hidden europe 8

Gammalsvenskby: a Swedish village in Ukraine

by Nicky Gardner


Yes, there really is a village in the south of Ukraine that once was a thriving island of Swedish language, culture and religion. hidden europe visits Gammalsvenskby and finds very palpable evidence of the village's Swedish past.full article available online

Rabbits have nibbled all the bark off the bottom of the young acacia trees. Along the roadsides there is a profusion of yellow flowers. Here and there walnut trees. And chestnuts too. Our driver swerves to avoid a great hole in the rutted road. A hub cap flies off towards the verge and a gaggle of white geese look reprovingly at our car. Our driver stops, walks with determination towards the geese, retrieves the hub cap, and then pauses for a smoke. Nearby, there is a little roadside kiosk, a confusion of metal and plastic with a blue and yellow roof. It sells fruit, cigarettes, toothpaste, a range of gaudy icons and pictures of bearded patriarchs. We buy some melon. Then back to the car - an ancient Zaporozhet - for more bumps, and the dull thud of shock absorbers that have long since abdicated any responsibility for safety or comfort. Eventually there are glimpses of the river away to the south, some vineyards, old women sitting in front of white cottages selling tomatoes and marrows, and then, amid a cloud of dust, we arrive at Gammalsvenskby.

The name means Old Swedish Town, but this is not Sweden but southern Ukraine. A hundred kilometres upstream from where the muddy Dnepr eventually reaches the Black Sea lies Gammalsvenskby, an unlikely outpost of Scandinavian manners in a remote agricultural region that is well off the usual tourist trails. It is a region that people pass through on the way from Kyjiv to the Crimea; occasionally a Swedish tour group will stop off, bemused to find a place in this foreign land with hints of home. Kherson Oblast is another world from Stockholm.

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