There is a corner of Czech Republic in Ukraine. In the Podolsk district of the Odessa region, there is the village of Chekhi, where the descendants of the Czechs of the 19th century live.
The villagers assure that they settled here during the time of Catherine II, but historians say that most probably the Czechs were brought there in 1839 by German colonists. Only at the very end of the 19th century did Czech emigrants arrived from Bohemia and the Polish city of Zelów.
For a century and a half, the village name changed several times: Chekhi, Aleksandrovka, Czech Aleksandrovka. On February 1, 1945, after all the Germans were deported to Central Asia, it was renamed Malaya Aleksandrovka. However, for local residents the village remained Chekhi.
Over the decades after the war, the ethnic composition of the local population changed dramatically. Today, Ukrainians, Russians and Moldovans live in the village, two hundred people approximately. Among them there are just a couple of dozen Czechs, but they can be distinguished easily by their appearance – they are blue-eyed and fair-haired.
We are simple people, we are kind. No wonder we were actively expropriated. And we are not using rude words, we don’t argue.Slavia Lyudvigovna Fedorova, resident of Chekhi
The family of Slavia Ludvigovna speaks Czech. True, it is very different from the language of their historical homeland: there are many archaisms, many borrowings from Moldovan and Ukrainian. By religion, these Czechs are not Catholics, but Protestants, Lutherans. They call themselves Hussites. They have no conflicts with Orthodox neighbours, they live peacefully together.
The cuisine in the village is authentic: dumplings, noodles, bramburak (potatoes pancakes). No beer is brewed, but there is a moonshine made from apricots. The Czechs are confident that they have greatly influenced the culinary traditions of the entire area.
“Noodles (rolls), chicken broth, they all came from the Czechs,” says Slavia Ludvigovna. Neither the Ukrainians nor the Moldovans here knew this. Now they learned how to cook them. And our bays (sweet pies) are known throughout the region. Even in Kiev, they know them! They are made with cottage cheese, poppy seeds, jam. In summertime, also with cherries and apples.”
Residents of Malaya Aleksandrovka keep in touch with fellow believers living in Veselinovka (Kiev region) and Bohemka (Nikolaev region), as well as with relatives in the Czech Republic itself. Many go there to study. A native of Chekhi, the famous linguist Josef Andersch, now works at the second oldest university in the Czech Republic, Olomouc (Palacky University), where he is the head of the Ukrainian Studies section. He is the author of the first Ukrainian-Czech dictionary, which was published in 1988.