A burdei, or bordei (Ukrainian: бордей, Romanian: bordei) is a type of half-dugout shelter, somewhat between a sod house and a log cabin. This style is native to the Carpathian Mountains and forest steppes of eastern Europe.

Saraj in Gnadenau, Kansas

Mennonite burdeis in the village of Gnadenau, Kansas, USA, 1875

Eastern EuropeEdit

In countries like Romania, the burdei was built to constitute a permanent housing place and could accommodate a whole family. Thus, a Romanian burdei could have multiple rooms, typically a fire-room where the stove was installed, a cellar, and a living room.[1]

North AmericaEdit

This type of shelter was created by many of the earliest Ukrainian Canadian settlers as their first home in Canada at the end of the 19th century. The first step was to peel back and save the sod, then excavate the earth to a depth of approximately a metre. A poplar roof frame was then created, over which the saved sod would be laid. Then a window, a door, a wood stove, and a bed platform would be installed. A typical burdei measured no more than 2 x 4 metres. The burdei was a temporary refuge until a "proper" home of poplar logs and mud/straw plaster could be built.[2]

Mennonites from Imperial Russia settled in the Hillsboro region of Kansas, and also built burdeis as temporary shelter. This type of shelter was also called a "zemlyanka or a "saraj" (a Low German spelling for a Russian word meaning "shed").[3] The March 20, 1875 issue of the national weekly newspaper, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper described the structures thus: the quaint brand-new village of Gnadenau, where there are some twenty small farmers, who have built the queerest and most comfortable cheap houses ever seen in the West, and with the least amount of timber, being merely a skeleton roof built on the ground and thatched with prairie-grass. They serve for man and beast, being divided on the inside by a partition of adobe.


  1. Castranova Village Museum (in Romanian).
  2. Lehr, John C., "Ukrainians in Western Canada" in To Build New Land (Baltimor and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1992) pp 309–330.
  3. "A Short History of the Mennonite Immigration to Kansas" at the Hillsboro museum web site

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