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Tetiev, Day Two: June 13, 2016

It was a good day for interviews and information. We met Lidiya Cherepynchuk, the director of the Tetiyev Museum, this morning and spoke with her for about an hour about the area and its history.

The museum is about 50 years old but is in its third location. Lidiya has been the director for the last year. The inside of the building is visually busy, with photos and papers and all kinds of historical artifacts all over the walls. There isn’t a specific section for the pogrom, but she showed us the wall display that covered the time around 1920.

Lidiya said most of the Jews lived in “compact” wooden houses that were one-story tall and packed together in the town center of the time. Most Jews were merchants of some sort and relationships between them and the non-Jewish Ukrainians were cordial and relaxed.

We learned the synagogue that burned during the pogrom was where the Tetiev School No. 2 is now located. It’s west the equivalent of a couple of blocks and closer to the river than the current town center.

Lidiya said there is a renewed awareness of the pogrom in the area – she called it “a black time” in the history of Ukraine. Everyone we meet here has great empathy for what happened during the pogroms. We also met with Olga Lyak, a methodologist who developed educational plans for the school kids in the Tetiev district. She knows the area’s history well and took us to the site of the old Jewish cemetery. I’m sad to report it’s in terrible shape – the field where it was located slopes down a hillside scarred with tread marks from construction vehicles.

A dairy cow was grazing on the side of the hill as we walked down a narrow path to the field. It’s surrounded by houses whose construction whittled away at what was left of the graveyard. Olga told us the cemetery’s existence was kept “hush, hush” during the Soviet times and many of the people who bought property for their houses had no idea they were building on top of Jewish graves. Some found gravestones when they excavated.

„Olga told us the cemetery’s existence was kept “hush, hush” during the Soviet times and many of the people who bought property for their houses had no idea they were building on top of Jewish graves.“

We crossed paths with two old timers who stopped to chat after staring at us for a few minutes trying to figure out what we were doing. Svitlana told me yesterday we look like Americans and stick out like sore thumbs. Throw in a load of camera gear and it’s difficult to be inconspicuous.

Both confirmed there was a cemetery on the site years ago. One said he remembered big sinkholes opening up in the field back in the 1950s – it sounds like dirt dumped on top to hide the stones, perhaps by the Germans, washed away in some areas. The few stones that were left were taken to Bila Tserkva for restoration of some kind, Olga said, but she didn’t have any details.

She told us the old town center, or at least the area where most of the Jewish merchants lived, was further to the west and closer to the Ros’ka River that runs through Tetiev. At the time of the pogrom, it’s estimated more than 80 percent of the people in the heart of Tetiev were Jewish. The synagogue that burned during the pogrom was on the site of the current Tetiev School No. 2.

Another local historian, Oleksandr, told us there was a second, older synagogue another 300 yards or so closer to the river. I’ll try and map all of the locations for you in the next day or so.

By the way, Oleksandr is working on a larger history of Tetiev and would like more information about the Tetievers who ended up in Cleveland. He and I will be talking more in the future.

Tomorrow, depending on the weather in the morning, we’re either using our drone to shoot the cemetery or shooting street scenes in the market area off the town center. The farmers come into town and sell their fresh milk, along with some other folks selling clothes and produce and general stuff. Sections of it look pretty old world.

We’re also meeting a second time with Olga and Oleksandr, who are collecting some old photographs and documents to share with us.

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