Tag: vodka

In a hut with some Hutsels: Part 2

Dear all, I’ve been away for a long time because (sadly) I left Ukraine and moved to Brussels. Moving house, finding a new job, and starting a new life etc have taken up all of my time. However, I haven’t forgotten about Ukraine or this site – I’m just working out how to keep it alive. That’s why I was delighted to sign-in today and see that its attracted almost 95,000 visitors since I started posting last year! Thank you, all of you.

Anyway, here is the super-late second half of my Hutsel experience in the Carpathians this summer. You can read, or re-read the first part here.

Part Two.

I had no idea what our Hutsel home would look like, or where we would be staying. However, the site we arrived at was beautiful. Set on a ridge overlooking two mountain valleys, the settlement consisted of one small hut, three out buildings (a toilet, a shower and a store) and a large fenced off ‘pen’ area for the animals.

The hut

If I’m honest, I had been expecting some delicate traditional woodwork patterns and intricate traditional dress that the Ukrainians are so attached to. This wasn’t the case. The hut was a small wooden shack which had been knocked-up from the surrounding trees, and it was about four meters by six, has some kind of bed, some limited storage and a fire. Yes, a whooping great fire in the middle of the wooden house! There was no chimney, just an open section above the flames which did more to blow the smoke in your face than it did as a ventilator.

If you can see through the smoke – you’ll see the mushrooms

In short, it was a little wooden smoke box that burned your eyes and killed your lungs if you got anywhere near it.

Jure, our host, loved it. His son, a 19-year-old forestry student from Lviv didn’t, complaining that smoke was unbearable for the first month or so until you got used to it.

Amazed that anyone could live for more than 3 days in such conditions without dying from smoke inhalation, I vowed to avoid inside of the hut as much as possible. Thankfully, as it was a gloriously sunny weekend, this wouldn’t be a problem.

Little Jure didn’t seem to mind the smoke, but I don’t think he had much choice.

However, I did stay long enough to see the huge cauldron that hung above the fire (to make cheese) and long enough for Jure to proudly wave some of his smoke mushrooms in my face.

Outside was a small ‘garden’ area and a dinner table that would be the focal point of our whole visit.

After a few stiff drinks, Jerom and I discovered first that we are failures at erecting tents, and secondly that some local villagers travel around the mountains in the back of large truck.

Here’s the situation:

> Jure lives in the mountain for 3 or 4 months per year with his son and nephew, and they look after animals on behalf of the villagers.
> The villagers pay him per animal
> Jure milks the animals and makes cheese
> The villagers collect and sell the cheese and pay Jure for this as well.
> The day we arrived was also the day the villagers had come to collect the cheese.
> They arrived on the back of a truck

I was slightly worried that they were a local village mafia who were going to steal our beer and cigarettes and do nasty stuff to Jerome, but thankfully there weren’t. The villagers simple came, conducted business, took the cheese, paid Jure… and then sat down for a vodka-fuelled song fest!!


I don’t know if they did it for our benefit, or if they always sing and eat when they collect the cheese, but from nowhere a feast of salads, chicken wings, cheeses and breads suddenly appeared along with about 27 bottles of water and home-made vodka, all severed in old coke bottles which made it impossible to distinguish between the two.

So, hours after arriving, we found ourselves deep in song with a whole table of drunk singing villagers …eating, drinking and (in my case) laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing. It was big, friendly gold-teeth smiles all round and while we ate, the young kids chased goats and sheep around the field.

Little Hutsels

At least twice during the day Jure retrieved a small newspaper cutting from the smoky den which contained a poem that his family had published for him. Each time, he asked someone to read it while he would cry, then drink vodka and then start singing.

Jure, drinking and singing

Never try to beat Jure or any Hutsel at the after-dinner fighting games

It really was an experience that I’ll remember forever and I’m happy to say that we impressed the villagers too. As they left, they also said they would never forget this day. Then, we all took pictures (on and off the truck), said our goodbyes and waved as they climbed on the truck and vanished off into the valley.

Jerom waves goodbye to our village friends

The rest of the afternoon and evening was a bit blurry, but we did make it to the top of the mountain, and I remember enough to know that our Hutsel family showed us an incredible degree of hospitality. It wasn’t a culturally rich experience in an artisan, traditional way, but it was still a wonderful insight into a lifestyle that is a million miles away from Western Europe. As a boy who grew up on a village, I was even quite envious of them at times.

We even touched on political issues when Jure insisted that he wanted independence for his people, inside an independent Ukraine. It seems Jure was a federalist.

So, if you ever get the chance to visit this magically-bonkers part of the world – I highly recommend a weekend of drunken extravagance and Hutsel hospitality. It wont be good for your health – but it will do wonders for your soul. As for the penis-enhancing booze, I’ll save the results of that story for another post 😉


See more in the gallery…


By Jared Morgan

It’s a word with a lot of promise.
For me it’s a promise of fun…or a night that, next morning, is completely forgotten.
When vodka and I were introduced our meetings were fleeting – confined to a Bloody Mary or two, no commitment or bonds were formed.
In Kyiv, vodka and I have intensified our relationship.
It’s a tempestuous affair, born not from mutual attraction, but from social necessity.
Here, drinking vodka, or horilka as more patriotic Ukrainians call it, is a ritual.
It’s an appealing ritual.
As a foreigner drinking with Ukrainians allows you to experience them away from the serious demeanour they adapt on the street and see they have a well-developed sense of fun. Great hosts, the food flows as freely as the drink.
But the drink….
Vodka and I were reacquainted on my second day at work.
“Jared, tonight we are having a party,” my colleague informed me mid-afternoon.
“Oh…OK,” I replied. “But it’s only Tuesday.”
“And what?”
The response was laced with surprise.
“In New Zealand we don’t drink on a Tuesday,” I said.
“Today, we must drink…Yura has new car.”
I didn’t have time to rationalise the reason, I was distracted by a gesture I had never seen before.
It was a tap to his neck that could have been mistaken for scratching an itch, if another colleague hadn’t repeated the gesture five minutes later.
Establishing this as a non-verbal cue for drinking – my affair with vodka began.
Coming from a culture where, when drinking, food is an afterthought, it was a baptism of fire.
“You must eat,” I was told after several shots.
It was already too late..
On this night, at a party to celebrate a car, with people I didn’t really know, I set a precedent.
I burst into song, serenading my workmates with an eclectic assortment of songs from my homeland, through to a reasonably accurate (by all accounts) rendition of Ya Stanu Morem by Ukrainian songstress Ani Lorak.
My command of Russian is that of an infant, I understand less Ukrainian and I had heard this song maybe three times.
However, vodka tends to melt social and cultural barriers and maybe language barriers thaw along with them.
Unfortunately this effect is temporary; any great leaps forward in my understanding of Russian were gone the next day along with any memory of the party beyond the first hour.
I did learn one lesson – the statement “you must eat” is very true.
I put this into practice when my colleagues discovered my birthday falls on Ukraine’s Independence Day.
The amount of vodka was considerably larger, but “you must eat” became my mantra.
As day turned to night, I again became a human jukebox, but I’d paced myself, eaten, and this time it was not a solo performance as others too became prone to musical outbursts.
Singing now accompanies any meeting I have with vodka, but these are not regular.
The pitfalls for foreigners who get too caught in this culture are obvious.
A friend explained it bluntly…
“A lot of foreigners become alcoholic, because we (Ukrainians) like foreigners – everyone wants to drink with them.”
While “you must eat” is an essential pointer – this warning is food for thought.

Man’s best friend

Ukrainian Dog Fetches Vodka

Ukraine A-Z

K. The Klitchko Brothers (undisputed champions of the world)

A. Allo (алло). ‘ring…ring…алло! …MAma, privet!’
B. Beetroot and Borsch (Ukraine’s famous, tasty and much-loved contribution to global cuisine)
C. Corruption (the thorn in Ukraine’s side) and Crimea (the diamond in Ukraine’s crown)
D. Dnipro (the mighty river that brings life to Ukraine) and Devushki (the girls. There are lots of them and they are all wonderful, even the old babushkas who keep the country alive)
E. Euro (EURO 2012, euro-repair, euro-quality, euro-style… you can’t avoid euro-fanaticism in Ukraine)
F. Flowers & Fish (from the modern sushi to the old dried-fish-with-beer, Ukrainians love to eat aquatic animals. They also love flowers more than life itself)
G = H (Gary Potter, Gollywood, Gamburger etc)  …and gopniks (chavs)
H. High Heels.
I. Inquisitiveness. The curiosity and intrigue of Ukrainian’s means you’re likely to answer a lot of questions about a lot of things.
J . Jews and Jingoism (the two are not related)
K. The Klitchko Brothers (undisputed champions of the world) and Kitschy (the default national style)
L. Leopard skin patterns (on everything AND its still cool)
M. Marshrutkas and the Metro (small yellow minibuses and the metro/subway/underground)
N. Na kortochkah (squatting)
O. Oleg, Olga and the Oligarchy
P. Pedestrians vs Parking vs Pavements
Q. Queuing …the complete absence of. (Ukraine’s communists queued, Ukraine’s capitalists wouldn’t dream of it)
R. Remont (repair)
S. Smoking, Salo, Semki and Steppes
T. Taras Shevchenko (The poet and the 1 million things named after him)
U. Ukrop (Dill. They eat this like they breath air)
V. Vanity, vodka and Vkontake (Russian Facebook)
W. Wine. Much of it is impressively tasty and wonderfully inexpensive.
X. хорошо (horosho, its Russian for ‘ok’ and given the number of times you’ll hear this word – almost everything in Ukraine is ‘OK’)
Y.Yanukovych (the president), Yushchenko (the ex-president) and Yulia Tymoshenko (the wannabe president who the elected president doesn’t like).
Z. Zjtoni (little tokens for the metro)

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén