on the polonyna

The Ukrainian Carpathians are characterized by grazing of cattle on high mountain pastures of polonynas during summer season. To this day, this tradition is preserved in the mountainous regions of Zakarpattia, in particular in the village of Richka, which is located at the foot of Polonyna Borzhava mountain range.

The beginning of farming at polonynas is associated with the process of Wallachian colonization, which lasted in the Carpathians during the 13-16 centuries. It was started by Roman-speaking Wallachian shepherds who migrated from the Balkans to the Carpathians. They brought the highland farming technology with them, which was based on livestock raising and in particular on grazing flocks of sheep. Sheep gave milk to make cheese and wool to make clothes and household items. Later, they were joined by the local Slavic population, which began to inhabit the mountain valleys of the Eastern Carpathians. On their basis, such ethnographic groups of Ukrainians as the Hutsuls, Boikos and Lemkos were formed.

The cycle of grazing sheep in polonynas begins in spring. Animals that overwintered in homesteads are sheared and grazed in meadows near the village. After the feast of St. George (May 7), there is a "measurement", which determines how much milk each sheep gives and how much cheese the owner should receive. After that, the peasants unite their sheep in a large flock, and shepherds depasture them to the polonynas.

A “salash” is built at the place of grazing, which consists of a sheepfold – a fence for sheep – and several huts for shepherds. In the morning, the sheep are milked in a "strunka", and then the shepherds depasture them to the meadows. Sheep are milked three times a day. Cheese is made by an experienced herder. The milk is poured into a large wooden vessel – putyna, and then “kliag” (rennet for making cheese) is added to it. After some time, the milk is curdled and cheese mass is formed into “budz” – large cheese heads. They are wrapped in cloth and tied to drain the liquid. Whey is used to make “wurda”, a special cheese received by heating whey in a cauldron over a fire. The prepared cheese is taken away by the owners every few days from the farm at polonyna.

Grazing of flocks at polonynas lasts all summer and only in autumn the sheep return to the village to their owners. During this time, the owner must harvest enough hay to feed the animals all winter.

The farming at polonynas had a great influence on the culture of the inhabitants of the Ukrainian Carpathians. There was a whole layer of folklore associated with sheep breeding: songs, legends and customs. Local gastronomy was also influenced, as one of the main products in Verkhovyna is “brynza”, which is made from sheep cheese.

Sheep's wool was used as a raw material for the fabric from which the hunyas were sewn, home-woven cloth was made, and warm gloves and socks were knitted. “Jerga” – a coarse rug – was also woven from wool and used in everyday life.


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