Please join me for an interview with Lyudmilla Hrihorivna, a character from The Woman Behind the Waterfall, that I reviewed here earlier this week. The author, Leonora Meriel has gone undercover as a reporter, to interview Lyuda in her home in a village in Western Ukraine. We can have a piece of honey cake as we read the interview. Enjoy….
Reporter: Good evening, Lyuda. Thank you for agreeing to talk to me.
Lyuda: I don’t talk to many people. I don’t know why you’re interested.
Reporter: I’m wondering why you look so sad Lyuda. You’re so young, and you’re very pretty. Why aren’t you smiling?
Lyuda: [struggles to answer] I’ve been like this since the birth of my daughter. My life just keeps getting worse and worse. [tears fill her eyes]. My mother … died just after Angela was born. I couldn’t cope. I didn’t’ know how to run a household. I didn’t know how to make soup. I didn’t know how to take care of a baby. I was only 17. And then Volodiya used to get so angry with me. I couldn’t do anything right. And then he left.
Reporter: I’m very sorry, Lyuda. That’s terrible.
Lyuda: And then I was on my own with this baby. I hadn’t even finished school. I just didn’t understand what had happened to my life. One minute I was in school and happy. The next minute my mother was dead and I was living on my own in the house with a baby. I loved Volodiya. I believed him when he said he was going to build a house for us, build a life for us.
Reporter: And why didn’t he? Why did he leave?
Lyuda: I don’t know [cries]. It was so awful. It was like one minute everything was made out of dreams, and the next minute everything had turned black and I just couldn’t find my way out.
Reporter: How do you cope?
Lyuda: I’m ashamed to say really. [looks around the kitchen]. I drink vodka. It helps. My neighbor, Kolya, brews samohon – it’s homemade vodka. He gives me bottles of it. It really takes away the pain I feel all the time. I’m ashamed though.
Reporter: Tell me about your daughter, Angela. She’s 7 years old now? Look – we can see her. She’s dancing in the garden? It looks like she’s playing a game. She’s smiling and laughing.
Lyuda: She’s the most wonderful girl in the world. She’s the reason I’m still alive. She helps me a lot. She gets the water from the well. She picks flowers and fruit and vegetables.
Reporter: Do you think she knows how unhappy you are?
Lyuda: I hope not. I pray not. When I cry, I try to hide it from her. One day I will have to tell her about everything. But I don’t know what to say to her. I could say – I made terrible mistakes. I could say – I ruined my life. I didn’t listen to my mother. But then – all those terrible mistakes led to her being alive. So what is right and what is wrong? Were they mistakes?
Reporter: That’s a difficult question, Lyuda. Thank you for trying to answer it. Now, why don’t you show me around your home?
Lyuda: Well, it’s a typical cottage for a Ukrainian village. There is the porch – that is to leave boots and coats and also to store jars of pickled fruit and vegetables. Then there is the main room, where we are sitting – it has the kitchen and the big tiled stove. It’s very hot in winter. The houses get very stuffy with the heat, even though it’s freezing outside. Behind this room, is the one big bedroom. Angela and I sleep in there. There is a small bedroom to the side. I use that for a storeroom now. In the past, several generations would live in the same house, so all the bed space was used.
Reporter: Where is the bathroom and the toilet?
Lyuda: There’s an outhouse in the garden, just a few steps away. There isn’t a bathroom. None of the houses in the village have running water. There’s a well down the road where we pump water and carry buckets back to the house.
Reporter: And I notice there isn’t a fridge in your kitchen?
Lyuda: No. We keep meat and milk on the windowsill or the porch near the door, to keep it cold. We’re careful to use things quickly.
Reporter: That sounds like quite a struggle to live. No fridge, no running water. No toilet. It doesn’t feel like the late twentieth century!
Lyuda: It’s just how we were brought up. It isn’t a problem when you’re used to it. Of course, I dreamed of leaving the village and having a different life. A better life. But then… but then Volodiya left and…
Reporter: Yes, yes, that must have been terrible. Lyuda, before we finish, can you share with me a Ukrainian recipe? Maybe a favourite of yours or something Angela likes?
Lyuda: We eat a lot of soup; and I make cakes. I’ll tell you the recipe for a Honey Cake or “Medyanik”. It’s very easy to make. Angela loves it. It’s very filling though. It’s best if you make it with the “grechnii med” – the buckwheat honey. It’s black and thick and has a very intense taste. But the cake works with any honey.
Reporter: That would be wonderful, Lyuda. Thank you. (Lyuda writes out the recipe and hands the paper to me.)
Lyuda: Mix it all up into a big bowl and stir thoroughly. Then pour the whole mixture into a buttered dish. The best kind is a round dish with a hollow centre – that’s the most traditional way to cook it. You bake it at a medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes. You can smell when it’s done. Don’t leave it in too long or it will go hard. You can eat it like a cake, or spread it with jam like bread. We would traditionally have a cup of black tea with lemon and sugar to go with it.
Reporter: That sounds delicious. Thank you so much for your time today, Lyuda. I do hope that your sadness goes away.
Lyuda: I doubt I will. It feels sometimes like I am trapped behind a waterfall.
Reporter: I’m sure it can’t last forever. Thank you once again. And goodbye, or “do pobachenya” as they say here in Ukraine.
Lyuda: “Do pobachenya!”
Recipe for Medyanik: Ukrainian Honey Cake
1 cup of crushed walnuts
1 cup sour cream
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon of sunflower oil
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of soda, dissolved in a tablespoon of vinegar
Pour the whole mixture into a buttered dish and bake at a medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes.
Best made in a round buttered dish with a hollow center.
Eat as cake or bread, or cut in half and spread with jam.