Starting in the north eastern corner of the Czech Republic, the Carpathian Mountain range and its foothills cover much of Central Europe as they snake down through parts of Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, and much of Romania. The Carpathians are known for their diverse vegetation, flora and rich animal life. Large numbers of European brown bears, wolves, lynx, chamois (a goat-like mountain antelope), deer and wild boar call the mountains home.
Much of the Carpathian range, with rolling forest covered mountains, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, has a similar size and appearance to the Appalachian mountains of North America. Parts of the Carpathian range, most notably the High Tatras region of northern Slovakia and southern Poland, reach heights of over 8,500 feet and take on a rocky Alp-like appearance.
The Carpathian Mountain region is populated by many nations of people including Rusyns, also called Ruthenes. Rusyns are an ethnic minority speaking an Eastern Slavic language called Rusyn. They are probably most known for their wooden Greek Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches that appear in hundreds of mountain villages especially in Ukraine and Slovakia. Many Rusyns have immigrated to the U.S. and Canada, arguably the most famous of which is the well-known artist, Andy Warhol.
While much of Ukraine is either flat or part of the great steppe, the highest point in Ukraine is Mt. Hoverla at 6,762 feet and is located approximately one hundred miles from Peterfalva, the village where we live and work. Within the mountains, there are villages often populated by a Rusyn sub group known as the Hutsuls. Life there is quiet and it seems as though time is standing still. Wood homes and churches, cows lazily walking down the road, and shepherds who spend the summer on the mountain tops guarding sheep, leave the impression that in many ways life has not changed much in the past century.
In our village of Peterfalva, the land is flat, forming the end of the open expanse of the Danube basin. The mountains, blue in appearance, can be seen in the distance. The foothills begin 15 miles from Peterfalva and the mountains themselves begin some 50 miles away. Most of Transcarpathia has traditionally been Hungarian lands. Only in 1945 following WWII when Transcarpathia and much of western Ukraine were annexed by the Soviet Union has this area been under the realm of Russian or Soviet influence.
The Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine isolate Transcarpathia both geographically and culturally from Ukraine Proper. The mountains in Ukraine form both a cultural and religious divide between the East and West. The lands leading up to the mountains are areas historically rich in Reformed or Catholic tradition while the mountains and beyond into the depths of Ukraine and Russia are dominated by the Greek Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
With the mountains being nearby, we enjoy day trips with students from the Reformed high school a few times a year. A day away during the English camp, a weekend of hiking and camp fires in May, and a winter sledding trip all provide for wonderful opportunities to get to know our students outside of the classroom and to enjoy God’s wonderful creation.