“If our ancestors built it, we have to preserve it”

In Vinnytsia region, a local farmer has restored a Cossack-era church at his own expense, with only interior repairs still to be done

A unique Cossack-era wooden church has been rebuilt in the village of Mala Rostivka, Orativ raion. According to the extant data, the shrine was built back in 1776, restored in the 1830s, and closed a century ago, sometime after 1917. The locals say, however, that the mass was still clandestinely celebrated in the church until 1943, and then the structure was used to house first a club, and later a collective farm storage facility. The neglect ultimately resulted in only wooden walls of the once majestic shrine still standing, which began to overgrow first with weeds, and then with trees.

The local farmer Mykola Motuziuk and his oncologist son Ihor resolved to revive the shrine. At first, they were looking for and studying the documents about the church; they say that they had covered half of Ukraine while searching for a similar structure, but had not found one. Therefore, they resolved, with the support of historians, restorers, and the village community, to restore this shrine of the extraordinary architecture. The restoration lasted two years and has now entered its final stage. The church already hosts divine services on major feast days. The farmer refuses to reveal how much money he has spent on this unique building, saying only that money has no memory, while the preserved church will last for many years.

“I came to Orativ raion in the 1980s. Each time I visited Mala Rostivka, the destroyed church on the hill unnerved me. The church was decaying, in fact rotting, and it pained me. The village mayor sent letters to the authorities, even went to the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy in Kyiv requesting that they take away the church, but since the shrine was not a monument of architecture, nobody responded. Meanwhile, people (if they deserve to be called this name) ripped up the floor, since it was made of solid oak boards, and carried them to their farmsteads. Over the years, the shrine decayed until there were only ruins left...

“My son and I sought data on the church and found that the construction of the Church of the Intercession in the village of Mala Rostivka was completed in 1776. It was built to a unique design, namely a wooden tetraconch with an attached bell tower. Such shrines were often built by the Cossacks, and therefore the village church is known as a Cossack one. When we took to farming, we first intended to demolish it and build a new shrine from scratch. However, we then realized that if our ancestors had built it, we had to preserve it. Having saved a little money, we began restoration work in the summer of 2016, just after the harvest ended.

“There was no red tape to combat, because the church was not listed as a monument of architecture. Still, we could not do it without the help of experts. We had to know how reliable the beams were. An expert examination helped. The experts examined a piece of timber from the framework that we brought to them for testing, and found that timber making up the walls of the church was about 300 years old. We then left some beams in place, but a lot of them had to be replaced.

“We started by bringing there a few cranes, raising the building, putting it on logs, strengthening the foundation, putting oak weights in, laying wooden flooring so that the acoustics were good during divine services, and roofing the structure. All the walls were treated with antiseptic to keep insects out. We have restored the domes and erected a bell tower. Now the church is exactly like it once was. All that remains is to make an iconostasis and do landscaping work outside. We are in the final stage of our effort. A priest from the neighboring village of Chahiv celebrates the mass on feast days. People do attend, but there are not that many of them. The village is small, with 150 to 200 residents only, but we see kids at every divine service, and we like it.”

Mala Rostivka is located in the middle of nowhere, 20 kilometers from the raion center, so tourists are rare there. It is a pity, really, because apart from the Cossack church, the magnificent palace of General Zabotin is located in the village. It has been finely preserved to this day, even though it stands empty in the foothills.