Franko Zahar Berkut cover 1932
All real Americans who understand and believe in the traditions and teachings of the founders of their republic; to whom, therefore, it is appropriate to present this book, the story of an independent, self-governing community of 13th century Ukraine, its struggle to preserve its ages-old democratic form of government from enemies within Ukraine and to repel the fearful Mongol Horde which had devastated the rest of the land.
All Americans who still possess the freedom-loving spirit of the pioneers and founders of their country will be spiritually refreshed by reading of a people who maintained their freedom by following the time-tested precepts of their forefathers who resisted all encroachments on their civil rights and liberty. They will intuitively sense that the ideas and ideals presented here are similar to the American concepts of freedom and government, people’s rights, refusal to submit to tyranny and foreign invasion, determination for self-government, cooperation between communities for self-defence and trade, proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and in various speeches and writings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
How melancholy it is in our Tukhlia today! True, the rivers Strey and Opir still wash its rocky, birch-rimmed shores; grass and flowers cover its vales in the spring, and in its clear azure skies, as in ancient times, still glides and circles overhead the giant eagle “berkut”. But everything else, how it has changed, the forests, villages and especially the people!
The dense jungle growth of forests which covered almost its entire expanse to the edges of the rivers, except for the upland downs, now has become sparse, diminished, melted away like snow under the heat of the sun; here and there it has completely disappeared leaving behind bald spots of barren areas. In some places all that is left is charred remains of stumps among which grow forlorn spruce or the even more wretched maple saplings.
Where long ago peace reigned supreme broken only now and again by the mournful sound of a shepherd’s “trembita” floating down from some far off upland, or perhaps the roar of a bison or a moose from the murky tangled thickets, now upon the downs shout the cattle herdsmen and in the ravines and gullies halloo the woodcutters, sawers and shingle-makers, ceaselessly, like deathless worms eating and cutting away the beauty of the Tukholian mountain region, the centuries-old spruces, pines and evergreens, either guiding them down stream, cut into lengths, to the new steam-powered sawmills or sawing them on the spot into boards and shingles.
But the people have changed most of all. At first glance it would seem they have become more civilized, but in reality all that has happened is that there has been an increase in the population. There are more villages and hamlets and more houses in the villages, but within these houses there is also greater poverty and misery. The people are wretched, downtrodden, gloomy, towards strangers diffident and self-effacing. Each thinks only of himself without understanding that such a way of life disrupts their unity and causes the disintegration of the whole community.
That was not the way it had been here a long time ago! Though there were less people, what a valiant spirit they possessed! How courageously they lived amidst the inaccessible, primeval fastnesses, high up within the shadow of the mighty giant, Mt. Zelemenya. But for centuries misfortune has been tormenting them. Repeated onslaughts have uprooted their good life, and poverty has broken their freedom-loving spirit. Today only fragmentary accounts of those days remain to remind their descendents of that more fortunate life of their forefathers.
When sometimes an old granny, sitting on the hearth spinning wool, begins to relate stories to the little grandchildren about those times long ago, about the attacks of the ferocious, dog-faced Mongols and about the Tukholian leader Berkut, the children listen fearfully and tears glisten in their grey-blue eyes. But when the marvelous story ends, young and old sigh and remark, “My, what a wonderful tale!”
“Yes, yes!” grandma will say nodding her head. “Yes, my children! For us it is only a story, but long ago it was really so!”
“I wonder if those times will ever return?” some elder might remark. “The old sages say they WILL return again, but perhaps only before the end of the world?”
Cheerless indeed, it is in our Tukhlia today! Only legends endure to remind us of old times and the old life. The people of today, brought up in misery and subjugation in the thousand year-old chains of foreign domination, refuse to believe they are anything but fiction.
Nonetheless the thoughts of a poet return to those old times, making the people come to life again. No matter how unlike our present ways of living those old customs were, all whose hearts are pure, sincere and sympathetic towards their fellowmen will find inspiration here which might well prove useful for the betterment of humanity in our present “civilized” times.