There was a time when Yuliya Minchanka was the only bellwoman in Belarus; now the number of men in the profession is falling.
As a child, Yuliya attended a Sunday school in the Belarusian city of Polatsk. As part of her classes, she listen to bell-ringing and visited a bell tower. There was a high calling, she says.
“A school of bell-ringers was founded in 2000 in Belarus. I have been doing it since 1993. Once I was the only bell woman in the country; a bit later I was the only one in the region. I do not know why but women are coming into the profession.”
Minchanka has been teaching bell-ringing for seven years in Hrodna. Everyone can start learning it but they should have a priest’s blessing. Julia believes that if one has learnt how to ring bells, it will be very hard for them not to continue, because bell-ringing is a way of life.
“In fact, students who cannot do it for various reasons are in distress, because there is sort of internal need, but it is not unlocked,” Yuliya explains.
Bell-ringing is not only a spiritual responsibility, but high physical activity as well.
“From my early youth I have been going for different kinds of sports, including weightlifting. Now bell-ringing is my sport. But my previous experience is very useful. I make some of my students do weight-lifting exercises. My recent graduates are four women, not a single man, can you imagine that?”
According to the bellwoman, males often lack not physical, but spiritual power.
Yuliya does bell-ringing from Friday till Sunday evening – if there are no religious feasts during a week. Usually there are many services, weddings, other events on these days. And on weekdays she teaches. “It is the mission. One cannot say: “I’m tired, I have to go,” Yuliya says. However, life is full of compensations:
“Over the past 10 years, I have never been down with the flu or bronchitis, although I am constantly on the bell tower, in the open air space, where everything is blown by the wind. But in general, the researchers also proved that the waves of bell-ringing kill many bacteria. I feel the power that comes from this work, from being here.”
Yuliya’s son is four years old. The boy likes going up the bell tower. He does not ring bells yet, but he likes to dance withing the sounds – he has a sense of rhythm.
“It is not surprising, because he must have heard the bells before his birth – I worked when being pregnant,” the woman laughs.
Saying goodbye, Yuliya adds that simple melodies are the best. Why? Because they are true.