Ol'ka Marks Half A Millennium

from Narodny novynky, Aug 24/Sep 7, 1994

by Marija Malcovska & Anna Pliska; translated by John Timo

In recent times, our Rusyn villages have established a beautiful custom - to celebrate their jubilees. Such an occurrence in the village has its advantages. It brings people together and it makes for friendships, but such activity also gains recognition for the village from outside sources. The village is beautified, the roads and buildings are repaired, the parks are cleaned, and everyone tidies up their yards. The coordinator of such action is none other than the mayor of the town. He directs and makes sure everything is in order, so that there will be no disgrace to his people or the town. Recently we witnessed such activity in the village of Pcolyne: the First Rusyn Folklore Festival, where the mayor of the town, Andrij Latta, beautifully displayed his skill and ability, and today, these same skills are evident in Ol'ka's mayor, Jozef Lypcak. Seldom do we meet so experienced an organizer, one so enthusiastic about one's village, such as he. He understands the psychology of the Ol'ka people, for he is one of them. He was born here, therefore the pains and the joys of the people are not strange to him For the 500th anniversary of Nyznja (lower), Vysnja (upper), and Kryva ("crooked") Ol'ka -- in a word, Ol'ka -- the town is preparing itself with a great sense of duty.

We know that when the people come to this festival. Ol'ka's recognition will be widespread, as a village which has its own cultural and historical traditions, with its own rarities, which we have already written of in the pages of our newspaper. On the revival of this commemoration we must at least mention the 280-year-old poplar tree which has been designated a cultural monument...and the village well from 1900. Vysnja Ol'ka has a Greek Catholic church from 1713 with a beautiful ikonostas (icon screen). In the village one can see the manor of Count Matulaj which is now in ruins. This is some country, where in the past there was exploration for petroleum and coal. Already in 1981, the village was known for as folk ensemble "Tysovec"' which arranged for certain practices as weddings and harvests. It extended the fame of Rusyn music at home and beyond the borders of our republic. Today this recognition is being revived, and is the concern of mayor Jozef Lypcak, who is not only a good singer, but beautifully plays the violin and directs folklore activities. To this day the village is known for its pysanky-writing tradition. These traditions are growing because of people such as Stefan Cabrej, Anna Vasylenko, Iryna Stym, et al.. who use the "skrabanja" (scratching) technique. At this time, a village native, the lecturer and painter Jan Gavulyc. lives here. Many prominent people have come from this village and have found a place for their skills in this country and beyond its borders.

After we had strolled over the village with the mayor, he told us that his greatest concern was that the school has been closed since July 1. 1994. He stated that in its entire history Ol'ka has never had such a problem. But what can be done when only one child appeared for the first grade? There was a time when Ol'ka had 160 children in the 1st to 8th grades. Today both old and new schools are empty. However, the mayor is not giving up. He believes that better times are ahead and that young people will he returning to the village. For this to happen, some assistance will be needed and the recalling of the holiday could help unite the people and return them to their homes. The mayor believes in this people, in their industriousness, and in their discretion...and humility. The countryside with Mounts Tysovec' and Dilec' is attractive, not only because of the fine people, but also because of the beautiful and clean scenery and nature, which is rich in wildlife and timber.

As we listened to Jozef Lypiak we had the feeling that the 500th year jubilee of Ol'ka, and the 50th of the Slovak National Uprising were in good hands, and that is only a matter of time until the bonfire will be lit on Mount Dilec'. It is necessary for the people to pray for the reconstruction of the church, so that again the sound of Rusyn sang will be heard, and that sports will have a place of their own.

Prychodcajte, dity, Come, children,

do rodnoho kraju, to your native land,

bo otec' i maty for father and mother

lem na nas cekajut'. are waiting only for us.

They scattered, they left their homes to go in all directions. Having been nurtured on a mother's warm love, now they are living their lives far from the nest. Often the return to the nest is a very long journey...but they do return. They know that there they will find satisfaction for their souls.

Near the last days of August the Ol'ka natives assembled in their native village to reminisce on their jubilee -- the 500th anniversary of the first recorded document of their rich history.

This holiday had already been anticipated and in planning for several months. The mayor of the village, Jozef Lypiak, and the local committee decided to also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising, whose membership included many Ol'ka people. Its members met with the young and old folks of the village on a rainy evening of August 26 on Mount Dilec' above Ol'ka, where they lit the symbolic bonfire in remembrance of the tragedies and of the happier occasions of the war times.

Additional commemorations were held the next day in the Cultural Center. Adding a pleasantness to the occasion was the performance of the students of the primary school in Ol'ka. This school, unfortunately, was closed at the end of last school year. Appearing next were the popular singers from the Laborec Valley, Stefan Vasylenko and Ladislav Dzupin, and the folklore group "Dubrova" from Zubne.

We must say that the first evening of the 3-day Ol'ka festival created a great interest in the festival, of which some old folks still weren't aware. On the second evening, after several decades the Ol'ka residents noticed how inadequate the Cultural Center is. So many people, over 500, crowded into it. This had never happened before. Not only was the hall, but also the sidewalks, overflowing. Everyone was glad they accepted mayor Jozef Lypiak's invitation to attend, to meet in their native nest. To beautify the town, several days were spent to put the park in the center of town in order. A round concrete stage was built for concerts. The first to perform on it was the breathtaking band "Vychodcare" ('the Easterners') from Humenne. As the mayor strolled about the village he smiled with satisfaction...and many joined him.

The highlight of the festival was Sunday August 28. From morning til night a most colorful display! It was like a reward...making up for Friday's bad weather. The Divine Liturgy at the newly remodeled Greek Catholic Church (built 1713) was the first step toward the culmination of the whole holiday. The original plan was to have the blessing of the church following the Liturgy. However, this was postponed to the latter part of September at the request of Bishop Jan Hirka. But even this did not diminish the importance of this holiday. The city council ordered that the work on the church be continued to completion of the renovation, so that it would be completely decorated for the blessing.

Again we find ourselves in the center of town. All participants in the programs are ready to perform, to let everyone know, far and wide, that this town even today is alive. The town is alive, not only with its memories of recent history, but also with its native songs, its Rusyn songs, without which its history would be incomplete. Indeed, that and the need for association and communication with people of their own background and of their own mother tongue, attracted Ol'ka natives from far and near. Even though they left their poor roots, at present they are returning to a renewed and somewhat richer Ol'ka, for the difficult economic situation is not suitable for prosperity.

After a long absence, and returning with great emotion and deep feeling for Ol'ka and its festival was, for example, Jan Vit, who today lives in Poprad, whose work takes him worldwide. Although he has never forgotten Ol'ka, his work keeps him from returning to Ol'ka more than once a year. That day we were highly emotional, as was he, and as were the Symko brothers: Teodor from Bratislava, and Jurko from Kosice; the well-known artists from the former Ukrainian National Theatre [today the Rusyn-language Aleksander Duchnovyc Theatre] in Presov, Pavlo and Nykolaj. It was an unusual extraordinary visit for the Americans, Dr. Ernest Petrick and his wife Magdalena, who in their retirement years came for the first time to see the land of their ancestors and their graves. They came to experience the traditions and the life of present-day Ol'ka, about which they had only heard. The reality of the visit was that Ol'ka was not what they expected. Modern times have not changed some of our villages. However, fortunately, it was possible for them to see at least small bits of the old Ol'ka. That was at the displays of handiwork, especially by the women of Ol'ka: the embroidered Easter basket covers (chlibivky), tablecloths, sheets, costumes, and covers, which date their 500th year history, but are always beautiful, and as proudly displayed by Justyna Ivanocko, Marija Sitar, and other Ol'ka women.

Of interest was the construction of a classical simple village cottage, which we seldom see today in our villages. This building was built by the regional Cultural Center in Humenne, as was the display of the paintings of Ol'ka's native painter Jan Gavulyc of Presov, and a collection of Ol'ka krasanky (pysanky).

But music and song prevailed during the entire festival. Rusyn music resounded not only near the bonfire and the house of culture, but also from the newly-erected amphitheater in the center of town. It was being broadcast for all, and for those who came to this holiday -- the folklore group "Ol'cane" from Ol'ka, "Zaruba" from Njagov, the Chemlon ensemble from Humenne, and the duo of S. Vasylenko and L. Dzupin.

These festival days in Ol'ka were proof that not all Rusyn villages are dead. We must acknowledge the attention given by the mayor and the town council, who propose to increase interest in reactivating and re-awakening the people. We believe that mayor Jozef Lypcak made the maximum effort for that goal. We are pleased that the Rusyn Renaissance Society from Presov did not stand aside, but took an active part in the fulfillment of this holiday, and perhaps, in the great mass of news, their name may not have been mentioned.

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Last modified on September 27 1997
Greg Gressa [ggressa@carpatho-rusyn.org]
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