Lindens, Ukrainian Weaving, and Nataliya’s Other Favorite Things

I like meeting people who pursue their dreams. My friend and partner on our Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure, Nataliya Cummings, studied theater in Ukraine, lived in an anarchist community, researched traditional weaving and created an art festival. She now lives in the UK, but she spends most of her year traveling in Ukraine and helping other people fall in love with this fascinating and yet unknown country. Today I want to introduce Nataliya to you.

Nataliya started her travel company Experience Ukraine shortly after moving to Hereford in the UK about 10 years ago, but the genesis of the idea came earlier. After completing her theater studies degree at the university, she started to create art events for children in collaboration with the Longo Maï community. Since children couldn’t travel to cities to see plays and performances, Nataliya decided to bring theater to them. Her experience was so exhilarating that she moved to the village of Nyzhnie Selyshche in the Transcarpathia, a region in western Ukraine. (It’s the same village where we will be staying during our Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure this summer.)

After coming to the UK, Nataliya continued her youth charity projects, but raising money for her art events in Ukraine remained her main priority. It then occurred to her to organize a tour of the places she loved the most in the Transcarpathia and use the funds for the art event. And the rest is history, as they say.

Today Experience Ukraine runs several popular tours in Ukraine and Georgia. A busy mother of 3 girls, Nataliya continues to participate in each trip and still works on the art festival. Planning our adventure together has been a great opportunity to learn from Nataliya. It’s also been fun. She’s a generous and multifaceted person, interested in anything from architecture to cooking, from vintage textiles to wild herbs.

Victoria: Why Ukraine?

Nataliya: Ukraine has culture, arts and traditions that don’t exist anywhere else in Europe, or ones that are vanishing rapidly in other countries. Its nature and biodiversity are some of the most remarkable in Europe, and this link to nature persists in people’s lives. Community life is also complex and layered, and people are generous and willing to invite others into their midst and to share their knowledge. While this way of life might also disappear in Ukraine soon due to modernization and globalization, we still have a chance to experience it, to see what you have lost elsewhere.

And should I mention food?

Victoria: Please do! What are your favorite Ukrainian foods?

Nataliya: I could go on and on. The most delicious tomatoes in the world, a large variety of bread, homemade pickles and jams, pies, dumplings, cakes.

I cook from scratch for my daughters, and I like making fermented foods like cabbage, tomatoes, and cucumbers, borsch, and dumplings called varenyky. I stuff them with mushrooms, onions and potatoes. I have to say that I love cheese, rye bread and mushrooms, especially ones foraged by myself. Homemade charcuterie in Nyzhnie Selyshche is heavenly.

Victoria: I tried it on my visit there, and you’re right, it’s out of this world. What are your favorite places in Ukraine?

Nataliya: If you want to see real life in Ukraine, you have to go to rural communities and spend some time there and breathe in their way of life. Which is why our tour is based in a village. We will learn about local crafts, taste homemade food, and forage for wild herbs. As for big cities, Lviv inspires me, especially its architecture. I could wander in the city for hours.

Victoria: What are your other passions?

Nataliya: Textiles. Before I decided to become a theater director, I was interested in fashion design. The love for textile and costume has stayed with me. When I started our tours, I wanted to give people a chance to meet the artisans and learn from them. Many of them use ancient techniques and make exquisite garments.

I wear a lot of vintage myself.

Victoria: What do you hope for your clients to experience on your tours?

Nataliya: To see beyond the negativity of the news. To see how people live. To feel a connection with people. To experience a link with nature, real, authentic, unspoiled.

Victoria: What things about Ukraine do your clients find surprising?

Nataliya: The most surprising is nature, unspoiled nature. Consider that 98% of the virgin wildflower meadows in Ukraine still exist. We still have traditional pastures in Ukraine, where shepherds live for 6 months of the year in the mountains and make their own cheese. A chance to spend a day with the shepherds is something my travelers enjoy.

Also, people who travel with me are moved by the community spirit and by the Ukrainian attitude to life. They are delighted that everyone knows how to forage and which herbs to use. They like partaking of this ancestral knowledge that comes not from books, but from the older generation.

Finally, even people who know a modicum of Ukraine’s tragic, complicated history are amazed by how much art and culture has survived despite it all. It’s proof that the human spirit is resilient and fights all attempts to subdue it. It’s remarkable and inspiring.

Victoria: Any favorite scents?

Nataliya: The scent of lindens, lilac, tagetes. Lily of the valley, because I always gave a bouquet of lily of the valley to my grandfather on May 9th, which was celebrated as WWII Victory Day. When I smell them, they bring back memories of those Ukrainian springs.

We have 2 spaces left on our Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure, so if you’d like to travel with us, please let us know. It can be booked via Experience Ukraine.

Photography: Nataliya’s portraits courtesy of Nataliya Cummings. The rest, by Bois de Jasmin.

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10 Comments

  • Alice: Nice to meet you, Nataliya! I also love the scent of lindens. It reminds me of my childhood. March 2, 2020 at 12:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also like lindens. It immediately evokes spring for me. March 3, 2020 at 9:20am Reply

  • Rakasa: Welcome, Nataliya! I look forward to getting to know you better. No surprise here that Victoria has a friend such as you. As always, Victoria, thx for enriching our lives with your friends and all of the unique insights from your journeys! The blessing of exploring many countries is now stolen from me due to a rare disease, but your writing so reconnects me with the heartening, joyful, worldwide travel experiences of my youth. Truly appreciated! March 2, 2020 at 4:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much for your kind words! This truly means a lot to me. March 3, 2020 at 9:21am Reply

  • Muriel: This travel experience will be one of a kind! It really makes me want to discover Ukraine !! With a family of 6 we usually organise our travels on our own and try to spend our vacation together, but reading the description of what you will do makes my mouth water !
    I cannot wait for spring to settle and nature to get back to live! Today was an exceptionally bright day after so many rainy weeks. I also long for linden to bloom! March 3, 2020 at 1:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: We will also share more of our tips about traveling in Ukraine and some of our favorite places, so you can use them to plan your own trip. I hope that you’ll visit Ukraine someday. March 4, 2020 at 8:42am Reply

  • Anne: I admire people who pursue their goals like that. Also that picture of Natalia with her baby is awesome. 🙂 March 4, 2020 at 1:28am Reply

    • Victoria: I also really liked that photo! Traveling with 3 small kids, that alone is worthy of admiration. March 4, 2020 at 8:41am Reply

  • Aurora: You both make Ukraine sound fascinating. I am sure the trip will be a great success and that it is the first of many similar ventures. I was wondering Victoria about the Jewish community of Ukraine? Is it still large, are there museums and synagogues to visit? March 8, 2020 at 11:36am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, the Jewish community in Ukraine is sizable, especially in places like Kyiv, Odessa, Dnipro, Kharkiv. There are many functioning synagogues and museums. In Dnipro there is a newly built Jewish center with a big museum, shops, etc. Uman, for instance, is a big center of Jewish pilgrimage, because it’s the site of Rabbi Nachman Breslev’s tomb. March 9, 2020 at 3:50am Reply

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