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Burdei Homes

The first order of business for any pioneer family was to make sure that they had shelter. In the Ukraine, some of the very first houses were simple huts that were made from sod and logs. The name for this structure was "burdei."

Burdei Home

To build a burdei, first the brush and trees needed to be cleared from the land. The brush was burned, and the branches and bark were removed from the harvested trees. Then a hole was dug in the ground, and the logs were leaned together in an "A" shape.

Sod would then be cut from the earth, and used as a covering for the logs. In this way, the roof was formed. The gaps in the logs were filled with clay. Now the pioneer family was ready for winter.

Ukrainian immigrants to Canada constructed their first homes from logs. They used clay to coat the walls in order to keep the wind at bay. They thatched the roofs. To brighten the house, they used whitewash on the exterior and interior walls. Many homes consisted of only one room, with the door and the windows facing south. Often there was no chimney. A clay oven was used for cooking and warmth, and a pipe was used to vent the smoke.

A burdei is actually a sort of hybrid of a log cabin and sod house. It is half-dugout, and may have a wooden floor. Many cultures had burdeis. Neolithic burdeis were typically elliptical-shaped, with the roof just slightly above the ground. The Grubenhaus was a type of burdei that was common in the Carpathians and on the Lower Danube in the 6th and 7th centuries.

Burdei House

It was typically built over a pit that was rectangular, and had a floor area of between four and twenty-five square meters. The Russians used the term "Poluzemlianki" to describe a structure that is dug partly into the ground, often at a depth of less than one meter. In Eastern Europe, burdeis were often used as permanent housing.

Mennonite immigrants from Imperial Russia who settled in Kansas built burdeis to serve as temporary shelter. This type of dwelling was also called a zemlyanka, or saraj (which is Low German spelling for the Russian word for "shed"). They were cheap but comfortable, consisting of a simple skeleton roof that was constructed on the ground using little timber.

The skeleton roof was created on the ground, and then was thatched with grass from the prairie. People and livestock alike lived in these structures, separated by a partition made of adobe.


Building a burdei could be time-consuming. First the site needed to be excavated. Then there were tasks like binding sticks on trusses, and cutting and transporting trees. At least two people would be needed to complete the job. A good deal of wood and clay was required, and reeds had to be harvested to cover the structure. The entire operation could take nearly a month, assuming work weeks of between sixty and seventy hours.

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