Last call!: Kiev

Good morning, Kiev, and thanks Sasha’s mom for packing us a nice breakfast to eat on the train!

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We actually spent a day and a half in Kiev, but I’m going to combine it into one massive post with just the highlights.

Sasha, using his amazing travel knowledge and connections, got us an awesome room at the Radisson for a great price. We got off the train, made our way through the city, and dropped off our stuff at the hotel. The metros in Kiev are crazy. It takes a few minutes to take the escalators down far enough into the ground to get on the subway! We were so deep in the ground. They are also incredibly crowded. I think a new train arrived at the metro near the train station every two minutes, but every single train was completely packed. Nuts!

We walked around and visited some of Kiev’s major sites, including the “golden gate”—the medieval gate into Kiev. Some of these bricks are more than 1,000 years old!

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We had to visit the German embassy of course!

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And its requisite piece of the Berlin wall…

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We went down to the major shopping district in Ukraine. They have a huge pedestrian zone, but the set-up is interesting. In Germany, the huge pedestrian zones are at the expense of streets for cars, but here, they built the zone next to the street! Nice move! However, it seems like people just park wherever they want to around here… it cracks me up! We would stroll down this street later at night on our way to dinner, and I would almost be robbed by a gypsy. Yikes. I guess Cher and my bank were right. Dangerous!

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We walked up another hill to get a view of another city ;-). Actually, it was beautiful, and I saw people running. We saw two groups of people running this morning, but the first pair were English-speakers (freaks!). This guy might have actually been Ukrainian though! Yes!!

The view was gorgeous, and Sasha and I spent a lot of time soaking it up and a lot of time talking. When you only have a few days to catch up and connect with one of your best friends in the world (literally!), it’s important to squeeze in all the chatter possible.

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I am going to combine some of the other sites we saw that day because a lot of them centered on the same horrible event in Ukraine’s history. In 1932-33, there was a forced starvation that killed 7 million Ukrainians. I have known this all my life because my father is a history buff who rails aloud about this issue, constantly wondering how people can name their kids Joseph when Adolph is so forbidden, considering some of the awful things Stalin did and how many people he killed. For so many of us, however, this is “hidden history.” I tried to explain the history I learned to Sasha. I focused on American history in college, and I had amazing professors who asked us to examine events in depth, but as someone more interested in 19th Century history, I never took the opportunity to learn about other parts of the world. I also think that history overall in American elementary and high schools is weak. I learned about the American revolution about six times. I know the name of the black man killed during the Boston Massacre (Crispus Attics—I might have spelled it wrong). I learned about Lexington and Concord over and over and over. We talked about the Civil War quite a bit as well, but it seemed like every history class would gloss over WWI (we won!) and end with WWII (we won again!!). Anything that happened post-WWII was crammed into a quick week of review before exams and anything about America not winning or ignoring suffering seemed to be forgotten. I know so many people who think Germans are still Nazis because their history lessons never pushed them into the Cold War and asked them to examine Europe in depth.

From my personal opinion, I think learning modern history is infinitely more important than ancient history. The students where I used to work learn about the European Renaissance and Napoleonic wars, and while I see the value in these lessons, they don’t help us to understand one another. We Americans need to get beyond our superficial knowledge of Europe through the lens of WWII and learn what happened since. My trip through the former USSR has taught me so much about all the evil that was allowed to persist during this time. (And you, former students, if you are reading this, go petition your history teachers to let you do your junior research paper on a post-WWII topic! It’s fascinating.)

A few events came tragically together during the years 1932-33. There was a drought in Russia, and people living in the mother country were starving.  The movement for independence and autonomy was strong in Ukraine. The Soviets needed to feed the Russians, squelch the uprising, and make sure that all the other Soviet countries learned the consequences of attempting to separate from the union. The soviets stole food from the Ukrainians. Seven million people died.

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In one museum, they have books full of the victims’ names. A voice reads these names aloud. They only have 800,000 names. The others are buried in secret files somewhere as Russia has never admitted to culpability. The current Ukrainian government, a big supporter of Russia, is also attempting to suppress the facts. The alternate story is that the Ukrainian rich stole from the poor and Russia had to interfere in order to maintain their Communist ideals of equality.

Behind the museum, different stones indicate the regions that were affected.

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and every single town that was affected in that region.

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What an incredible tragedy.

Sasha was pretty shaken up by this museum, so we had a quiet remainder of the afternoon. We went to see a huge monastery and church site. Again, many of these churches were made into warehouses during the Communist regime, so it’s amazing that they have been restored to their former glory. We went down into the catacombs and saw the graves of monks who had died in the 10th Century. Their coffins were so small! People were, of course, smaller then, but many of these monks also spent their entire lives underground to mimic the suffering of Jesus, and I think that would stunt their growth as well.

I had to borrow a head covering to enter the sacred areas:

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I was trying to look tough and Soviet.

It was interesting that all of the cars being driven through this closed-off area were luxury cars. We almost got run over by a Lexus. I don’t know who owns these cars, but it seemed kind of suspicious. Sasha also told me that these churches are currently trying to force the closing of a local hospital that serves people with AIDS. Apparently, if you have AIDS, you deserve it. Thanks church, I’m sure that’s exactly what Jesus would have said, too…

I don’t mean to be disrespectful of people’s religions, but really.

On a lighter note, we went back to a cafeteria! YES!!

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The drink is a special Ukrainian drink made after drying fruit. It has a really smoky flavor. I had some stewed veggies, hot and hour soup, and some mushroom “crepes.” And bread. Love the bread.

We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging and then met up with a friend of Sasha’s for a light dinner and drinks (and near-robbing by gypsies). Sasha meets all kind of people through gay websites. It reminds me of 101 Dalmations when they have that barking chain to tell people the puppies are missing—what is that chain called? I want my own straight version of it so I automatically have friends wherever I go!

The next morning, we awoke in luxury to eat breakfast in luxury. I hopped down to the gym for a quick workout and met up with Sasha for this:

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Sasha’s Berliner (jelly donut) didn’t have enough jelly, so he added his own. How can you not love someone who does that?

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We spent the morning walking around, and I bought some presents for the Cold War-obsessed person in my life. I’ll show you some highlights of our day:

One of the Ukrainian ministries still has the hammer and sickle displayed!

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Soviet ice cream brings back memories.

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THIS IS JUST A PICTURE FOR EDUCATIONAL SAKE. NO ONE WAS USING THE BATHROOM AT THE TIME. Sasha was surprised (shocked!) that these bathrooms still exist in Ukraine.

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Practice your pronunciation—can you figure out which cyrillic letter makes which sound? (And if I taught you English, you better figure out the first one)

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I practiced my writing so I could send Sasha’s mom a thank you when I got home.

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My favorite letter is “small building,” which is the first letter on the second line. Mine isn’t very good. It makes the “D” sound. When we were learning about immigration during our Masters program, the professor told us that often they would make immigrants take writing tests when they entered, to keep out of the undesirables from Russia… I told my friends that if Russia imposed such a test, I would have no problems, and I proceeded to write my two favorite Cyrillic letters: “backwards R” and “small building.” Hey everyone-that’s a word! It means poison! I guess I wouldn’t be getting into Russia after all…

All-too-soon, it was time to say goodbye. 😦 One picture shows my control freak nature, the other shows my best-friendship.

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I miss you, Sasha!


About Heather

I'm a literature-loving adventurer.
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