By Correspondent Helene Timokhovets in Rivne, Ukraine.
Polesye. The land of forests and swamps. Today people celebrate Ivana Kupala, Kupalle, as they call it here. A pagan holiday, but they celebrate it till now. Strange people, they still believe in ghosts and mermaids, in a magic fern flower that blossoms once every hundred years only at this night. This flower is a key to all treasures of the world. A weird belief, I do not believe in it, but I am definitely going to visit this celebration.
The first stars appear in the sky, a big fire made by the river makes the darkness more dense and faces of girls with wreaths on their heads look like faces of nymphs or mermaids. They sing and dance around the fire, then they throw their wreaths in water, they say it is a magic ritual that helps to predict their future family life. It is quite a fun and I am really enjoying the evening. But soon midnight comes – the magic time when fern flower blossoms. Everybody is heading to the forest to look for it. I find it funny but cannot resist this general feeling of excitement and decide to try my luck and to have some fun, so I am heading to the nearby forest.
They say that one cannot find the flower if somebody accompanies him, so nobody wants to be with me during this exciting journey. I am heading to the nearby forest, and while I am moving away from the fire I start feeling cold of the Polesye night, a magic night of Ivana Kupala. I hear frogs croaking in the river, owls in the forest, in the sky that was clear before appear dark heavy clouds. I feel excitement, worry, fright – a mixture of feelings, which cannot be described, when heart starts beating like a drum, when you can hardly breathe because you feel the magic, as even all pagan gods are looking into your eyes and take your breath away. The forest now looks like a black living wall, the branches of trees like claws of a vulture stick into my arms and legs, poisonous nettle burns my hands. Mud squelches under my feet. I am afraid and I want back, back to people and fire.
But forest is now a living creature that doesn’t want to let his victim run away. I cry for help, and here it comes. A beautiful long-haired girl, she smiles to me and beckons me, her eyes are shining with warm light and I cannot reject. In my head like shadows flow memories about the legends of those strange people living here. Mermaids living in rivers and lakes, mavcas living in forests. But they disappear when the girl smiles to me again. I have to trust her, she is a good one, she wants to help me… Some lights are shimmering in front of me. Strange flowers… Bright red colour… Fern… Blossoming and its flowers shine like small warm stars… I feel cold under my feet… Something cold and slippery like a snake… I am foundering in it…
I am lying with my eyes closed, the feeling of warmth and the smell of herbal tea with honey and fresh bread seem to come from a fairy-tale. I am opening my eyes. The old woman in whose house I was staying these days is sitting by me. She looks worried. When I open my eyes she smiles with relief and offers me some tea. The fragments of previous night come like a flash in my mind. The girl and flowers. And a swamp. Was it a dream or it all was real? So did I find the fern flowers?
Later I got to know that people found me in a mire, half-sunk, I even was not trying to get out. When they took me out, I was telling something about a mavca and fern flowers, but there was nothing around but trees and swamp. My head was glowing from fever, my eyes seemed not to see anybody, so they took me home and let this woman take care of me.
I remember this night with shivering. Till now I cannot explain what happened to me, if I really saw that legend creature and magic flower. I have never visited Polesye since then, as if trying to run away from that night.
Helene Timokhovets is from Rivne, Ukraine.