Roadless Siberia — the story of Zofia Piłasiewicz - Muzeum Pamięci Sybiru

12 May 2023

Roadless Siberia — the story of Zofia Piłasiewicz

You travel three times: the first time is when you are preparing an expedition. The second — when you are there, and the third — when you talk about it — said Zofia Piłasiewicz during the meeting at the Sybir Memorial Museum. In this way, the audience took a journey along the rivers of the Republic of Tuva.

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Zofia Piłasiewicz made her first trip along the rivers of Siberia with a group of friends nearly 20 years ago.

The first book I read in my life was by Stanisław Ossendowski. He was able to infect people with curiosity about the world — she said on that May evening in the audiovisual room of the Sybir Memorial Museum. I have been sailing and kayaking for years. When the opportunity to travel to Russia arose, we decided to take advantage of this opportunity — she said.

Why did they choose the Republic of Tuva? — “Ossendowski certainly had an influence on it. Besides, we wanted to go where there are both taiga and rivers. We were interested in nature. We looked at the map and decided. Tuva has taiga, mountains and steppe. Oh, and Tuvan songs! That’s what I associated Tuwa with — emphasized Piłasiewicz.

— I am fascinated by the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Polish research from that time. In this respect, Siberia owes a lot to Polish exiles, for example geologists. Tomasz Zan, Mickiewicz’s friend, discovered a gold deposit in exile — said the traveler.

— We have been preparing the trip for a year. But we looked at the map and we couldn’t imagine what it would be like there…

Eight kayakers from Poland and Belarus, who have had many trips on Polish and Belarusian rivers, embarked on a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Then they had to take the only road through the taiga to the capital of the republic, Kyzylu on the Yenisei. — According to a Russian blogger, it is the second ugliest Russian city —Piłasiewicz laughed. But interestingly, a man approached us in the cafe and asked where we were from. “From Poland”, we replied. “But from what city?” he asked. “From Bialystok”. And he said, “I know the city, I have been there.” It turned out that he was in a group of Tuvan singers who once gave a concert in Białystok — she said. “We thought we’d find a car to get to the river itself. And we found the driver with the car. It turned out that he was doing his military service in… Grodno. He agreed to take us” — she said. However, it turned out that due to the mud, it was impossible to get to the very bank of the river. Luggage must be carried on your back. — And it was heavy, oh, heavy… We were not prepared physically enough — she admitted.

To get to the river you had to walk through a dense forest cut by streams. — Walking in the taiga is not the most pleasant thing — the traveler admitted. — I must emphasize the respect I have for the Russian cartographers, who cataloged Siberia in the years of the USSR. We had American satellite photos and Russian maps at our disposal — and on the latter there were marked zimowla, i.e. small hunting cabins, open to everyone. We used them. They can save lives! — she noted.

Participants of the expedition sailed on inflatable catamarans, which they unfolded on the shore and mounted on racks made of freshly cut larches. Rafting on the Ulug-O and Bij-Chem rivers is a total of 220 km of water travel. Fish became our main food. While sailing, we admired the power of nature. In Siberia, it changes very quickly — Piłasiewicz pointed out the photos from the expedition presented in the background. — And Yenisei, this river is magic…

— We met fishermen who caught Siberian taimens with… a mouse. News in this wilderness, despite its small population, spreads quickly. Everyone knew that Poles were sailing, they called to us from the shores, recalled the participant of the expedition. They reached Kyzyl on August 15, when there was a great local holiday — horse and archery competitions, shamanic ceremonies.

The memory of Siberian nature was so strong that friends decided to repeat the trip. — Contact with nature is seductive, we really missed it. And in 2015 I went there again, but alone. To breathe in the taiga, but also because I missed the contact with the local culture while kayaking.

As admitted by Piotr Popławski, PhD, Head of the Department of Educational and Cultural Projects organizing the meeting, due to the current international situation, we are no longer able to travel to many places, such as Russia. “We can only see them in pictures, like today” — he stressed.

We also have books — for example, “Siberian Dream. A Roadless Tale” by Zofia Piłasiewicz. — “I wrote it because I had an urge to do something to get rid of the baggage of emotions accumulated after the expedition” — she said. After the meeting, there was an opportunity to buy this publication and get the author’s autograph.

The next meeting in the series will be on Thursday, June 15 at 6:00 p.m. The guest of the Museum this time will be Danuta Onyszkiewicz, anthropologist, traveler and photographer, great-granddaughter of Józef Piłsudski. However, it will not be about him, but about his older brother, Bronisław. A conspirator, a convict who discovered his scientific vocation in exile and became a researcher of Ainu culture. Thanks to his field research, photos and recordings, he saved this culture from oblivion.

In addition, as part of the meeting, we will present our June Exhibit of the Month — borrowed from Cracow, from the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, an album with original photos taken and described by Bronisław Piłsudski.

You’re welcome! Tickets are already available at the ticket office of the Sybir Memorial Museum and on our website.

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