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Excerpts From The "Short History of Zhelevo Village" Macedonia

by Foto S. Tomev

Source: "Macedonian Immigrants in Canada and Their Background", Published by the Macedonian Canadian Senior Citizens Club, Toronto, 1980

Means of Livelihood of the Village | The Founding of the Village
The Ilinden Uprising | The Spahi | The Huriet (Liberty)
Emigration to the New World | National Costumes of Zhelevo
The Woman's Costume | The Building of Zhelevo Hall

Foto S. TomevFoto S. Tomev, born in the Village of Zhelevo, Macedonia, 1899. Emigrated to Canada 1915. Scholar, prizeman, Governor General's Medal at the Ontario College of Art. Exhibited R. C.A., A.O.C.A., C.N.E. and Montreal Art Association. received Honours, May 7th., 1977, by the Canadian Macedonian Senior Citizens Centre Association, for Meritorious Service to the Macedonian Community in the City of Toronto.

The Zhelevo Village, district of Kostur, Macedonia, (ed. note - Zhelevo is now part of the Lerin region) was one of the comparatively large villages in the district of Kostur. It was the second largest after Smurdesh Village in Koreshtata. Zhelevo is nestled in and surrounded by mountains and it lies at the foot of Mt. Bigla. It is pretty and a picturesque village. The river Bistritsa takes its source from the mountains near the village and empties into the Gulf of Solun. It lies on the highway connecting the cities of Kostur and Lerin.

Prior to 1912 the village counted approximately 270 houses. There were two public schools in the village, one junior high school and two churches - St. Nicholas and St. Atanas. On its North-East boundary is the village Pisoderi and on the Northern boundary, the village Gherman; to the North-West - the village Roudari and Paply; to the West - Oronik and Bukovik; and to the South-East the villages of Oshchima and Tryse.

Means of Livelihood of the Village

Three quarters of the territory of Zhelevo is mountainous and the remainder is a plain with cultivated orchards and gardens which are irrigated by the waters of the nearby river. In the distant past flax and hemp were grown. On the bare mountain slopes rye was sowed, as well as corn and barley on the lower land. The lush pastures were used to feed sheep and cattle and goats. The mountains are covered with ancient oak and beech tree forests. Deer, fox, wild boars and quite often wolves and grizzly bears, are found in the forests. On the sun scorched slopes are found snakes, among which is the deadly poisonous viper.

As I mentioned before, the lush pastures on the mountain slopes have facilitated the raising of sheep and goats. Stock breeding has always been the main source of livelihood for the villagers. More than one third of the peasants raised sheep and goats. Warm fur coats were made from the hides and sheep wool and from goats hair, as well as bed covers, "velentsa" and other materials. Many domestic animals roamed the pastures, and the people produced on their farms enough dairy products for the village, such as cheese and butter. The people sheared enough wool for their own needs from the sheep, and what was left they traded outside the village. The villagers who did not keep sheep and goats, kept at least one cow and one pig for their own use.

The domestic tasks and most of the work connected with stock breeding were done by women. They were the ones to wash the sheep and goat wool, to comb it, to spin and weave it. Women also reaped the harvest. In a word, most of the labour was performed by women. Women even climbed the mountains to chop wood to be burned during the winter. The arid fields were worked by hand with the help of hoes and a forked instrument called "dikel". The only implements the women did not touch were the plough and the scythe. All the work connected with heavy tools was done by the men and, in their absence, by hired help.

No matter how large the produce derived from the land was, or how much stock raised, the stock breeding was not sufficient to satisfy the needs and to support the villagers economically. It was therefore necessary for most of the men to leave the village and work elsewhere. Some of the men went to work as master builders in the villages of Bitola district, and others to Anatolia (Asia Minor). Only a few of the men went to Serbia. After the liberation of Bulgaria from the Turks, many of the men preferred to work in Bulgaria. The money which the men earned abroad helped them in the support of their families. After the heroic but unfortunate Macedonian National Ilinden Uprising in 1903, the men began emigrating to the American continent to seek work there.

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The Founding of the Village


It is not exactly known who were the first settlers of Zhelevo. The village, as it stands today, is divided into two: Old Zhelevo and New Zhelevo. There is no concrete historical information to tell us who were the first settlers of the village. Of course, as it is in other villages, there are legends connected with Zhelevo which tell us about the first settlers of the village.

One of these legends, which I consider most plausable, states as follows: After an unsuccessful uprising against the Turks, six or seven families living in the plain ran away and settled in the location called "Old Zhelevo" where there was a dense and impenetrable forest. This location was practically inaccessible to the Turks and therefore considered safe by the settlers. The Turks would have never dared attempted to enter such places. There was actually no need for them to go to such places because they were mostly interested in the plains, where people lived, and not in the mountainous locations. Thus the settlement of Zhelevo began. But who were the settlers and where they came from is unknown to us. Even the year in which this event took place is unknown, nor is it known in what year the uprising against the Turks took place. This legend I consider to be true because the majority of the villages in the Macedonian mountain regions came into existence this way. Revolts and uprising took place and the besieged "raya" (enslaved population) had to leave their homes, run from the Turks and hide in safe places which were in the mountains.

The eminent Belgian scholar and politician Augier Bousbec, who travelled through the Balkans in 1553 as an ambassador of the Emperor Ferdinand I, tells us of additional reasons why the Christians were abandoning their houses and their fertile land, and were running away to impenetrable locations. He writes thus: "Often, the Christians were annoyed by the tiresome proudness and insolence of the Turks, and withdrew from the "king's road" and went to places which were inaccessible and safe, leaving behind better land to the powerful Turks."

It is for such reasons that the population was forced to leave everything behind and search for safer locations in which to hide from the persecutions of the enslaver, and to start a better life. Many of the settlements in Macedonia, and in other parts of the Balkan Peninsula, came into existence because of the persecution of the Turks.

It is not exactly known how long the settlers lived at the first location, "Old Zhelevo", but in all probability it can be accepted that they lived there for many years. So the legend states. What forced the residents of "Old Zhelevo" to leave this place and relocate in New Zhelevo? Old people have told us that they have heard through traditions that it had happened after a torrential rain. It is said that the rains were so heavy and terrifying, that it swept away the houses, the animals, the gardens and the fields of the people of Old Zhelevo. This forced them to settle on the new location, the present Zhelevo. The foundations of the houses of Old Zhelevo still existed before 1915.

Another legend tells us that a special ceremony was performed by the villagers before they settled in the new location. The people believed that by doing this ceremony, the new settlement would escape destruction, be it by men or natural calamity. The ceremony was as follows: at the suggestion of some of the older people, two heifer twins were harnessed and, with the help a furrow was made tracing the boundaries of the new village. Two young boys who were twins led the heifers. It seems that this superstitious belief worked out for Zhelevo. Many of the nearby villages were either burnt or destroyed during the uprising or by the calamity of nature, but Zhelevo remains intact to this day. Zhelevo was not affected by the Ilinden Uprising, nor by the Balkan War, nor suffered damages during the First and Second World Wars.

At first the settlers earned their livelihood as wood choppers. They cut trees from the dense forest and transported them for sale to the small town of Lerin. At the same time they began woodcarving; they made wooden bowls, spoons and boxes. Some of them took advantage of the favourable surroundings which contained ample wild game, and began hunting. Others made ploughs, yokes, cart wheels, carriages, etc., which they sold to the villagers in the neighbourhood. later on, they began to cultivate the land. Land was scarce and was needed for the grazing of livestock.

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The Ilinden Uprising

The Macedonian Organization, which mobilized the people for a rebellion, issued a secret order to all men abroad to return to their villages. All men readily returned to their homes, even those who were in Anadola (Asia Minor). Great enthusiasm prevailed. The fire of liberty burned in the hearts of all. Eager to return to their homes, some of the men did not wait to collect their wages.

Ilinden! Glorious name! Holy name! A name in which all hopes and yearnings for freedom were united! July 20th, 1903 became a memorable day! The people eagerly took part in the rebellion under the leadership of the Organization. The entire world was astonished by their boldness, heroism and readiness to sacrifice their lives in the name of freedom. How can we not admire such people? A handful of men, inadequately armed, fought an enormous and well trained regular army, against an Empire which had existed for centuries. What were the weapons of these rebels? Only their high spirits and the readiness to sacrifice themselves before the altar of freedom. Wht kind of ammunition did they employ? Some had De Gra in their hands, others Martini, others revolvers, others "kremanlii" (flintlock), pitchforks, hatches and implements of home use were also employed.

Yanaki Bodurov, who was a carpenter, made a cherrywood cannon, copies after the one used during the April Uprising in Bulgaria. After firing it a few times, the cannon exploded into bits. The main purpose of the cannon was to show the rebelling people in Macedonia that they had an arsenal of arms and artillery to throw against the tyrant. This cherrywood cannon also served as a warning to the Turkish army that the rebels had cannons too. The Organization assigned as leaders of the population, Kote from Rulia village (who later became a traitor), Spiro from the village of Rabi in Prespa district, to Petre Gherman cheto from the village Gherman, Traiko Todev "Zhelevski", and Iovan Ch. Dudomov, both from our village.

First Settlers of Staro Zhelevo

The people from our village and the surrounding ones led by their chieftans, were assigned to protect the villages of Orovnik and Papli in the Prespa district, because there was quite a large Turkish population there. The rebels were deployed in the mountains around Zhelevo. They held the mentioned villages in seige for three days and were engaged in fighting with Rustem Bey. Several of the rebels were killed in battle. Near the main road to Prespa, at the foot of Kokoshka Mountain, food was cooked in 2 to 3 large kettles (boilers) for the rebels. The people voluntarily contributed what they could to feed them.

Before going to posts assigned to them, the rebels gathered in the village and anxiously awaited the roders from the Organization.All of them were enthusiastic and sang patriotic songs, mostly this song:

"...We do not want riches,
We do not want money,
It's Liberty we want
And human rights...

This song was very popular then, something like a marching song of the revolutionaries.

We, the children, along with the women, the old and the infirm people went in to hiding in the forest, in the location of Staro Zhelevo and Lazina. There we spent three nights. The noise made by the battle of the rebelling people and the "chetas" of Mitre Vlacha on Bigla Mountain could be heard by us. On the third day, in the morning, we learned from an Arournanian (vlah), who was travelling along the old mountain road from Pisoderi to Papli, that the fight on Bigla had stopped. On hearing this news we returned to the village. Upon our return a large Turkish army detachment stopped outside the village. The soldiers were concentrated in the locality of Temniluk, near the highway. the elders of the village together with the priest went to meet them, and the Turks asked: "Are there in the village any rebels ("Kmitadji")?" The elders replied: "There are no rebels in our village. But as for the villages further down we do not know. The soldiers left without causing any harm.

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The Spahi

One of the major evils of the people of our village, and the rest of the enslaved Christians, was the tax imposed upon them the so called "one tenth", or as the people used to call it "spahiluk", using the name of the collector of the taxes, the Spahi. This tax was to be paid in produce. Great injustices were committed by the tax collectors in their arbitrary ways of getting the taxes from the people. It was to be one tenth of the produce, but only God knows how much more the Spahi took from the people. The trouble was not the amount of tax that had to be paid by each family, but the way in which was collected. The Turkish government would put the collection of taxes on auction ? the one who would offer the best price had the right to collect the tax from the population. The right of collecting taxes was usually purchased from the government either by Turks or the "arnauti". (mohamedan Albanians.) The State took its due, but those who obtained the right to collect taxes charged the people what they wanted. These people went to each house in the village, to the fields, to the pastures and the vineyards, and collected these taxes without any control or scales or measures. These collectors mastered the population. No one dared to complain his voice was a voice in the desert no one would hear it. People use to say: "Whom to complain to? God is high and and the Tsar is far away. " The people endured and carried this heavy burden like mute animals. The burden of the yoke was increased by the arbitrary acts of the Spahi. Some times the Spahi would not come in time to collect the produce and the people silently waited for him; they waited ... without daring to speak. What followed was a sorrowful sight the fields of grain ripened, the sheaves were gathered, the rains fall, but yet, everything rots. And who cares? The grapes, already spoiled by the rain are gathered, but what avail? This pitiful situation did not disturb the Spahi. The Spahi were the full fledged lords and they would get their dues by robbing . the "raya" (the slaves) anyway. The Spahi would bribe the government officials who then closed their mouths and ears. All these people were corrupted from the lowest to highest in office. They were in a conspiracy with each other. And the population kept silent and carried the burden.

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The Huriet (Liberty)

July 10, 1908 - the day of the Huriet! And with it came relief for the people. At last reconcilation between the tyrant of five centuries and the enslaved people came. After five centuries of sleep and countless plights and a constant struggle for freedom, the slaves were freed. There was endless kissing and hugging between the enemies of yesterday! Could there be anything better than this? An amnesty was proclaimed by the Turkish government. The Macedonian freedom fighters, fighting for the liberation of Macedonia came down to their villages and their cities from their hiding places in the mountains. The Greek andarti marched, through our village, dressed in their blue jackets and white short skirts. They carried rifles Sinoveri. I do not recall how many they were but they were not numerous. It seemed that only the Greek andarti would march through our village. We were very much disturbed and disappointed. Where were our brave Macedonian men? To our relief, several days later they arrived, led by Chakalarov, one of the main revolutionary organizers in the district of Kostour. Chakalarov was a legendary hero who was enormously feared by our enemies. Accompanying with the cheta (rebel detachment) was the newly ordained priest fr. Elia Atanasov Trayanov and the voivoda (chieftan) Traike Zhelevski. All these men were armed with Maliheri rifles.

Huriet, but ... only for one year! The former way of life was slowly returning. The persecutions of the voivodi (chieftains) and those who worked for the people resumed. These people were persecuted everywhere not only in the mountains, but in the cities, in the villages. They were all forced to take to arms once again and seek safety in the mountains. They had to defend the people again. The hidden guns were taken out - they held them firmly in their hands.

Before the Huriet, the Turks never took Christians as soldiers. Every male child from birth till death had to pay military tax (bedel). But after the declaration of the Huriet, the Turks began taking Christians as soldiers: From our village they conscripted Filip Nolev and Simo Tamovski. Tamovski was soon released from duties but Novel served over a year, and had to pay 50 Turkish lira before he was able to return home. during the years 1910, 1911 and 1912 it was possible for the men who were called for service in the army to buy their deferment. Zhelevtsi volunteered in the Canadian Army in the first World War 1914-1918. Elies Asproff in the 36 regiment, Naum H. Bolkon, Yovan Dimov, Spiro Lazarou, Lazar Todorov and many more whose names I do not remember.

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Emigration to the New World

Zhelevo Brotherhood

By purchasing the land from Husein Efendi, the area north of our village increased. However, the problem of making a livelihood was not solved. We were short of many commodities. This forced the villagers to seek employment outside the village. Those more daring went to work in far off countries. The most courageous decided to try their luck and came to America. During 1902 the first men from Zhelevo to cross the ocean to America, were Lambro Nikolovsky and Andrea Nikolovsky. With them were several men from the village Bouf. The brothers Dimitar and Christo Hadji Pavlov, Spiro Dodev, and Krsto Dibranov of Zhelevo emigrated to Toronto, Canada.

Emigration especially to the New World, increased greatly after the heroic Ilinden Uprising in 1903. The unfortunate ending of the uprising and the reprisals that followed, forced all those of intelligence and courage to leave Macedonia. After the rebellion in 1903, quite a large group of our people came to Toronto, these were:

Elia Atanasov, who later became priest in our village.
Brothers Siderov - Dimitar and Vasil Petko p. Andonov - Traiko Florov
Christo Yanovsky - Petre Foto Lazarov

Foto N. Markov - Brothers Kotovsky Pando and Tole Pando Lazarov.

During the year 1904, George and Atanas Markovsky arrived with a group of 36 men. Almost all of them lived on Front Street. In the year 1905 a group of 30 men also came to Toronto.

The first years in the New Country were very hard for these immigrants, far from their native Macedonia and their relatives. Here in a foreign land, with an unknown language, they did not even know how to look for work, buy their food, etc. They were forced to use sign language to buy their food, which placed them in comical situations. At this time groceries and other products were not displayed in the stores as now. These items were placed out of sight. Therefore, when our people went to purchase eggs they had to make sounds like a chicken; for lamb meat they bleated, etc. A roomer asked his fellow roomers the name of the sugar. They told him "sugar". He went to the grocery store and asked the clerk for a pound of sugar. The clerk did not understand him well enough he asked him how much sugar he wanted. The roomer answered one pound with his one finger. He went back home and was fighting with his roomer why they are making fun with him, the sugar is called in English, how much, not sugar. They themselves were aware of the comical situation they created and made jokes about it. They lived 15 or more in a six room house. Their nourishment was meagre. They could not afford any recreation or pleasure. Their money was not quite enough to cover their expenses. They tried to spend as little as possible. They worked hard and long hours, from 10 to 12 hours daily - 6 to 7 days a week. The weekly pay was very small - $7.00 to $8.00 per week for the hardest jobs and often work was very scarce. The feeling of comradeship prevailed, however, and they readily helped each other. They never allowed their countrymen to remain in distress. No one went to bed hungry. A touching brotherly relationship made them bear the hardship and unpleasantness of their immigrant life more easily.

The human soul is thirsty for joy and happiness, and these feelings are stronger when one lives in such torment. The struggle for life did not hinder their wish for recreation. On the contrary, it made them want to meet each other to celebrate together, and to get the feeling that they were in the Old Country. They celebrated all the church holidays, incorporated them with their traditions. They celebrated name-days. They sang patriotic and folk songs. They danced 'Horos' (a chain dance). They talked about their places of birth, about their families and relatives, about the heroic 'chetnicks' (freedom fighters) and their leaders, and for the struggles of their people. In short, they spoke about everything connected with their lives in their homeland, Macedonia. This soon led them to found a Macedonian church to preserve their faith. Until the First World War the people from Zhelevo, as well as other immigrants, lived with the hope of saving enough money to return to their families. But because of the unhappy events which racked their homeland, those hopes vanished. Macedonia was left in worse bondage than before because the few enslavers forbade them to write and speak in their mother tongue. The reprisals suffered by those who dared speak their mother tongue were cruel and forced the American immigrants to bring their families here. Almost all the men from Zhelevo brought their families to their adopted country, Canada.

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National Costumes of Zhelevo

The people in Zhelevo wore typical Macedonian national costumes. These costumes were worn in all seasons. The costumes were made by hand at home. The costumes did not vary in design, but were richly ornamented and hand embroidered. The men's costumes consisted mainly of a woollen Ghiurdia (a sleeveless jacket down to the knees), black or dark blue grey, open at the chest with little ornaments, mainly blue and pink. Some men wore white costumes until 1906. The shirt was made either of cotton or of hemp reaching down the knees and with wide sleeves which reached below the elbows. The collar was embroidered mainly with blue, pink, black and mauve. They also wore knitted cuffs on their arms, ornamented with the same colours as the collar. The slacks which they wore at the beginning were narrow but were replaced later, because the style was difficult to sew and costly to make. Fur hats were worn for a long time, but later they were forced to wear the Turkish fez. The people of Zhelevo preferred to go bareheaded. Their socks were home made in various colours and covered the legs up to the knee. They also wore "Klashni" (gaiters) up to the knee: Black for the adults and white for the young men. In winter, these were longer, up to the hip. The men usually wore moccasins made of pig or cattle skin, and on holidays, regular shoes. The younger ones wore silver chains on the chest, "Kiosteg", as adornment.

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The Woman's Costume

The women of Zhelevo, as in the whole of Macedonia, made their costumes themselves. They used great artistry. The costumes were beautiful and richly ornamented. The weaving and the embroidering was in excellent and artistic taste - beautifully and colourfully ornamented by hand. It took the women fall, winter and spring to make these costumes. The sheep wool used for their costumes were very well washed and bleached, carded, spun and coloured according to its use. It was then woven, and from these woollen materials, the costumes were cut by the tailor. The undershirts (skirt) of the women were long, reaching below the knee. They were white with hand embroidered collars and sleeves. The sleeves fell below the elbows. From the elbows to the wrist (under the sleeves) they wore cuffs which had many different colours. The embroidery of the shirt was mainly done on the sleeves and on the bottom of the shirt, and a little on the collar and on the breast. In olden days they wore "Kesitsi" (outer sleeves), from the shoulder to the elbow. These were richly embroidered with gold and silver thread and silk. Over the shirt they also wore long sleeveless "Shayak" (coat) which reached to the knee. This was dark blue or black. It was open at the front and richly ornamented; the colour red was dominant. Around the sleeves and the bottom of the coat were edged with red "optoka" (woollen yarn). They wore home woven sashes about six inches wide and six feet long and over these, leather belts with silver buckles 'Pafti' which were beautifully ornamented. They wore colourful homewoven aprons. The aprons were predominantly red with silver chains of coins fastened to the buckles to each side of the apron. The aprons had woollen fringes.

The women's stockings were knitted in various colours, ornamented the stockings matched the outfit. The colour red was again predominant. The women, like the men, wore pig or cattle skin moccasins which were light and practical for work. However, the men and the women never entered church in moccasins.

In winter, the women wore a black overcoat, called 'resachka', which had woollen fringes inside. It was sleeveless and without ornament. Some women wore a white woollen sleeveless 'shayak', coat with very little ornamentation. This was worn until 1905. The women and the young girls never went bareheaded. The young girls and women wore headkerchiefs on their heads of many different colours on a red background with fringes hanging loosely down to the waist. They also wore 'doulben', a fine thin white cotton fabric embroidered at the edges with various colours of woollen thread, gold or silver fringes. Under the 'doulben' they wore a 'boulka' which is a small hat made with a Turkish fez having the shape of the first moon. This was filled in with cotton or rags then sewn on a thin narrow belt and fastened under the chin. To this 'boulka' was fastened the headkerchief and was worn until 1907. They also wore an embroidered band above the forehead which was fastened to the 'boulka'. On this band were sewn silver or gold coins which hung over the forehead. Behind the women's back, under the headkerchief, they wore 'naplitsi' an old decoration which consisted of a long thin piece of cotton or hemp cloth about 5 inches wide entirely covered with coins. To the two top corners a hook was fastened to the 'boulka' so that it could hang loosely on the back below the waist which also had fringes on the end. To each hip they wore an ornament that resembled an eye. The women's costume was difficult to make, but was worn for many years. The style never changed. On the chest, under the opened shirt, the women wore 'guishigashnik' (a neck piece) embroidered with various coloured threads, beads, sequins, etc. They also wore 'kiosteg'; a silver chain attached with many silver coins. They wore earrings with silver coins that hung down to the shoulders.

Dressed in these beautiful national costumes, the women were elegant. Today this costume is of artistic value.

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The Building of Zhelevo Hall

Zhelevo Hall

During the year 1946, the question of building a Zhelevo Hall was raised again. A meeting was called for this purpose in Blagoeve's Billiards at St. Clair and Keele Streets. The question was discussed at length, and a decision to build a hall was made. A committee was appointed to look for land. This committee consisted of: Nikola Temelkov, Nikola K. Giamov (Christie) and George Markov. On the 26th of August 1946, land on Ford Street was purchased. During the same year, a third meeting was called by the building committee at the restaurant of Kuzman Kiamovsky on Keele Street. Those who were appointed as supervisors of the hall were: George Marko, Spiro Papazov, Michail Bundov and Nikola Temelkov. Those appointed as trustees of the hall until its completion were: Krsto Petrov, Pavel Markov, Stoio Luchkov, Evan Luchkov, Spiro Markov, Lazar Markov, Krsto Florov, Nikola Temelkov, Elia Sotirov and Krsto P. Hajiev. The building of Zhelevo Hall began at 98 Ford Street and was completed in 1948.

The official opening was on July 13, 1948. During the ceremonies, many official representatives of the City and the Province of Ontario (as well as many of our immigrants) were present. Nikola Temelkov was the president of the Brotherhood that year, and Demiter M. Bundov was secretary. In 1962 the hall was extended with the main entrance facing 331 Old Weston Road.

During the year 1948, members of the brotherhood bought land at Woodbridge as the site for summer homes.

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