The View From Here: Hryts and the Coronavirus

Volodymyr Kish.

I heard last week that the Coronavirus had finally reached Ukraine, and as I have no shortage of family still living there, I was more than a little concerned about their welfare. I know well the limitations of Ukraine’s health care system. In particular, I was worried about my cousin Hryts in Pidkamin since he is well on in years, so much so that he often claims to have gone to school with Taras Shevchenko. I do know that he can recite Shevchenko’s poems endlessly from memory, almost as well as my wife can recite the dialogue from almost every episode of Star Trek.

In any case, I managed to reach him by SKYPE and inquired anxiously about his health.

“Meh!” he exclaimed. “Your worries about me are unnecessary. I am as healthy as my prize goat Borbula. He is almost twenty-five years old, and you know goats seldom live beyond fifteen years or so. Not only that, but he seems to have no trouble in keeping his little harem of nanny goats happy. I am much like him, though my harem is limited to my long-suffering angel of a wife Yevdokia, who come to think of it, often calls me an old goat. The clean air here in Pidkamin and the good food we grow here on the rich soils of the Ikva River valley keep us strong and healthy. In addition, as I have told you countless times, our local horseradish and garlic is as effective if not more so than any of your fancy expensive pharmaceuticals.”

“That may be so,” I replied, “but your body is not immune to these deadly viruses; nobody is. And as remote and isolated Pidkamin may be from major cities, you could still easily catch it from contact with someone passing through.”

At this, he chuckled heartily. “My dear turnip of a cousin. I think you have kapusta (sauerkraut) where your brain should be. You unknowingly spoke the truth when you said passing through. People pass through Pidkamin on their way to Brody or Chortkiv; they seldom stop here, except you of course. I can’t remember when I had close contact with anyone that wasn’t from Pidkamin. In any case, I will take my chances. I have during my lifetime, survived no small number of wars, epidemics, crises and political diseases from both the right and the left.”

“Even so,” I continued, “the disruption that a Coranavirus epidemic may cause to businesses, transportation and supply chains, may result in severe shortages of supplies of all kinds. You may not be able to buy basic necessities, groceries or medicines.”

Hearing this, he chuckled even more. “Your head is as empty as an old pumpkin! I seldom need to go shopping. I grow almost all my own food. My komirka (root cellar) currently has enough food to feed half of Pidkamin until the next harvest. My little collection of cows, goats, pigs and chickens provide me with all the meat and dairy products I could ever need. My garden and the woods beyond are full of herbs and natural remedies that I use for all the various afflictions that our flesh is heir to. I need not ever shop again and easily live out the rest of my life in far greater comfort than you could ever hope for.”

“Hmmm!”, I paused, reflecting on the obvious truth of what he had said.

“But what about things like toilet paper?” I continued. “Here in Canada, people are panicking, worried about shortages, and stockpiling vast quantities of toilet paper and alcohol-based hand sanitizers.”

At this, he broke into uproarious laughter.

“I am starting to believe that Canada is filled with turnip heads like you. You have forgotten how to cope with any kind of hardships or challenges. During the Soviet era, I seldom saw toilet paper. We made do with cut-up newspapers, leaves or moss we gathered from the woods. As for alcohol-based sanitizers, you forget that Ukrainians are probably the most talented people anywhere when it comes to making their own samohonka (moonshine), which of course is pure alcohol. My home-made still could easily produce enough alcohol for sanitizing (or other purposes), for the whole village.”

“I see…” I replied somewhat hesitatingly. “You are obviously better prepared than I thought. Is there anything though that I could send you that might be of some help in case the Coronavirus strikes Pidkamin?”

He thought about it for a second and came back with “Well, I suppose you could send me some issues of that newspaper you write for. They would make for interesting reading in case I am quarantined, and once read, I could recycle them into toilet paper.”

As usual, Hryts had an answer to everything, and I was left pondering my own inadequacies.