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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

The Curse of the Golden Carriage

Treasure-hunting parents leave four children to starve
8 February, 2005 - 00:00

There is a treasure buried in your courtyard, a golden carriage; if you dig it up, you’ll get rich, but if you step out of the yard, you’ll die. This is what a family from Dovholivka, a village in Pohrebyshche district, Volyn oblast, heard from a female fortuneteller during a seance. Before long, the family was the talk of the town.

Their fellow villagers began to avoid them and word spread that they had read a book on black magic. The family would often leave the village and scare people with their weird behavior. Meanwhile, excavations in the courtyard were in progress. The husband was in charge of the search for the golden carriage. The children stopped going to school and helped with the digging, while their mother, on the fortuneteller’s instructions, stayed in the house for the duration of the undertaking (almost nine months). By springtime the courtyard looked like a catacomb, with a number of pits the size of a cellar. Using spades, they had dug as deep as the clay stratum, in other places even reaching the water level. No golden carriage was found, of course.

In early January the man started chopping firewood in the house as instructed by the fortuneteller. Trouble came quickly. The husband died of various illnesses brought on by exhaustion. By that point all the livestock had been sold, but the potatoes planted by the children were never harvested. What for? The family would get rich: if not tomorrow, then the day after. Proceeding from the same considerations, no firewood was stocked. They even sold the gate for scrap metal. Village Council Chairman Oleksandr Tomchuk reported the risk to the children’s health and wellbeing to the competent district authorities. A district commission made up of physicians, police officers, and juvenile service officials tried to enter the house twice. Meanwhile, a court ruling depriving the couple of their parental rights was shelved for two months. The parents didn’t allow the authorities to save their children from starving to death. According to Mykola Markitan, head of the Pohrebyshche District Juvenile Service, the family would lock themselves up in the house and threaten acts of violence if anyone attempted to meddle in their affairs. The children were removed only when the woman had to go to the morgue to collect her husband’s body.

Seventeen-year-old Petro is the eldest of the children. He was entitled to receive a monthly allowance as a disabled person, Group 3, but lost it after failing to complete the required paperwork on time, because his mother wouldn’t let him out of the house. Mykola is 16. The juvenile service authorities say both of them ran away from home and earned a living by collecting and selling scrap metal. Yurko, who is 8 and four-year-old Dmytryk couldn’t earn any sort of living. “We ate barley porridge,” said Yurko, describing the diet at home.

“What he means is raw barley in cold water,” explains Tamara Shulha, head of the ward at the district children’s clinic.” The children were severely undernourished; both had nutritional edemas that are gradually disappearing, and the weight of each is 15% below normal.

Their mother denies any part in the hunt for the golden carriage, saying it was all her late husband’s doing, and that she stayed home for so long because she was sick. That was also the reason why the children stopped going to school and the livestock was sold. In a word, everybody in the family fell sick.

“I’ve come across a number of similar cases in the past twenty-five years,” says Tamara Shulha, “but they’ve been increasingly horrific over the past couple of years, and people’s miseries defy the imagination.”

A total of 46 children have been institutionalized in Pohrebyshche district. Two years ago, there were only 26 such cases. “Unemployment and accompanying alcoholism are the main reasons why parents aged between 30 and 45 are reduced to a state where they are deprived of their parental rights,” says Mykola Markitan.

“This particular family used to have no problems,” says Anatoly Sladetsky, director of the district family and youth center. “The parents had jobs and ran a sizable and effective household; no one could have imagined such a turn of events.”


Olha VORONOVA, staff psychiatrist on the day ward of the district psychoneurology hospital:

Almost every individual harbors unmotivated fears. If a person’s prospects start changing for the worse, s/he begins seeking a way out of a situation that may well be nonexistent. Social decline, changes in society, especially negative ones, stimulate a person’s desire to look ahead, glimpse the future in order to calm one’s fears; hence the popularity of fortunetellers, seers, clairvoyants, and faith healers, whose activities are advertised in the media. It’s especially dangerous now, when socioeconomic instability is leading to a rise in the numbers of mentally unbalanced people. Morally stronger, better educated, and self-disciplined individuals are capable of avoiding such temptations. Other people, and there are quite a few of them, start visiting fortunetellers, paying them until they run out of money, at which point they end up in psychiatrists’ offices. More often than not they are in grave physical and mental condition, as a result of various tragedies. If people would ask for timely help from psychologists or even psychiatrists, many tragedies could be prevented. Regrettably, this is something that our culture lacks or is practiced on a very small scale.

By Myroslava SOKOLOVA, The Day