In War, Ukrainians Forage for Mushrooms in Forests With Mines

ZDVYZHIVKA, Ukraine — Deep in a pine forest north of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, a beautiful mushroom warms its brown hat in the gentle autumn sun — it is an irresistible sight for with Ukrainian mushroom hunters.

But all around there is danger. Cutting through the mossy forest floor is row after row of trenches from battle for Kiev last winter, and countless mines and unexploded ammunition. Weighing the risks of the mines and the allure of their quarries, thousands of Ukrainians in the first mushroom season since Russia’s Invasion mushroom hunting.

Now, they are in the post-season gathering, tallying the spoils and starting to preserve them for the harsh winter ahead. The risks may seem dire for what has long been seen as a country pastime, but Ukraine’s mushroom hunters see the problem differently. They indulge in quiet walks in the woods and see it as a sign of Ukraine’s resilience and a way to maintain a normal life in times of war.

“I want to go back to a peaceful life,” said Dmytro Poyedynok, 52, a yoga teacher from the suburbs of Bucha, Kyiv, who was hunting mushrooms on a late autumn day.

He said he considers such mushroom excursions “symbolic to me because it’s a peaceful hunt” in a forest that has seen so much violence. In the grasslands and grasslands, the tanks exploded with rust. Earlier this fall, while searching for mushrooms, he came across the makeshift grave of a child.

Those who have lived through the horrors of war often find great solace in everyday life. But many people have now lost their jobs and rely on mushrooms to make money and preserve food for the winter. Mushroom hunters may have lost loved ones, but they are not willing to lose sight of the glimpses of former life they find in the misty, damp autumn forests.

As the war dragged on to the 10th month, the Ukrainian government and people still defied, even if flashing electricitywater tap go dry and apartments hovering around freezing temperatures from lack of heating like a Russian missile attack infrastructure targets.

Ukrainians, many of whom have second homes in villages and feel connected to the countryside, even if they live in towns or cities, say they don’t kneel for anyone – but will do so to pick potatoes or photograph mushrooms.

And so Mr. Poyedynok cycled into the pine forests around Bucha, carrying a few plastic bags, which he had done all his life.

He lived through the occupation of Bucha, a Horror month in which Russian soldiers shoot civilians and leave their bodies on the street. He said that his uncle had been killed and that he himself had been detained and threatened with execution.

The forests in the occupied areas are still heavily exploited. Mines and unexploded ordnance cover thousands of square miles of Ukraine, according to the interior ministerDenys Monastyrsky.

The Ukrainian government has urged people not to pick mushrooms, and the government agency for forest resources has imposed official restrictions on forest walking in nine Ukrainian provinces, including the area around Kyiv where Mr. Poyedynok came.

But experts say it will take at least a decade to clear landmines in the forest — and many Ukrainians aren’t prepared to wait that long before returning to their favorite hobby.

Reports of mushroom hunters stepping on landmines regularly come from all nine provinces where walking in the forest is banned. Local officials say the number isn’t very high by a measure of a war that is believed to have killed tens of thousands of people: three to four people per area have stepped on landmines, died or lost their feet in the process. Mushroom search.

Viktoria Ruban, a spokeswoman for the Kyiv provincial emergency service, which responded to calls when the mushroom hunter entered the mine, said: “In general people are careful, but not all are like that. .

Mr. Poyedynok used to teach crowded yoga classes, but only a few of his students stayed in Ukraine. With the amount of money he could earn from teaching significantly dwindling, mushrooms, as they often are during times of famine or distress in Ukraine, helped.

He said he was able to pick 550 pounds of mushrooms. His family preserved most of the winter bounty for themselves and gave a lot to friends and family. They also started selling mushrooms.

Some of the buyers are mushroom pickers who crave thrills but are overly cautious when entering the woods.

“People who were always going to pick mushrooms but now scared started coming to us just to smell the mushrooms, look at them,” said Yana Poyedynok, Mr. Poyedynok’s wife, “and eventually started buying them.”

The family made about a thousand dollars this season selling mushrooms.

“It’s not much, but it’s enough to cover some small expenses,” said Mrs. Poyedynok, 44.

Most of the time, Mr. Poyedynok hunts mushrooms on his own.

After a family trip, he came across a child’s grave, his wife and son became afraid of the jungle, rarely coming to him. They only go to forests they have been to and forests they believe are safe.

As Russian troops withdrew from parts of Ukraine, anniversary generally short-lived proof. Soon the bodies were found, and account of brutality against the civilian population emerged. But those are past deaths. The dangers in the woods threaten death today and for any tomorrow.

In September, when most Kharkov . region in the northeast has been recaptured, it’s just at the beginning of the mushroom season. Within weeks, there were reports of mushroom pickers stepping on landmines. Local officials said three were injured in October in newly recaptured forests.

In a forest on the outskirts of Izium, a city in Kharkiv, investigators found hundreds of graves civilians and a mass grave where Ukrainian soldiers appear to be buried, officials said.

Raisa Derevianko, 65 years old, lives next to this forest. In September, she sat on a bench outside her house looking at the unearthed remains. Now, she can watch the demining work.

Mushroom season comes and goes, but she never goes to the forest.

“All of this is horrible,” Derevianko said of mass graves. “But what I want most is for them to finish my forest. I miss mushrooms very much.


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