Zakarpattia region: a peculiar language, the geographical center of Europe, and centuries-old wine traditions

Zakarpattia is a region in the west of Ukraine. Here, everyone has their own dialects, but also a way to get along. There are majestic castles, but also cities “on a human scale”. Here, people do what they like and defend what they believe in. And in the cellars they keep what is to be uncorked on the day of victory.

On March 15, 1939, the creation of Carpathian Ukraine was announced in Khust. The first case of armed resistance to Hitler’s plans. The third attempt to restore the sovereignty of Ukraine in the 20th century. A few months of autonomy, a couple of days of independence.

But the significance of the event for Ukraine and the world is enormous. Through their resilience, the local Ukrainians demonstrated that their land is precisely Ukrainian. They will fight even when Hungarian troops are already at the city gates. We will defend independence with weapons in our hands even now until the territorial integrity of Ukraine is fully restored.

Through their resilience, the local Ukrainians demonstrated that their land is precisely Ukrainian.

Cake, cherry blossoms, and underground passageways

Uzhhorod and Mukachevo constantly compete to see who is better. But both cities deserve attention.

Uzhhorod is close to many European capitals, and it is faster to get to them from here than to Kyiv. Don’t be surprised if you hear five different languages here in one day.

Different eras in the life of Uzhhorod had an influence on the architecture of the city. Nevertheless, this is a city built on a human scale. The proportions, the number of floors of the buildings, and the width of the streets are made with the people who live here in mind. During the war, this did not disappear anywhere — now the townspeople help everyone who was forced to leave their homes. Not only with places or things but also with useful initiatives. For example, they created the first cafe-laundry, a creative headquarters for children, and a humanitarian “closet” with clothes.

Simple pleasures, such as a stroll through the cherry blossom alley, Europe’s longest garden of paradise with over 2,000 trees, help to restore normalcy. Or finally taste the Uzhhorod cake, based on baked meringue with hazelnuts and mousse cream, and decorated on top with the depicted architectural monument. This cake is an invention of the Stefanyo family and a true urban legend.

Or go for a walk to the Uzhhorod castle, which is the oldest and most valuable historical and architectural building in the city. The castle was built on a high mountain of volcanic origin, overhanging the Uzh River. The masonry fortification was built in the 13th century on the site of an ancient Rus settlement.

By the way, the Uzhhorod castle has preserved its regular pentagonal plan configuration: five-pointed bastions with defensive walls. The castle has only two floors, it is not an elegant building but a real fortress that has seen many battles and sieges. The dungeons, of course, have a prison and a torture chamber. But what will be even more interesting is a whole system of secret passages, some of which will never be solved. And one of the passages seems to lead to another castle — Nevytske.

Every village invents a language all its own

The first thing you might hear about Zakarpattia are stories about the language. Yes, Zakarpattia has its own dialect. But this is not just history, it is the region of many people who formed this language: Ukrainians, Roma, Hungarians, Jews, Romanians, Slovaks, and Czechs.

Zakarpattia has been at the crossroads of borders for many centuries. Therefore, the local dialect is a “diffusion” of languages, and mutual enrichment. Actually, it was formed in the 18th century, when all these dialects were recorded in writing and modern literary languages were formed in different countries. This is all about how diverse Ukraine is. The dialect of Zakarpattia encourages you to travel to different parts of the region and see for yourself.

Zakarpattia people are known not only for their words but also for their actions. You must have seen the photo of this defender, Fedir Shandor, a teacher from the trenches. With the beginning of a full-scale invasion, he joined the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and when his studies at the Uzhhorod National University resumed, he continued his course and gave lectures from the trenches to the sounds of explosions.

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Invincible castle

Castle Hill with Palanok Castle is immediately visible in the Mukachevo landscape. Like it’s on the palm of your hand.

The castle is a valuable historical and military-architectural monument from the 14th-16th centuries in Zakarpattia. It is located on a mountain of volcanic origin, 68 m (223 ft) high, with an area of 13,930 square meters (149,941 square feet).

Nature made this castle invincible. For the entire history of its existence, it has never been conquered in an open and fair fight. The Polovtsian Khan Kutieshko attempted to capture the castle for 50 days, even when it was still made of wood. The castle repelled more than one powerful enemy attack, and the walls withstood many years of sieges.

Mukachevo and the surrounding areas can still be seen from the small Lovachka mountain. The mountain of volcanic origin is 297 m (974 ft) high and boasts the largest fortified settlement of Celtic culture found in Ukraine. Yes, these are the same Celts we know well from British history.

Masaryk colony and wicker weaving center

There is such a city in Zakarpattia — Khust — where there is a residential quarter with small houses covered with pointed roofs. This is the Masaryk Colony, a town of residential family houses designed and built by the Prague bureau Freiwald-Böhm. The quarter is named after Tomasz Garrig Masaryk, the first president of the Czechoslovak Republic. This is a typical example of the urban concept of a garden city.

Shall we go further? Near Khust is the village of Iza, the center of wicker weaving. You might be wondering why it is here, and this is all thanks to the Rika river, where the vine grows very well. They weave vines all year. Vines are harvested in spring and autumn, and products are made in the winter. Most of the ready-made products are simply hanging on the fences in almost every yard, so you can look around and choose an Easter basket for yourself.

Cohesiveness is another feature of Iza. The whole village is engaged in one business, and no one competes. They live as a community: they exchange experiences, help each other, share their secrets, and learn weaving skills and techniques from each other. And along with that, there are stories about how wicker weaving appeared in Iza.

In general, cohesion is something that has become even more evident in people since the beginning of the war. Not only on Zakarpattia. The war became a critical point that united Ukrainians around common values. Ukrainians jointly chose the European path: 87% are in favor of joining the EU. And they believe that there will be victory!

Revitalization of the castle

In 2019, “Game of Thrones” on order was arranged in St. Miklos. How is that?

A bit of background: an artist from Mukachevo, Josyp Bartos, took the medieval St. Miklos Castle rent-free almost 20 years ago. Take the experience of restoration and painting of architectural monuments abroad, add initiative, and voila, the ruin turns into a powerful cultural center.

75% of the castle was in a state of disrepair. The Soviet authorities abandoned the territory of the castle, turning it into a depot and barracks. Yosyp and his wife Tetiana restore everything, organize knight tournaments, and provide basic humanitarian education to local youth.

And now we’re closer to the arranged game of “Game of Thrones”. When the artist spouses cleared the territory of the depot, they still decided to leave one garage, whose shape and proportions resembled a basilica from the 4th century. The garage was called the “temple of Apollo”, and the final ball took place there with the participation of a three-meter dragon. The screenwriters prepared for this game for two months. Mukachevo Palace was a Lannister castle, and St. Miklos was a Stark castle.

The royalties after the games made it possible to restore another of the castle’s rooms and tidy up the park.

Famous places

Zakarpattia has everything for outdoor recreation to be enjoyed by everyone.

Drahobrat is the highest ski resort in Ukraine, located at an altitude of 1400 m (4593 ft) above sea level. Shypit waterfall, with “bald” mountains, covered only with blueberry bushes. Lake Synevyr is the largest mountain lake in Ukraine. Located high in the mountains, it is also quite justifiably called Morske Oko (Sea Eye). Svaliava mineral water, which the whole of Ukraine drinks.

Geographical center of Europe. Near Rakhiv is the village of Dilove, which has been considered the center of Europe since 1887.

Traditions that survived the dry law (Act of Prohibition)

There are approximately 4,000 hectares (9884 acres) of vineyards in Zakarpattia. Winemaking traditions that survived even Soviet times have been preserved here. There can be up to 40 wine cellars on one street — local families have been engaged in this business for years.

Some family cellars are 400 years old. The Soviet authorities destroyed them along with the vineyards, preventing anyone from accessing the wine cellars and engaging in winemaking during Prohibition. They destroyed vineyards with 150-year-old vines. All this also caused the decline of cooperage.

And now the same thing is happening. Russia is purposefully destroying Ukraine’s industry, and recovery may take tens of years. In addition to the impact on the economy, it also seriously inhibits the development of many industries. A full-scale war unleashed by Russia has caused Ukraine’s GDP to fall by 30.4% in 2022, the most since Ukraine regained independence in 1991.


In the center of the city of Rakhiv stands a bronze hutsul, and the inscription tells us a lot: “Знаймо – хто’смо”, which translates as “We know who we are.” Probably, this monument very accurately describes the will and character of Ukrainians and answers the eternal question, “Who are we?”. The answer is simple — we are Ukrainians. Ukrainians come from different regions, with different dialects, and even different religions, but we always know “who we are”.


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Last updated 24.02.2023

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