High in the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains live shepherds known as ‘Gutsuls.’ In this series of stunning photographs Yurko Dyachyshyn documents their everyday lives and their work in the Carpathian meadows, or ‘Polonynas.’
The Ukrainian Carpathians border with Romania, and partially with Poland and Slovakia. Their total area is around 40 000 sq. km (almost the same size as Switzerland) with mountains reaching 2000m above sea level. The Gutsuls, who are the only Ukrainian ethnical group for which sheep-breeding has always been the main domestic activity, guide their herds high in the mountains producing cottage and brinsen cheese, just like their ancestors did hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
It is exhausting work, carried out in a traditional way, that requires both experience and physical strength. Although progress and globalisation have reached this part of the world, their daily activities remain seemingly uninfluenced by modern living. On average, the season lasts for 4-5 months, starting in May and ending in the middle of September. Often they work alongside their entire families, including the children, who work just hard. The shepherds guide their herds in all weather conditions, milk the cattle three times a day and produce cheese, brinsen, vurda and buts. They take water from springs with buckets and cook dinner on open fires. Sheep, cows and goats provide them with food and clothing. The village men climb the mountains to exchange cheese and brinsen for food products, cigarettes and alcohol. The latter is now a part of a shepherd’s everyday meal.
These days fewer and fewer Gutsuls and livestock populate the Carpathians. Neglected cattle-runs overgrow with forest and on the slopes, upon which the sheep and horses once grazed, ski resorts are built. Instead of stables and wooden huts, once inhabited by shepherds, only piles of rotten logs remain serving as a reminder of the dwindling existence of the Gutsul community and their humble and traditional way of life.
Yurko Dyachyshyn is an award-winning freelance photographer living and working in Lviv Ukraine. To see more photographs from this series as well as other work, visit his website.