Friday, May 16, 2014

Yasinya, Ukraine

This originally Greek Catholic wooden church sits on a small hill above the village of Yasinya and the Chorna Tysa river among the Carpathian mountains of Ukraine. The church is considered to be one of the finest examples of the Hutsul architectural style and few modern alterations have been made to the building, two factors which contributed to its selection as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2013. According to a Hutsul legend the church was built on the site where a flock of sheep miraculously survived through the winter unharmed after being left behind by a shepherd in a snowstorm.

The Church of the Ascension was built in 1824 on the site of an older church, though some accounts suggest the current church is from the late 18th century. It is frequently referred to by locals as the 'Strukivska' church. As a perfect example of the Hutsul style it features a floor plan in the shape of a cross, a large central dome above the nave with an onion dome at the top and four much smaller onion domes at the four corners of the building. A minor addition was added to the structure of the church in 1994 when a wooden entrance room was added onto the side in the same style as the rest of the church.

Unfortunately the interior of the church is not in its original state, and the icons and iconostasis are crudely crafted versions of the originals. The overall effect is warm and welcoming, but without a feeling of true authenticity. There are many brightly coloured icons and paintings on the upper walls and dome of the roof, which intentionally draw your eyes upwards to heaven. Since 1995 the church has been used jointly for Orthodox and Greek Catholic services.

The broad bell tower was built in 1813, supposedly a decade before the current church, and is equally impressive as the church in terms of its architectural significance. The structure has an octagonal upper floor where the bells are kept and a lower floor shaped like a square. If you are lucky enough to find the key keeper in the house below the church you will be able to climb to the bell platform in the tower for views of the church and the village. In return for opening the church and bell tower for visitors they expect that you will make a small donation to the church and perhaps buy one of the postcards they have available.

Yasinya is one of the easiest Hutsul villages to visit by public transport since it is directly on the main road running east to west across the Carpathian mountains in this region and many buses and marshrutkas use this route to travel between cities like Uzhgorod and Mukachevo on the western side of the mountains and Kolomiya, Ivano-Frankivsk and Chernivtsi on the eastern side. The bus and marshrutka station is in the centre of the village on the main road, and to reach the church from there you will need to walk about 1.5 kilometres south through the village and then across the river to the west on a rickety old bridge with wooden slats. From there the church is visible on the hill just to the south, though finding the way there can be confusing through the maze of narrow streets between the houses and fenced pastures.