– Tell us how you and your family came to the village.
– I am Maria Clempușac. We are from Maramureș, both of us, me and my husband. My husband is a priest and has been given this mission, and in the church there must be obedience. If you are told “you are going to Banat”, even if you have a parental home and a job in Maramureș, you still have to go. At least in my case I did. I also had a house in the centre, I was also a teacher at the school in the centre since the first year of schooling, but I left everything and followed my husband. I lived for fifteen years in Caras-Severin county, also in a community of Ukrainians, the village of Zorile, Copăcele commune, where there are Ukrainians who have been coming from Ukraine for over a hundred years.
– From which area?
– From Transcarpathia they came and they even speak their language. It’s like that, a slightly archaic, old language, they speak differently from Ukrainians who are from the country, because in our country, in every village, every locality has something different in the language: accent, different words. They understand each other, we understand each other, but at the same time the language is also different. For example, when I was in high school, at the pedagogical high school, Ukrainian section, I had colleagues from seven villages in Maramureș and I want to say that each colleague spoke differently, but that’s how we learned from each other.
– Where are you from?
– From Ruscova in Maramures.
– And where did you go to pedagogical high school?
– In Sighetul Marmației.
– Do they still have a section in Ukrainian?
– Yes, they still do, and in addition to the teaching classes they also have other specialisations.
– And how did you speak Ukrainian at home?
– We speak Ukrainian at home.
– You speak Ukrainian, Ukrainian, how do you say it?
– Ukrainian. I used to tell my pupils that since I was a child, since I was born, I spoke Ukrainian in my early years. I went to kindergarten, that’s where I started to learn Romanian, and then I went to school. But this was not an impediment for me to also learn Romanian very well, I say, and I really liked it.
– And writing, when did you start learning?
– At school.
– And Cyrillic?
– Starting with the first grade we started studying Ukrainian and writing with the Cyrillic alphabet.
– And you did both in Romanian and Ukrainian.
– Yes, at the same time.
– You’ve been in pedagogic since first grade?
– No, at the school in Ruscova until the eighth grade. I went to middle school and then high school, five years in Sighetul Marmației.
– Is the village Ukrainian?
– Yes. There may be a few mixed families, but it’s mostly Ukrainian.
– And where are they from in Ukraine?
– The village is very old, I understand. I don’t know, maybe the great forefathers came from Ukraine, but the village is seven or eight hundred years old, so they are natives from there.
– Do you have relatives across the border?
– I don’t have any across the border.
– The husband?
– The husband yes, husband is from Crăciunești, a village near Sighetul Marmației and he has from his father’s side, I don’t know exactly in which area, I think in Zakarpatia. I have heard that the name Clempușac is also a Ukrainian name and I have heard that they have some relatives. Even now, during the war some people came to Maramureș, they were accommodated at the relatives and that’s why I know.
– What was your maiden name like?
– Covaci. (laughs) It’s a Romanian name, a Ukrainian name and a Hungarian name and I like it very much. I even thought about also keeping my maiden name, but it was too much. It stayed in my heart.
– Do you have any links with Hungary?
– No. But for my sister, the secretary at the town hall spelt her differently when she was born, Covacs, with a ‘cs’. But she changed her name too, and that solved the problem.
– When did you come here?
– I’ve been here for ten years in the locality, this is my eleventh. I live in Dragomirești, in the neighbouring village, which belongs to the commune of Știuca. I came with my family and children. My children are both students.
– Did you or your husband’s parents come with you?
– No, and my parents, unfortunately, died. In the eighth grade I was left without both parents and there only my husband’s parents remained, but they also died. My children weren’t lucky enough to grow up with their grandparents, so what will you do, that’s life.
– And what was the process when you moved out? Did you sell everything from there?
– No, we didn’t sell, because we really cared about our birthplace, the roots are there, the parental home. I think it doesn’t have to be sold. Once a year, when we have the opportunity, we go on holiday. At home you relive the pleasant moments of childhood, with which we came here and we can’t forget them.
– Where did your father go to school?
– Father studied seminary in Kiev, right in the capital of Ukraine. As the community was Ukrainian, there was a need for priests who knew Ukrainian, and in the church they preach in Ukrainian. He did his seminary there and then continued his studies in the country.
– Did he go on a scholarship?
– I think so, in those years after the revolution they went on scholarships.
– So in the 90s.
– Yes. He said that in the beginning it was more difficult for him with the language, because the language we speak is different from the language spoken there, where they speak the literary language, but he got used to it. In Kiev, Russian is also spoken a lot, Ukrainian is mixed with Russian.
– Do you speak, do you know Russian?
– Yes, I learnt Russian in high school and honestly, I really liked it. I also took the Russian language exam, because I think I’m open to this humane side. I like all, Romanian, Ukrainian and Russian.
– Tell us, when did you start teaching, what classes did you teach, what was it like?
– My first year of teaching was maybe the best year of my life, I think. I think that for every person the first year of education is very important and for me it was in Ruscova, in my hometown. I had a class of about eighteen pupils, but there were three parallel classes. Basically there were four first grade classes. As a young girl, just out of school, I was worrying, I was thinking who would have the courage to hand over their child to me.
– You were nineteen years old.
– Yes, I was practically a child. But actually I had such a pleasant surprise because the headmistress, a teacher of Ukrainian, gave her child to my class and after a bunch of parents enrolled their children with me. I was so pleasantly impressed because I had about forty children in my class for a couple of weeks and I was saying to her: “Madam principal, I can’t do it anymore, please let’s do something to share them!”. And then she said, “You know them, you can select them.”. I selected from the forty, eighteen. Now they are all adults, I understand that the headmistress’ son became a doctor in Cluj, I hear nice things about them. It was hard for me to part with them and the children became very attached to me, but it was a nice start.
– Was the headmistress a philology graduate?
– And where did she study?
– She went to university in Bucharest, I’m thinking.
– So you had a post in Ruscova, and where did the priest have a post?
– Father had finished seminary at that time and there was a need for priests in Banat.
– How did you come, from Sighet from the Bishopric or what is there?
– We have the Ukrainian Orthodox Vicariate, which is directly under the Romanian Patriarchate. The Vicariate is subordinate to the Patriarchate. We thought we would return home, we thought it was for a short period, at least I thought so, we were told so, but unfortunately… But I think we were needed here too. I think that no matter where we live, what matters is what we leave behind, what transformations for the better we can make. For example, when I work with children I help them to evolve, I try to make them think, to help them to become good people for a lifetime, because not everyone has the same intellectual capacity to learn. But you can be a good person in life, an educated person. That matters a lot too, and that’s where people have risen from through their honest work, you can do that. But I insist on school, on studies, that’s our role.
– Where did you meet your father?
– At a wedding in Sighetul Marmației. The bride was my high school classmate and the groom was my father’s classmate.
– Was it common, for teachers to marry priests?
– It was the story at the time, but I didn’t plan it. I said I didn’t want that, but it was fate or God’s will for me, that’s what it was in the end. I had colleagues who were crazy about priests. (laughs) That’s why I think what’s written to you… What’s yours is put away. And at Zorile, where I first went to Caras-Severin…
– When did you come to Caras?
– In ’96.
– Was there a church in the village?
– Yes, there was a church, it was served in Ukrainian and I taught Ukrainian at the school there. I also found children there who didn’t know the multiplication table in the third grade, I was worried at first, because I was putting my heart into it and I kept thinking about how to help them improve. I want to say that now I also have children from there who came from modest families, from simple people, without material possibilities, but who finished at the West University or who finished the Polytechnic in Timisoara. That’s a lot for me. And here I want the same thing.
– How long did you stay at Zorile?
– Fifteen years and here this is already the eleventh year.
– And how did you make the transition, did it also come from the Vicariate?
– Yes, the same.
– Did the priest retire here or what happened?
– The priest who was, left and the priest was needed. I didn’t worry too much at the time, because I had two small children and I thought we were starting again, we were coming to a new community. I was glad that I knew there were Ukrainians of our kind coming from Maramureș and that gave me stability.
– So at Zorile there are people from Ukraine.
– Yes, from Zakarpattia and it was an older, more aged population, there were very few children, so it was practically no future for me… and the village was isolated. But that’s how God works, because I worried and cried so much, but God thought it was better for us here, it’s close to the city, close to Lugoj, my children both went to school in Lugoj. One of them has been a student here since the fifth grade and is now a third-year student at the Polytechnic, doing IT, and my daughter is an economics student at West. Both are students. A parent’s joy this is, because the greatest achievement is the children. I do the same with my personal children and the children in my class. I tell them, “You’re still mine until lunch.”
– Tell us, when you came here, what was it like? How was the relationship with the community?
– The relationship with the community has been open, a good relationship, I have people who live in the community, both in Dragomirești and here in Știuca. There are people coming from Ruscova and the thought that they are also there reassured me, it made me happy, although I am not afraid of people.
– Are you also relatives?
– I also have close people. In Dragomirești I have several close families who help us, we have helped each other. At first I was worried that I wouldn’t find a job, but I did. First I worked at the kindergarten because there was a job open there and I was able to get in without any problems, as I had double qualifications. After that, when a place opened up in the classroom because a lady teacher retired, I took her place and I’ve been here ever since.
– What did you know then about Știuca or Zorile? Did you have where to find information or who to ask?
– About Zorile I knew perhaps less. I knew it was a Ukrainian village, from Banat, but when you are young, at the beginning of your journey, you go to the end of the world. (laughs) You are eager to work and live. And about Știuca I knew that there was a community of Ukrainians from Maramureș and somehow that thought helped me. But I told you, I work with love with children and people, I am open, I communicate, with parents I have a very good and special relationship.
– Do you have only Ukrainian children in your class or also from mixed families?
– I also have children from mixed families, I think about two, I also have children who returned from abroad, two from Italy and one from Germany, they are Ukrainian.
– They went with their parents to work.
– Yes, they went to work with their children, they went to school there and they came back.
– When did they return?
– This year, not long ago, one, and last year two, one from Italy and one from Germany.
– Against this background of the pandemic?
– With the pandemic, with the lack of jobs there.
– What were the parents working there?
– I think construction, agriculture.
– That’s what I was wondering, if they went for skilled jobs or…
– No, physical labor. If they didn’t graduate here… I think that now, more recently, young people have started to go to university, but if they saw that they were doing well in construction, they were earning the most money and somehow they were oriented… I also try to tell them that they can become construction engineers, if they like construction. I tell the kids, “My dad works on the roof, in the sun, but you can sit in an office, it’s a whole different thing, in front of a laptop.” I also try career guidance techniques to motivate them to learn.
– And if you have a parent’s meeting, for example…?
– I like to speak in Ukrainian with the parents. Only if I also have two, let’s say, Romanian mothers, then I have to speak in Romanian. But if I assume that there are none, I speak Ukrainian without any problem, because the mothers speak Ukrainian. I ask them to teach their children to speak Ukrainian too, to speak at home. Now with the war the children have understood how important it is to speak Ukrainian. There have been refugees here, they have been hosted at my children’s house, and the children were so nice, I took them to the shop…
– Did children come to school?
– Not to school, because they only stayed here for two or three nights.
– They were in transit.
– Yes, just in transit and they went to Europe. But while they were here, my folks took good care of them. The kids took them to the store, they took them to the park, the first and eighth of March we did something for the mommies. That’s what we do every year.
– What do you do?
– Different things to make us happy: a card, a flower, a snowdrop, something paper, little markers. And then they even worked for those ladies from Ukraine. One child made about three or four, and I say, “Who are you making so many for?” and he replies: “Well, for the ladies who are here, and there is also an old lady, who was crying tears of happiness.” And they looked for something in Ukrainian.
– You understood each other, right? Communication was smooth.
– Yes, we also translated at that time when the televisions were coming. Having completed my studies in Ukrainian, I succeeded. Because not everyone can translate. The language is different from literary, but in highschool I studied. I also read, because I liked Ukrainian literature.
– Which authors did you study in Ukrainian literature?
– During high school?
– Taras Shevchenko is the genius of Ukrainian literature, look there, like Mihai Eminescu is for Romanian literature. Ivan Franko, Olha Kobylleanska and many others, but they don’t all come to me now.
– Yes, but these are the most representative.
– Yes, I’ve really read their works.
– And do you do some Ukrainian literature with your children?
– Yes, starting from the preparatory class and we also do language and grammar. Just today I read with them about Ivan Franko, there was a text, I found the story and I put it on TV. They liked it, because they read the text, they also saw it on TV and it’s a whole different thing, having concrete operational thinking, at the age of the little scholar, that’s what we do. It’s important that they also see it, because it’s much easier to assimilate the information and it’s also enjoyable. And I have a motto of mine, to come to school with love, because if they come to school with love, and learn with love, otherwise you can’t do anything.
– Where do you get your materials, textbooks, from Romania?
– From Romania, from the Ministry of Education, with the support of the Union of Ukrainians in Romania. They are working on this, and they motivate the children when they participate in various language and poetry competitions, in the Ukrainian language olympiad, which this year took place in Timisoara. I understand that those who managed to win prizes also won cash prizes, so they are also financially motivated, they go on trips… So in this sense the union is preoccupied and it’s a positive thing.
– Who is the president of the union now?
– He is also a Member of Parliament, Mr. Miroslav Petrețchi.
– From the minority group.
– Yes, yes, he is from the minority group.
– Where is he from?
– He’s from Maramures. That’s where the base is, the big nucleus where most Ukrainians are.
– And when did people start leaving there?
– I think after the revolution, some before, but fewer. Massively they left after. Not many people left Ruscova because they liked it, and it was different with me. For example Poieni, which is a village under the mountains, people being many, with little land, they looked for a better living and came to Banat where they could get land. That’s how people thought.
– So that’s why they came, for agriculture?
– They thought it was a better living, because in Banat there was much more fertile land and they could develop, live better. Here the land was considered very valuable. Many work abroad, have money and come home and want to build houses. Places for houses are very expensive, and whoever has land closer to Timisoara is considered rich.
– When you were in high school, how many children did a family use to have?
– Four or five, on average. We just happened to have two because my mother had some health problems and I’m glad I’m not alone, I have my sister too.
– Younger or older?
– Four years younger than me and she lives in Timisoara. She is a teacher in Timisoara.
– Which school?
– At school number two and she’s also doing her master’s degree now, at West, in social work. She also did Education Sciences, like me. For two years I was also an inspector for the Ukrainian minority. I was in charge of the Ukrainian language, of the problems that arose, and to a large extent I managed to solve some problems.
– What were the problems?
– We had a shortage of teachers who knew Ukrainian. We had a qualified highschool teacher, who had studied in Bucharest, and three primary school teachers who had finished the Pedagogical High School in Sighet, who came from Maramureș, myself, a colleague and another colleague. And everywhere I was told the same problem, that we had a shortage of teachers, and I understood that it was a problem, but I said, “I have to think about how to solve it.” It’s no use being aware if you don’t do anything. And I had no other solution than to enroll myself in the second university, in Suceava, in Letters, and some of my colleagues only did the conversion to Ukrainian, because they had other studies, and I did Ukrainian (laughs).
– Lifelong learning.
– I took three more years, but I think it was useful. The fact that colleagues have already qualified, it solved a problem and why not admit it, the work of an unqualified teacher is very low paid and maybe the work is the same. You can’t say an unqualified person doesn’t do their job if they have dedication and experience. They work the same as a qualified. They, by doing the studies, also solved the problem of pay for people and thanked me afterwards. I tugged at myself, I struggled too, but if I feel that I did a good thing for the Ukrainian community…. If I didn’t go, nobody would have gone, because it was a distance.
– But how did you do it, did you commute or…?
– We enrolled in college and applied… Well, we talked to the professors there before, and they were interested, they accepted us to go only for exams, since we worked in teaching. They would send us the courses, and we would go to the exams physically.
– In Suceava, the language was Ukrainian with something else?
– It is conversion, simple Ukrainian language, but also with double specialization, and I, because I did Romanian language in high school, wanted to do double specialization. Now I have two extra majors, there’s no telling what the future holds. And I had another problem at Hașdeu High School, where I had four classes taught in Ukrainian, in Lugoj. And because the number of eighth grade graduates was decreasing, somehow there were also fewer high school classes and every year there was the problem of not having a Ukrainian class, and we were keen on that because there were children from here, there were also children from Caraș who went there. It’s very important for them that they have a place to learn Ukrainian, and children who are not very good at mathematics, being good on the humane side, it’s easier for them to take the baccalaureate, they learn and then they have a chance to go to university. There are a lot of children who face this problem, good in the humanities and weaker in the real sciences and this is an opportunity that our children have and we said it’s a shame to give it up. The Member of Parliament intervened and together with the Ministry they managed to… We were always communicating with them, we were in constant contact with them and the problem was solved.
– How many children are there now?
– We have about a hundred in four classes. When I came as inspector, there was no such situation.
– I don’t know. Several people contributed to this, a little bit of a change in mentality. We said let’s pick and choose. If we have more children who want to come to Ukrainian class, let’s choose the best ones and then, this selection method appeared and more children started to enroll and we managed to choose the best ones.
– The competition also started…
– That’s exactly the idea we thought of and the inspector general suggested it to me, and I went along with it because I realised that she was thinking very well, because there were weak pupils before, there are still weak pupils now, like everywhere else, that’s a reality, but we said let’s add a bit more value and better children started to come. That again, through the power of example, giving your child, making people trust you, that’s the only way it works. And my daughter finished highschool there, and the Ukrainian teacher’s son is now in twelfth grade there. And here, living in the area with children, all day long I communicate.
– Have you taken trips with them to Ukraine?
– Not with the children in the class. My daughter went on a trip to Kiev. We had planned it for high school children, but the pandemic came and then the war, but I thought that would be very important, to get to know their roots, to see how Ukrainians live in Ukraine. We didn’t manage to fulfill this dream. Instead, I went a couple of times during high school, I visited Kiev, Zakarpattia, it was very nice. I went to Kiev with the choir, I had a very good music teacher and a Ukrainian enthusiast during my high school years, and I went with him.
– How long did you stay?
– Two or three days we stayed, but for us that period…
– When were you there, in the ’90s?
– Around ’92-’93.
– What did you think then?
– It was beautiful, only in Kiev when we went it was winter, it was very cold, but we got dressed. We visited, we had a guide, we stayed in a hotel, we spoke Ukrainian, it was nice, we spoke Russian. Those are memories you can’t forget.
– Did you bring back any souvenirs from there?
– A little bit, because we didn’t have much money at that time. I brought a little bit for my relatives, for my sister. But from Zakarpatia, yes, I was already passing through more often, it’s easier from Maramures to pass through. I went especially to get some Ukrainian outfits from there.
– Traditional you mean?
– Yes. Shirts, suits and skirts, summer dresses with Ukrainian motifs. I got them for the whole family.
– Do people wear that on holidays?
– Here in this area they wear more Maramureș costumes.
– How old is the Ukrainian church?
– The one in Știuca?
– It’s not very old, I think it was built before or after the revolution, but at that time. I know it was consecrated after the revolution, because I was at the consecration. I have a colleague who teaches Ukrainian and her husband was a priest here at that time and he consecrated the church. We were then in Caras and we came to the consecration.
– How far is it from Zorile to here?
– About forty kilometers, but we also came over the hill and by tractor, people came to the church feast day.
– When is the feast day?
– On August 2nd, St. Elijah’s Day, because we celebrate it in the old way. And again I can say that, as a coincidence, on August 2, the feast of St. Elijah is celebrated here and in Ruscova. At that time I couldn’t go to Ruscova, I was here with the customs of Maramureș, with the procession, how the church is surrounded and I felt at home. If I can’t go to Ruscova, at least I will come to Știuca, because I feel and live the same way, still thinking of home.
– Who would you say are the most important saints in the calendar?
– I don’t know, I don’t know, I have such a particularly special spiritual bond with the Holy Mother. I pray and I feel that she is very helpful to me and I think all the saints are important. It also depends on what kind of problems you have, which saint you should pray to. I don’t know all this ecclesiastical stuff, but I do know that if you’ve had an injustice done to you or something stolen, you read the akathist of St. Mina. But I feel very close to the Holy Mother.
– How do you celebrate the feast day, are there several celebration days?
– There’s also a feast in the afternoons, they got this custom from the Romanians. There are both Ukrainian customs and Romanian customs, the important thing is that people are preserving them and that they are beautiful. I know there’s a flag there with some handkerchiefs, but I don’t know if they do that at the feast or just at weddings. It’s an old custom in Maramureș, but I’ve seen it here too. People from Maramureș came with traditions and they maintain them here, and this is very important, because traditions characterize us, define us and without them, I believe, we would not exist as a nation.
– Tell us a Ukrainian dish that you prepare and a Romanian one.
– Something special. Many dishes are made here on Christmas Eve. The Christmas Eve meal is with fasting food, ideally twelve dishes should be made, but honestly, I don’t get to do it, I try to do at least six. Something else from Maramureș, fasting food also,is with beans dried in summer and boiled, that’s how the old people used to do it, as there were no freezers, they had no way to preserve. We also prepare dried mushrooms and boletus for Christmas Eve. So if I don’t have those two things for Christmas Eve, it’s not good. And that smell in the house… And they’re so good, that the next day, when I’m already making meat dishes, the kids ask me for all the fasting food. That’s how I got them used to it, they like it, they help me when they come home and it’s our thing. And my sister tells me if she can’t arrive on time for the eve: “Leave me some of those beans!”. (laughs) With the boletus, there’s no problem, they can be easily found, but the beans are from Maramures.
– Yes, you bring it from there?
– Yes, they send it, I get a hold of it. It tastes different. It’s also growing here, because of the climate, I think, because it’s warmer here, it doesn’t taste the same or maybe it’s just because it’s from home that we think it’s better.
– Do you know anything about Forest Girl?
– Oh, the Forest Girl? I’ve read some, several works I think, there are different approaches. I remember my grandmother telling us the story, I even remember the Ukrainian word for it.
– What do you call it?
– Lisna. “Lis” means “forest” and “na” is feminine.
– Like “forest girl”.
– Yes. The fact that you said Forest Girl, reminded me of what my grandmother used to tell us and she used to say that because people don’t pray, they don’t keep fasts, they sin, then there’s this Forest Girl that people used to see, that used to walk among us, so I remember my grandmother’s stories about that. And I read about it in literary works, but I found different approaches.
– Yes, but we are interested in grandmother’s story.
– Yes, that one I remember well and I was really scared when I listened to it. I knew I wasn’t allowed to be caught outside at midnight, because that’s when the devil walks, and I tried to tell my children (laughs), but it didn’t work. When they were little, it did. Sometimes they’re curious and ask me what it was like in my time, how I grew up. I told you my parents died, I was orphaned by both parents when I was in eighth grade, but me and my sister were very loved. I stayed with my grandmother, but she died within four years and we were just the two of us, with relatives, uncles, aunts, but everyone had their own family. We knew that the only solution was to learn. My father, may he be forgiven, wanted us to be teachers, it was his one of his dreams and we decided we had to fulfill it. My sister, when she was in the eighth grade, said that she didn’t want to go to the pedagogical highschool, that she wanted something else. And I insisted, I didn’t know how to make her accept it, and I told her that when she finishes highschool, she could go to any college she wanted, but she had to go to the pedagogical highschool. I was also thinking that it was a safe job and that it was her father’s wish, because he was very fond of us.
– Did they have teachers in their family?
– Yes, we had teachers in our family. My father’s brother was a teacher, my aunt was a teacher, two of the girls went to pedagogical school at that time. My father, being a simple man, without school, but very hard-working and intelligent, whose parents could not afford to keep him in school because there were so many of them, so they kept Uncle… That’s how it was, one went to school and the others had to stay and help. Well, my father, that’s what he wanted for us and he said, “God grant I may see you both teaching!”. Unfortunately we fulfilled his dream, but… I think he’s rejoicing in heaven.
– How often do you go to Maramures?
– It depends, sometimes once or twice a year, sometimes every two or three years.
– Do you still have a house there?
– Yes, I do.
– And who looks after it?
– It’s closed, we had a teacher who had nowhere to stay. Now there’s no one.
– What’s the house made of?
– Do people still have wooden houses around here?
– Few. There are some in Romanian villages, maybe even in Ruscova, but people have modernized so much. The wooden ones are now kept for decoration, for museums, because tourism is well developed in that area. Maybe there are some in Ruscova, but honestly, now you only see bunk buildings, especially people who work there and with the money they build…
– Where are they going, Italy, Spain?
– All over Europe. For me it’s not the size of a building that matters, it’s the soul in it, the warmth of the soul, being healthy, having understanding and peace, these are more important than worldly riches, let’s call them.
– Do you know anyone in the area who collects traditional objects or peasant clothes? Or is there a museum?
– No, I don’t think there are any in the area. There is one in Caras, in Cornuțel, and there I can put you in touch with a colleague who is an educator and knows.
Photo credit: Dariana Hînda