Which of Ukrainians has never heard of the word "fair"? Is there any? It is the holiday of labor and communication as well as selling products and purchase of a good mood; clothes and happiness sale, this is where you can have permanent discount prices for products and smiles.
Since ancient times these big marts – Fairs were held on our land. Potters and lozhkars (makers of wooden spoons), weavers and embroiderers, coopers and carpenters, wainwrights and basket makers, tanners and saddlers, masters of salting and tar distillers, bublichnitsy (women who are selling cracknels) and tailors selling their wares at the fairs. A long line of Chumatski Carts (Chumak is a historic occupation on the territory of the modern Ukraine as merchants or traders, primarily known for the trade in salt) was standing on the mart with salt and fish inside. Everyone was buying what they could not do themselves.
A glorious road "from the Vikings to the Greeks" gave Ukrainian lands significant advantages in relation to trade. Actually, in the era of Kyiv Rus prosperity it was the way things were going – coins of different countries were circulating, products of different nations were being sold, trade caravans were moving. But the military raids and princely disputes destroyed the trade structures and tore relations.
From the 16th century merchants from the major cities in Central and Western Europe began to come to Ukraine, bringing exquisite jewelry and household items, and buying the leather, horns, wool, grain, bacon and honey. Hence small fairs started to appear in the large and medium-sized cities on the Ukrainian lands. Here people were buying and selling cattle, clothes, shoes, household items, food and other. The most abundant of them were held in the autumn, as well as the fairs before the big holidays. German, Polish settlers, Armenians and Jews together with the Ukrainian citizens, took an active part in the fair activities.
In the 17th century every Ukrainian city or town originally got the right to hold one to three fairs a year. The development of the fairs shows the separation of the industrial and commercial activities from the agriculture. On the other hand, an active industrial and commercial activity undoubtedly contributed to the development of Ukrainian cities.
As to the Left-bank Ukraine, the researchers counted forty active fairs in 1665 alone. Despite frequent armed conflicts, numerous attacks by Tatar hordes on the Left-bank Ukraine, trade roads were not overgrown with weeds. More and more settlements were involved in the fair trade.
Paul of Aleppo, astonished by the large scale of trade in Ukraine during the liberation war of 1648 – 1654, remembering the bazaars in Zolotonosha, Cherkasy, Pryluki, wrote: "In the Cossacks country (Cossacks are a group of predominantly East Slavic people who became known as members of democratic, semi-military and semi-naval communities, predominantly located in Ukraine and in Southern Russia) fairs are held continuously from the beginning till the end of the year. Each holiday the Fair takes place here or there, as it was introduced during the reign of the Poles". Dozens of towns he calls "trading cities".
The fairs were organised in such a way that after the end of the fair trading people could visit a few other ones. Thus fairs trade lasted continuously. In addition to the crowded fairs in the cities, towns and many villages usual markets were held as well.
Great economic importance of the fairs lied in the fact that they were kind of arteries in the goods distribution to different cities, towns, large and small villages and hamlets. The fairs had a significant role in the foreign trade of Ukraine. Goods were exported through the land customs, as well as the ports of Sea of Azov and Baltic Sea. The fairs were the main place of the retail and wholesale of the imported goods.
But the real fair boom took place in Ukraine in the 19th century. Chumatski trade started becoming popular, people began the active colonisation of the Ukrainian steppe land. An excellent description of a large peasant fair in Katerynoslav region was left by Dmitry Yavornytsky, the "last Cossack chronicler". Judging by this description, at the fair a ceramic pot costed 2 or 3 kopijkas, a bucket of dried pears 15 kopijkas (with bucket), a shovel 25 kopijkas and one could be dressed from head to toe for just a couple of gold pieces.
Most trade fairs in 19th century lasted only one day, about one third – 2 to 7 days and only 3% were more longterm (some of them lasted a month). In all on the territory of Ukraine (at that time part of the Russian Empire) there were 110 permanent fairs, where there were sold 47% of all goods.
According to the number of trade fairs the first place took Kharkiv and Poltava province. The largest of them are Ilyinska (July 20 – August 1) and Voznesenska (the first half of May) in Romny, Pokrovska (October 1) in Poltava, Troitska (June 1) in Kharkiv, Krestovozdvizhenska (September 14) in Krolevec, Georgievska (April 21) in Elysabethgrad, Khreshchenska (January 6) in Kiev, and others. In the southern provinces (Ekaterinoslavska, Tavricheska, Kherson and Bessarabia) there were 700 fairs: the most famous – in Krivyj Rig (Troitska), in Yekaterinoslav (Petropavlovska), in Kahovka (Nikolska and Pokrovska). In the western provinces among 1000 fairs the most important were: Kievan Kontraktova (Sretenska), where they traded together by the variety of goods and mostly agricultural products (sugar, bread, butter), on Podil – in Yarmolintsy (Petropavlovska) and in Balta (Troitska).
Further development of the factory production, branching of the rail network, emergence of the new industrial and administrative centers in the late nineteenth century caused a gradual disappearance of the fair trade. But fairs existed until 1930s, when they were shut down for good. In villages all trade passed to the cooperation and under the supervision of the state.
A lot of literature is devoted to the stories about the fair trade, fair fun and entertainment. Those stories absorbed all the peculiarities of the people, their unique customs and traditions, way of life and beliefs, all the fullness of life. Regular sale of goods turned into a real celebration. The fairs were almost the most favorite event in the monotonous life of Ukrainian peasants.
Long before the dawn the peasants used to walk or ride on the vehicles out of the village and moved in the direction where the fair was held. For them it was like a great holiday, that’s why they dressed smartly and were in a good mood. Trading continued several days and they were fairs where people from different parts of the country could meet and make aquaintances. That’s why it is only natural, that each fair was not only a mart, but also place of an entertainment. The picturesque scenes of sale, full of folk witty remarks and jokes were supplemented by the youth choir singing, games and entertainment, trojisti muzyky (ensemble of musicians playing folk instruments), kobzars (itinerant Ukrainian bards who sang to their own accompaniment) and lirnyks (itinerant Ukrainian musicians who performed religious, historical and epic songs to the accompaniment of a lira) play. In particular, you could always hear the wandering musicians and even sing and dance by yourself if such occasion appears.
There were meetings, datings, you cold be invited to different dedication days or family celebrations. Brisk fair trade couldn’t do without noise, disputes or abuses.
Ukrainian fairs gave birth to the new artistic genres like the Nativity play, interludes, shows, repertoire of which consisted of primitive plays of heroic, satirical and domestic nature as well as pantomimes, interludes, singing, dancing and incredible promises to show a calf with five heads, a woman-snake and Mary, the most fat girl in the world of and so on. To collect as many onlookers as it is possible during fairs there were held circus jugglers shows, acrobats, animal trainers, artisans, hobbyists, orators, jumpers-rope walkers, dancers, trained monkeys, bears, power acrobats, fakirs performances, as well as slapsticks, puppet shows.
However, not only plays for the onlookers were shown during the trade fairs. Here they also publicly reported about the committed crimes, distinguishing characteristics of the thieves, etc. According to the "History of Russov": "The Government of the Polish without any investigations and inquiries commanded that Hetman Pavlyuha’s skin of the head is to be stripped off alive and be filled with the buckwheat chaff, and his foremen’s heads are to be chopped off completely and along with the stuffed hetman's head be sent to the cities of Little Russia and exposed to shame. At this command those heads were displayed on the piles in Nizhyn, Baturyn, Uman and Cherkassy, and Hetman’s head in Chyhyryn and later they were publicly burned during the trade fairs".
Life was seething at the fairs and the writers and artists enjoyed watching it. Here the plots of their future works were born, the fairs inspired them. "As for the Ukrainian people, they loved and still love the fairs with all their heart, because all the roads from the fair lead to the korchma (tavern). Magarych (alcoholic drink, usually horilka, as a payment after a task is done) is something special to deal with. Yeah and I’m explaining that? In a word – the Fair!" (O.Nazarchuk).
Sorochinsky Fair was neither the largest one nor the most famous. The village of Velyki Sorochyntsi, located in the Myrhorodsky Raion (district) probably would have remained a little-known, like many other villages of Poltava, if it had not been glorified for centuries by our great countryman – Ukrainian and Russian writer Mykola Gogol.
In his first work from a cycle of stories «Evenings at Hamlet next to Dikanka» (1831-1832), which brought M. Gogol great popularity, writer widely showed his true love to Ukraine and deep knowledge of treasure of Ukrainian folk art and peculiarity of native people’s everyday life. In his story «Fair at Sorochintsy», which is the part of «Evenings at Hamlet next to Dikanka», Mykola Gogol reflected the poetry of national life, naturally described different representatives of people, and artistically combined all that with a big humor sense.
Here M. Gogol describes how the people reach the fair from everywhere at the beginning of the 19th century: «One August torrid day shined with the richness in 18..., 18... Oh, it was about thirty years ago, when the road was in full swing by a large number of people been in a hurry to the fair from all the nearest and remote khutors. In the morning, there was interminable flow of chumaks with salt and fish. The stacks of pots wrapped into hay moved very slowly and had a tedious time because of the confinement and darkness. Sometimes alone bright painted tureen or pan expressed various thoughts boastfully looking out of wicker fence loaded on the cart and attracted the affectionate glances of luxury lovers. Many travelers watched with envy to the tall potter the owner of these precious things. He walked slowly near his goods wrapping with a great care his clay «dandies and coquettes» into hay hateful for them.
Aside a lone cart overloaded with bags, hemps, linen and various household goods dragged on the tired bullocks. Behind it, the owner dressed in clean linen shirt and dirty linen wide trousers went pensively...»
Fairs existed even till 20s of ХХ century, when they were closed completely. All the trade in villages moved to cooperatives and under the control of the government.
Since 1966, fairs in Ukraine started renewing and the fair at Sorochintsy began regenerating that ancient tradition. Numerous representatives of different trade organizations and companies, manufacturers not only from Poltava but from other regions and from abroad came there. Many people went to Sorochintsy to buy some things being a deficit at that time. Nothing could stop them; neither participants nor guests didn’t care even if that fair place was an unequipped field without any conditions.
The period of restructuring and USSR's disintegration, first years of the independence, when Ukraine suffered from total goods famine and inflation could be the beginning of Sorochinsky Fair end. It was conducted practically mechanically, didn’t enthuse anybody – neither organisers nor participants and it was a headache for all of them. And the fair like a living being, suffered and waited for appearance of people who wouldn’t be indifferent and would finally recover it to life. And this had happened...
Initiator of the fair revival was Svitlana Svyshcheva – the head of «Sorochinsky yarmarok» project, Chevalier of the Order of II and III degrees of Princess Olga. Under her leadership, not only the fair gained the National status in 1999, but was the only one which connected the history and modernity, folk traditions, culture and ethnic flavor and the business interests of the Ukrainian manufacturers. Having passed through the centuries, Sorochinsky Fair today faces the future with confidence.