New Varshana, Hare Krishna nama hatta and farm community of ISKCON in Odesa region of Ukraine was established in 2010. Ahamot.org decided to check out how this interesting project combining religion, agriculture, and eco-ideas develops in a remote region of Southern Ukraine.
After the ordeal by Ukrainian system of public transportation (Kyiv-Kotovsk-Balta-Evtodiiv), although there’s a simplier way, (which requires long walk and good orientation skill), we finally got to New Varshana in Karmalyukivka village.
We found 7 hats, several acres of land, 15 Hare Krishna people, living in the “eco-village” constantly and dozens who had come with a visit for a holiday and yagya.
There’s lots of such beautiful villages around, though some are difficult to reach. People die from diseases, age, alcohol. The houses slowly turn into ruins…. The appearance of some young representatives of non-traditional religious orientation who do not drink gorilka and meditate became a shock for the village…
The community in Karmalyukivka was to repeat the hard fate of other ISKCON farm communities in Ukraine, but it has recently received an unexpected boost – two bhaktas from Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (Ukraine’s best university) bought houses in the village. They brought strange and new ideas into the community and started to implement them vigorously. This “new blood” and new thoughts pushed the community to develop in the direction unlikely to its conservative founders.
Etymology still associates the name of the village with Karmalyuk — a national hero of yore, but we won’t be surprised if the neo-vaishnavan notion of “karma” soon becomes a more important component of the name than a legendary people’s avenger.
On coming to Karmalyukivka Kyiv-Mohyla alumni Les and Pasha who studied the works of metropolitan Sheptytskyi, opted for a form of economic self-organized cooperative model and created a cooperative greenhouses, investing into the project a thousand dollars and months of work.
As a result they have two huge greenhouses with drip irrigation. One of them has a modern heating system.
In greenhouses there’s lots of cucumbers, radishes, squashes. Local villagers (who had never cared to build greenhouses) actively buy seedlings (it is the paradox of Ukrainian village – people who have been living here all their lives have to take a trip “to the town” to buy seedlings. Hare Krishna people had appeared in the village and built their greenhouse in three months. Villagers started to buy seedlings from Hare Krishnas, but they do not care to build their own greenhouses).
The main feature that distinguishes the New Varshana from Ukrainian hippie-style eco-projects like our favorite “Romashky” and other eco-villages – is a clear, shared religion and practice rooted on strict religious standards and discipline, understanding the need for sustainable development, economic profitability, and, therefore, capital investment and hard work (which, however, if done with properly recitated Hare Krishna mantra can be not that difficult to endure or even become ecstatic).
The villagers, seeing their dilapidated huts becoming objects of commercial interest, started to raise prices. The average price of houses in the village with 1.4 acres of land recently costed around 10000 hryven. Last purchase of 2013 – UAH16000.
A piece of land of 1.2 acres without a house – 500 UAH.
The most important issues for the survival and development of any religious agricultural community are communication with the outside world and schooling.
Karmalyukivka village has only a nine classes school with just 50 children.
The New Varshana adds 7 more children with the names from Barbara to Ram-das. The new settlers have quickly established business relations with the village council and the school got under Hare Krishna “patronage”. Local authorities were very pleased – in alliance with the Hare Krishnas the school is more likely to be saved from closure.
Les has some experience working with the public sector and it has found application in the creation of the NGO “Karmalyukivka Renaissance”. What the organization is to do is still a mystery, but this work will surely improve the karmic situation in the village:)
Barely having time to honor the prasada (in decent amounts), we found ourselves in yagya dedicated to Hindu ritual of trimming the hair of the child.
At the time of the ritual occasionally we caught instructions sounding non-Vedic: “Let the God-father…”
The main problem for physical survival of any religious agricultural community is clear financial management. In the small community there’s already a conflict of different ideologies and models. Some think of implementing “spiritual economy” model of well-known Hare Krishna ideologist Dhaneshvara-Das. Vaishnavas sadly agree that the complete rejection of money or the ideal model of a “common purse” works only for monks or brahmacharis, but is practically not suitable for the level of the community, where there are families with different income and different standards of asceticism.
Since the early nineties in Ukraine some fifty Hare Krishna farm communities, “ecovillages” and other agricultural projects have tried to start and develope.
Almost all of them have collapsed, none of the few surviving has achieved a level of financial self-sufficiency, sustainable cultural, religious, social development and economic profitability.
I think with the New Varshana things will turn out different, maybe because here the closed and eskapist spirit of modern ISKCON joins with the free and open-minded Spirit of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and together they’ll make New Varshana thrive. But nearest years require lots of work, diligence, and prayer.
Viva New Varshana!
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