Two Women Struggle to Repopulate Villages

According to the United Nations, Bulgaria is the fastest depopulating country in the world. In the hope of combating the desertification of the countryside, a website offers city dwellers in need of nature to rent “for nothing” village houses.

To the sound of bells disturbing the tranquillity of the afternoon, the village elders go out one by one of their houses. “Someone’s dead,” a grandmother says. She slammed through her garden to join the small crowd formed in the middle of the dusty road. The old people are worried: for whom does the church sound the death knhisheon? Tsonka Zhelyazkova, on a walk with her 2-year-old and 5-year-old children, is approaching. “Fortunately, it’s not someone you know,” sighs the young woman.

Here in Zidarovo, a bucolic and desolate village in eastern Bulgaria, deaths outnumber births. The population, about 1,000, melts a little more each year. Many have gone abroad, leaving behind their homes. In the streets not always paved, not far from one in five houses is uninhabited. Roof smashed, windows shattered, façade devoured by virgin vines: many fall into disrepair. Some are still in good condition.