Ukrainian arborists saving centuries-old oaks near Gothic church

Institute of Ecological and Religious Studies
September 22, 2021

The village of Kraynikovo in the Ukrainian Carpathians is famous for its 17th century Gothic church of St. Michael the Archangel and the centuries-old oaks which surround the building. Both the church and oaks are now in danger because they are not being given the necessary level of protection. Only four Gothic wooden churches remain in the Ukrainian Carpathians and their preservation - together with the centuries-old trees around them - is extremely important. The oldest oak here is about 600 years old. Other oaks are about 350 years old. These oaks are 30 m (100 feet) high, with 20 to 25 m (about 80 feet) span of crown, and more than 6 meters (19 to 20 feet) girth of trunk. Now in urgent condition, they threaten danger to the wooden churches if left untreated.

The head of the Institute of Ecological and Religious Studies, Oleksandr Bokotey, one of the inspirers and organizers of the tree-saving event, states: “I am really worried about the condition of the church of Michael the Archangel and the needs of mighty oaks, which now suffer from disease. These trees together with the church are organically woven into the natural landscape, and create a unique architectural and natural ensemble as a combination of natural and cultural heritage. Our task is to preserve this Creation of God for future generations”.

The preservation of these oak trees is supported by the Institute of Ecological and Religious Studies (IERS).  This is a part of a larger project: Youth School of Sustainable Development of the Carpathian, which is implemented in cooperation with the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), with the support of the VGP FOUNDATION and the Ecology Commission of The Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo in Ukraine.

Ivan Timofeev (NABU) considers: “It is important to ensure both the safety of local citizens and centuries-old church buildings, which can be damaged if something happens to old trees. In addition, the preservation of both natural and architectural heritage is vital for future generations. For this reason, a group of tree-saving arborists have labored in the first half of 2021 to keep the oaks at the Kraynikovo church safe”.

Local arborist, representative of the Association of Arborists of Ukraine, Robert Albrecht was the first to respond to this important mission. He stated: “It became possible to invite an incredible team of Ukrainian arborists. If there is even the smallest chance to prolong the life of these trees, we have to do the best.  It would be a tragedy for generations to come to lose these ancient, sacred trees. Today we help to heal these trees so they will continue to purify the air and maintain the balance of untouched nature”. This work is not easy, because every living tree needs an individual approach. In fact, arborists are doctors and engineers at the same time”.

Treatment work proceeded in several directions:  the crown of one oak was stabilized, the most threatened branches were tied with appropriate ropes, tree hollows were purified, dry branches were shortened or removed, and other necessary steps were done.

But there is still much work to do in the future.  In the expert opinion of arborist Volodymyr Vetrogradsky, there are four directions for needed work:
• stabilization of the crown in order to prevent its collapse;
• control of the growing of Agarikon, which destroys trees within;
• cleaning of hollows and their preservation. This will prevent trees from soaking, getting garbage in hollows and harmful growth of mushrooms
• removal or shortening part of the branches that can fall down or unbalance the crown.

The project’s organizers are actively promoting this work not only among local citizens, but also international audiences as well. People of good will – both local and international - are needed as sponsors to contribute to this work.

For further information, contact the Institute of Ecological and Religious Studies.