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Thursday, 20 November 2014 00:00

On the Brink: The Forsaken Paradise

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Photo: Christian Diemer

Chernivtsi, morbid paradise of decaying beauty. Since 2006, when this photo was taken, the city has smartened itself up a lot, thanks to an efficient mayor – and smuggling into the EU via the nearby Romanian border.

Continuing on his journey of exploration throughout Ukraine, Christian Diemer arrives in Chernivtsi, a forgotten city in the west of the country, the fate of which has been inextricably tied up with the turbulent history of Eastern and Central Europe over the last centuries.

I have found paradise on earth. Nobody knows that it exists. The world has long forgotten about it. Even the Ukrainians, that blessed people who live so close by, would not have it on their radar – their smallest regional capital, lost somewhere in the most remote south western corner of their large country, twenty minutes from what is now the border of Romania and the outer edge of the EU.

TRAINS LONG GONE

In May 1914 I could have boarded a train at Vienna's Nordbahnhof at 12:35. A first class ticket would have cost just under 100 crowns, a second-class ticket around 60. Only 19 hours later, the low, elegant art nouveau train station would have come into sight, couched in the gentle bend of the railway lines amidst a green, flat valley. As the train came to a halt, a sign would have drifted in front of the dirty carriage window: "Czernowitz". Maybe a train guard with a handlebar moustache would have shouted: "Endstation, bitte alle aussteigen! Last stop, all change here!", in a melodic Austrian accent, accompanied by the curses of the Ruthenians, Poles, or Jews heaving their leather suitcases down the tall carriages.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
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