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“In War, Caring For Others — and For A Garden — Is the Best Way to Nurture Oneself,” Our Ukrainian Correspondent Reports

“Caring for a garden is heaven for the soul,” reports Pavel Kuljuk, our Ukrainian correspondent. “Ukrainian television is hell.” (photo by Pavel Kuljuk)

Editor’s Note: As the war in Ukraine grinds on, with reports of more civilian deaths in the Eastern region, our Ukraine correspondent, Pavel Kuljuk, continues to find refuge in his garden. And he is not alone. Here is his latest report.

Meet our Ukrainian correspondent, Pavel Kuljuk.

In my country house in Malotaranovka, there is no Internet, television, or telephone connection. There is rather the vessel for physical labor and an abundance of beautiful nature. It is here that I calm my nerves, create an improved mood and relax my mind. It is here that I remain independent of the authorities and the war they wage in the name of their own interests. I belong only to myself.

Heather grass grows at Kuljuk’s home in Ivanovka (photo by Pavel Kuljuk).

I bought this house in Malotaranovka in 2010. Then I paid $5,000 for it. The house was built in 1952 for a Soviet soldier who returned from Germany after World War II. He paid 200 rubles for the house in 1952, which was $50. The area of the house is 42 square meters (about 450 square feet). In addition to the main house, there is a guest house of 15 square meters and two sheds with a total area of ​​20 square meters (215 square feet). The house has a cellar that I described earlier. Over 10 years, I have invested another $5,000 for the reconstruction of the house. Before the war, such a house cost about $10,000, which is equal to all my expenses for it.

I put a lot of work into this house. But the house returns much more to me than I put in, in the form of moral and human benefits. From the very beginning, the house was a refuge from the boring tenth-floor apartment I own in the City of Kramatorsk and the tedious mental work I do to earn a living. Anything that needs doing in this house, I try to do myself. I’ve dug trenches for new plumbing, dismantled the old brick covering in the yard, broken down old fences and built new ones.

But even more than important and comforting to me than all of this maintenance and rehabilitation work is the work I do in the garden. The home has a plot of land of about one-third acre. While I reconstructed the house, this plot became overgrown with wild plums and cherries. These were young and thin trees, almost twigs. But there were more than 100 of them. In addition, there were about 10 non-fruit trees on the site and thick grass.

Kuljuk is especially fond of roses, which he planted for his wife at their home on Ivanovka. He notices small details, like water that graces the petals. In the foreground are an abundant crop of lilies (photo by Pavel Kuljuk).

Last year, I cut down all the trees and burned them. This task took 4 months. This year I managed to till about 1,000 square meters of earth (about 11,000 square feet). Here, I created 27 beds. This land has not been planted for over 10 years. Therefore, I dug the earth with a pitchfork and not a shovel. Due to the thick roots of the grass, the shovel did not reach into the ground.

I planted the dug-up earth with zucchini and beans. The price of all the seeds is almost $20. The beans are not ripe yet. But the zucchini are already ripe. For three weeks, I managed to collect about 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of zucchini. This would cost at least $30 at the market. And there will be more zucchini. The investment in seeds has paid off. In addition to zucchini and beans, I have many fruit trees: mulberry, cherries, sweet cherries, apple trees, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, and nuts. There are also a lot of grapes.

I am also working hard at pulling stumps out of the ground. These are the remains of those large trees that I cut down last year. My goal is to remove one stump during the day. Some larger stumps take 2 or 3 days. In total, I have already removed 12 stumps, though there are six left. After that, I will make new fences and beds for planting vegetables next year.

I work in the garden for three hours each time that I visit Malotaranovka – which is daily in the high summer season — and I spend another hour on the road, as I cycle back and forth from my home on Ivanovka. In addition to saving time, cycling helps save energy.

In general, my daily routine is as follows. I wake up at 5 or 6 a.m., do exercises and take a shower. This takes about an hour. Then I read the news about New York and drink tea. This takes about half an hour. After that, I head out to Malotaranovka. At noon, I return to Ivanovka. I take a shower again, eat and start working at the computer. At 6 or 7 p.m., I eat again. And I go to bed at 10 or 11 pm. I’ve had this schedule for almost a month. Sometimes, it gets boring. But I try not to change the schedule now. For now, I don’t have a lot of computer work. So there is time to work in the garden. If computer work increases, then working in the garden every day will not work. So I enjoy this opportunity to work the land.

At Kuljuk’s home in Ivanovka, he planted a garden for his wife, Svetlana (photo by Pavel Kuljuk).

A lot of people in Kramatorsk do the same as I do. Every day I see people working in their gardens. An elderly neighbor is shy but she happily goes out to weed the grass twice a day. The woman does this even though she is very old. “I can’t handle these weeds,” she told me last week.

The process for this woman, and for me, is more important than the result. Svetlana also likes to work in the garden. She works in our garden on Ivanovka. Svetlana says: “Gardening is soothing. I love my flowers.” Especially for her, I created a garden on Ivanovka. It took four years. During this time we managed to plant about 200 flowers and plants. On Ivanovka we have a lot of different roses and lilies, too. There are barberry, Canadian spruce, Virginia juniper, cypresses and many other plants. It makes me feel closer to America to have plants that are from your country.

Taking care of these plants allows us to survive in war because the best way to help yourself is to take care of someone or something else. I will be happy if people remember this truth.


Pavel Kuljuk

Read all of Pavel Kuljuk’s reports from Eastern Ukraine.

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5 responses to ““In War, Caring For Others — and For A Garden — Is the Best Way to Nurture Oneself,” Our Ukrainian Correspondent Reports”

  1. Claire Horst says:

    “The best way to help yourself is to take care of someone or something else”….this helps nourish the soul.

    Alfred Austin: The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.

    • Pavlo Kuliuk says:

      Claire Horst, thank you for understanding me. If gardeners ruled the world, we would live much better. And there would be no wars at all 🙂

  2. Jean Golden says:

    May your gardens flourish, dear Pavel, and may your neighbors and countrymen find peace. Here is a poem by Mary Oliver for you…

    Why I Wake Early

    Hello, sun in my face.

    Hello, you who made the morning

    and spread it over the fields

    and into the faces of the tulips

    and the nodding morning glories,

    and into the windows of, even, the

    miserable and the crotchety –

    best preacher that ever was,

    dear star, that just happens

    to be where you are in the universe

    to keep us from ever-darkness,

    to ease us with warm touching,

    to hold us in the great hands of light –

    good morning, good morning, good morning.

    Watch, now, how I start the day

    in happiness, in kindness.

    Mary Oliver

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