I wish for peace for the New Year 2017 

This woman is an ethnic Ukrainian Bulgarian. Her ancestors came to Ukraine from Tvarditsa. They moved to Tsarist Russia and created a village, which they named after their hometown in Bulgaria. And it, over the years, was within the borders of Russia, Romania, then Moldova. European vicissitudes.

On the Christmas eve Mrs. Penka Baltazhi, wife of  the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine in Bulgaria, tells us about the Ukrainian traditions associated with the bright days of Christmas, and weaves them with  Bulgarian memories from her childhood ... She shares with us that her greatest dream is for peace in her country in the new 2017.

- Madam Baltazhi, Christmas and New Year holidays are approaching. How they are celebrated in Ukraine?

- Christmas for us starts on St. Nicholas Day, December 19th. It brings the greatest joy to children, because then they receive the gifts. The night before, each child puts his or her clean shoe on the front door. The more obediently was the child during the year, the greater achievements he/she had at school, the more and larger gifts, in the form of various Christmas goodies, will he/she find in the morning in it. Then, on 31st of December comes the New Year, and after it - on January 7th is Christmas according to the old calendar. Of course, this applies to the Orthodox Christians. Catholics, as elsewhere, mark Christmas on December 25th. On January 14th, we celebrate "StariyNoviy god" according to the old calendar.

Traditions and customs associated with Christmas, are more authentic in the country. On January sixth - Christmas Eve with the appearance of the first star in the sky, the whole family sits at the table for dinner. Prior to this, during the harvest, a bundle of cereals is made – a "diduh" in which there are wheat, rye, oats. It is placed under the icons in the house, at home they are placed in a corner in the room. Under the table symbolically straw is put and the next day is taken away. Everywhere the hostess makes special bread with a cross of dough and a candle in the middle which is lit when everyone sits down. It symbolizes the connection with the dead. Then the master of the house reads the prayer, blessing the dishes and the dinner begins.

According to the tradition there should be 12 dishes on table, symbolizing the 12 apostles, but there may be 7 or 5. Mandatory however is the "kutia" - Hulled wheat that is boiled with honey, walnuts, raisins and poppy grain. Once the dinner begins, everyone takes a spoonful of it.

What I remember from my childhood is that each family prepares two additional dishes, with a little bit from all the meals. One is for the dead and the other - for the animals. When the dinner is over, the plate for the f animals is taken out, and that means the dead are gone away from the table for the night.

Among the obligatory dishes on the table that night are: pirazhki stuffed with sauerkraut, prunes, poppy grain, "golubtsi" – leaves rolls, which during the fasting are made with carrots, onions, mushrooms, rice, beans or peas, meatless borscht, buckwheat porridge or pschent, fried fish, varenki with sauerkraut and potatoes, vegetable pancakes, pickles... It is obligatory to put garlic  at the end of the table. Uzvar /mixed compote of dried fruits/ is also served. Dinner is completely vegetarian, without wine.

- And do you have any rituals after dinner?

- Yes, young men go carolling, and bring dinner to their godfathers, the girls help clean the table. Girls can also go carolling, but on January 8. On the window pane is placed a glass of water and on the top of it - bread for the dead. Then the whole family goes to the evening service of the Nativity in the church; there is a morning liturgy as well.

The next day is for visiting relatives and friends. The joy of Christmas lasts three days - 7, 8 and 9 January. Young people perform "vartep" - scenes depicting fragments of Nativity of Christ in the manger, his mother, the three Magi and others.

- Bulgaria has a large Ukrainian community. How do they note the holidays? Do you gather with them?

- Yes, the community is large, but scattered throughout the country. As Christmas Eve is a family holiday, everyone is at home. But before that, on 19th December - St. Nicholas Day, those who live in Sofia bring their children to the embassy. The small ones recite poems, sing songs, and the ambassador gives them gifts. And at Christmas the community comes to the embassy, we greet each other and try meat dishes: buzanina, vareniks with cooked meat, cheese /tvorog/, wine. We do such a thing in Plovdiv, where the celebration is organized by our honorary consul in the city.

- The Bulgarian community in Ukraine is big ... How similar Bulgarians and Ukrainians are?

- They say that Bulgarians in Ukraine are 200 000, but I think there are more. There are entire Bulgarian villages in Odessa, Zaporizhian, Nikolaevsk areas... I do not know why they are called "Bessarabian" Bulgarians. It is true that there are many who settled in Bessarabia, but there are many around other parts of Ukraine. Even the more wealthy Bulgarians, who once come, have gone farther away. I always say that I am an ethnic Bulgarian, because my ancestors are from Bulgaria.

Otherwise, Ukrainians and Bulgarians have the same mentality - we are very good, we are very hardworking, love the earth, we are good workers, our houses are like pictures, maintained and clean. And our neighborly relations in Ukraine are very good.

- You say that you are an ethnic Bulgarian. Tell us about your origin, roots ... You and your husband already spoke fluent Bulgarian, when you came.

- My ancestors migrated in Tsarist Russia sometime in 1827-1829, during the Ottoman rule. They were from Tvarditsa. Along with many other Bulgarians from that town they settled in Bessarabia and created a settlement that is called Tvarditsa, as their hometown. The lands at that time were abandoned and were given free to the settlers. My ancestors started from the scratch, cultivated the land, planted orchards, breedеа animals. In 1918, the territory became Romanian. My parents were born in this period. They were teenagers when after 1944 these lands went to Moldova. Collective farms were created and the lands were seized. In 1948 my parents were deported in Kurganskaya region, Siberia. I was born there. I hardly remember a thing. Among the deportees were Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Moldovans, Gagauz, all kinds of nationalities. Everything was a little bit international. Even 10 years after their rehabilitation, they were not allowed to return to Tvarditsa. And my parents settled in Leipzig /or Serpneve/ Ukraine. Since then my childhood memories are clear.

You say I speak Bulgarian well, but it’s a bit old-fashioned, as I learned how to speak from my parents in Ukraine. I remember my mother singing Bulgarian plaintive songs. We had a Bulgarian school, so later I learned to read. All immigrants from Bulgaria to Ukraine brought their traditions and customs that are observed today in Bulgarian villages. For example, they put on the Christmas table purely Bulgarian dishes such as pumpkin, beans, "sushehena soup" /dried fruit compote /, pickles, sauerkraut ... We put not only whole cabbages in the barrels, but cut as well.

In these regions with Bulgarian immigrants, as well as throughout Ukraine, the woman has the key role in keeping the tradition in the family.

- What is the role of the Ukrainian woman in society today?

- Ukrainian woman has always worked on a par with men. Now, in independent Ukraine, women occupy higher posts. They are deputies, ministers, diplomats and others. Before, during the Soviet Union, there were some women on such positions, but not many. Most of them were teachers, doctors, bookkeepers.

 - When and how fate met you with your husband?

- With Mykola we were classmates in high school, we know each other since we were 15 years old. After we graduated, each one continued to study. I studied mathematics and physics in Odessa, and he - International Relations at Kyiv University "T. D. Shevchenko". And although we lived and studied in different places, we were constantly travelling and meeting. When I graduated, I started working as a teacher in a village in Odessa region. Mykola started his research fellowship and became a Doctor of Sciences. We got married when we were 22 years old. We lived in Kiev and there I started working at the Institute of Geophysics in the mathematical geophysics department. When my husband went to his first mandate in Lithuania I followed him. Between the mandates, however we return to Kiev, where I work at the Institute.

- Before coming to Bulgaria your spouse has held posts in the embassies of your country in Lithuania, Germany and Slovenia. Do you always accompany him in his work abroad? What is your life as a wife of an Ambassador?

- Yes, I was always beside him. When our daughter was little and lived with us, I was busy most of the time with her. Then we went to Germany, she was already 15 years and more independent. So there I helped the consular section of the embassy. Now, here, I have more free time for myself.

I love getting to know the countries in which I live. In Bulgaria I meet with friends, wives of ambassadors. Help in organizing exhibitions and other cultural events of the embassy. Until recently, we had serious work related to the participation of the embassy in the Charity Bazaar organized by the International Women's Club in Sofia. 

- And your daughter, what is she doing?

- She did not want to follow our professions and focused on the economy. She went to the Humboldt University in Berlin. There she finished her second bachelor - related to real estate.

- You know Bulgaria well. What is your favorite place in it?

- I have travelled a lot in Bulgaria. I love Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo. And your mountains are very beautiful. I love Vitosha the most, I often walk there. But for me the nicest place here is the Rila Monastery. Perhaps because we have such holy sites as Kiev-Pechersk Lavra.

- Around Christmas and New Year people dream more. What are your aspirations and hopes?

- To end the conflict with Russia. Whoever you speak to, we always return to it. I hope that the New Year 2017 will bring us peace.

Poto: Diplomatic spectrum