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Border: Poland – the USSR
At present: Ukraine and Belarus


At the beginning of the last century, Polesie was the largest complex of primeval marshes in Central Europe, if not all of Europe. In the two interwar decades, there were practically no access roads here, and the inhabitants scattered around the villages lost in the wilderness traveled huge bogs by boat. According to the results of the census of 1921, almost forty thousand Polesie inhabitants had declared their nationality as “local”. In another census conducted ten years later, as many as seven hundred thousand people mentioned “local” as their mother tongue, written in the evidence as “simple speech”, which represented a local dialect combining Polish, Ukrainian and Belarusian.


However, in the sixties of the 20th century, as a result of the gigantic Soviet project for the melioration of bogs, the “Polish jungle”, as Ferdynand Antoni Ossendowski described the region, underwent rapid transformation. About ten thousand canals were dug, more than half of the peat bogs were drained and it went even further to regulating the flow of the Pripyat river, the water artery that pumped life into Polesie. The swamps vanished, and with them the people who had lived there for generations. Their place was taken by huge arable fields and a remarkable “salt city” of Soligorsk developed on the northern outskirts of Polesie.


“I speak our own language from near Dawidgródek. They may not understand me in Minsk, Kiev or Moscow, but it’s important that you, Elena, hear me.” The hundred-year-old Vasily shakes his head and, on trembling legs, gets up from the table, turning to his ninety-year-old neighbor. “Because we are the Polishchuks. When I look at my grandchildren, who have parted ways to cities, I fear that I am the last one. Elena, if you dare to die before me, I will have no one to chat with over tea, cookies or a small glass of moon-shine vodka. If it will come to that, nobody will understand me.”

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