a business. He had to set up processes and clean, which led to mental exhaustion.

However, the pandemic buried Raclavský's business on Airbnb. He completely withdrew from the industry, moved to a rural area near Stará Turá in the Trenčín Region, and is now trying his hand at beekeeping.

That is it for now. Thanks for joining me. Have a lovely weekend. - Peter

Do you have any tips? You can reach Peter at peter.dlhopolec@spectator.sk.

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