Feature: The Hutsuls

Fiercely independent and individualistic, the Carpathian-dwelling Hutsuls are a mainstay of Ukrainian national identity. They were first identified as a separate ethnic group at the end of the 18th century. According to some accounts, the 'Hutsul' encompass several tribes – including Boiki, Lemi and Pokuttian – so who and what they are is open to some interpretation.

Ethnographers describe Hutsul life as dominated by herding sheep from polonyny (high mountain pastures) to lowland fields, with a little agriculture and forestry thrown in. They point to a dialect incomprehensible to other Ukrainians, a canon of pre-Christian, pagan legends and a diet based on mountain ingredients, including mushrooms, berries, brynza (a crumbly cow- or goat-milk cheese tasting like feta) and corn-based mamalyha (like polenta).

Wooden architecture, particularly churches, and a host of handicrafts, from decorated ceramics and embroidered shirts to woollen rugs and embossed leather, are also totems of Hutsul culture.

But whereas a traditional Hutsul would dress colourfully, carry an ornate toporet (hatchet) and play the trembita (a long alpine horn), most modern Hutsuls don't bother much with any of these. The few occasions on which they are likely to dust off their folk costumes include dances and weddings. For the former, men wear baggy trousers and women floral hair arrangements. For the latter, guests deck trees with paper flowers and ribbons, eat special flatbreads and consume lots of vodka.

Hutsul souvenirs are touted throughout the region, particularly in Yaremche. Quality ranges from mass-produced to individually crafted by local artists. Some vintage pieces are now finding their way onto the market – some local stallholders can source these, but they are more readily available in Lviv.