Page last updated at 04:55 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Ukraine's twin town revels in special status

Twins at Velikaya Kopanya school
There are 12 pairs of twins in the village school

By Daria Merkusheva
BBC News, Velikaya Kopanya, Ukraine

In western Ukraine, a place alive with folk tales, there is one village where legend appears to be borne out by reality.

The peculiarity of Velikaya Kopanya is most evident in its local school.

Twelve pairs of twins are gathered. They are all school pupils.

The meeting is arranged in the museum. Even amid the displays of local crafts and history, it seems what the village is really proud of is its extraordinary production of twins.

They have such status that other schoolchildren admit to being envious of the attention they get.

There are 58 pairs of twins in Velikaya Kopanya - a village of only 4,000 people, not far from the borders of Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, and just over 700km (450 miles) from Ukraine's capital Kiev.

Many of the older ones, like the other residents of the town, work elsewhere for much of the year, so it is among the children that the phenomenon is most obvious.

'Hate being alike'

Misha and Vanya Fogorosh are 10 years old. They have blond hair and mischievous smiles. They are identical, dressed the same and, they say, their father can't tell them apart.

"A few times in school when Vanya did not do his homework I pretended to be him and got a good grade for him," claims Misha.

Maria Chorba
Maria Chorba is officially the village's oldest twin

"But we do fight sometimes - and now we look different because Vanya has a bit of a bruise on his lip," he adds cheekily.

"I hate it that we are dressed the same all the time and we are so alike."

In a traditional Ukrainian house not far from the school, tending to a pig, is Maria Chorba. Her twin sister Anna died three years ago.

Ms Chorba is 75, and is officially the town's oldest twin, as earlier birth records do not exist.

She says she has three pairs of twins among her grandchildren - but says the village's high rate of multiple births is not a recent phenomenon.

"When we were growing up we had some friends [who were] twins, so we are definitely not the first ones here," Ms Chorba remembers.

"No one could tell us apart. Later Anna moved to live far away and we met only once a year. But if she would get sick I would know that straight away. And then I felt that something really bad had happened to her - at that very moment she died."

Special reputation

Ms Chorba does not know why there are so many twins in Velikaya Kopanya.

But the suspicion that "there's something in the water" has spread across the country.

Water source, Velikaya Kopanya
People come from miles around to fill up with the local water

Locals tell a story of a woman from a town 150km (95 miles) away, who seemed unable to have children.

She would regularly drive to the village to drink its water. And within a few months, the story goes, she got pregnant - with twins.

It is stories like this that have given the water a reputation for being near-miraculous.

Ukrainian scientists have examined it closely. They have stopped short of assigning it any special powers - though they say it is very clean.

And that is why many people from neighbouring towns come for it. There are always a number of vans and cars parked by the foot of the mountain, and men with barrels collecting the precious drops.

"Even if they privatise this spring and start selling water, I'll pay for it," Konstantin says. He drives 50km every week for this water.

"At home I've got yellow filthy water coming out of the taps and a filter just doesn't help - it's so full of metals. This is the cleanest and tastiest water in the whole region!" he says.

Maria Fyodoranich, the owner of a local restaurant and a keen local historian, agrees.

"Actually we've got queues of suitors for girls from our village - we are that popular. Everyone wants our genes. And it's all because of this water," she laughs.

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