Even from across the ocean, my mom’s endearing nagging still has an affect on me. So, after getting on my case for the past month, I’ll cave to her demands and catch you all up on what’s been going on here since I’ve basically been MIA.
Here are the top 6 things that happened since my last post:
1) Went on my first day trip out of the city! Kaley, Carolyn, Luke, Devin and I all boarded a bus to Zhytomyr, a fairly big city about 2 hours away in the central part of Ukraine, to escape Kyiv for the day and see somewhere new. Zhytomyr is definitely different than Kyiv: much more “Soviet” – it was like stepping back 20 years in time. We started off the afternoon eating at “The Meat Restaurant,” a swanky little restaurant in the city center decorated kind of like a nightclub in a movie. After our meal (which was pretty tasty), we headed to our first destination: the Korolyov Cosmonaut Museum. Sergei Korolyov was a famous Soviet cosmonaut from Zhytomyr, so not only was there a museum dedicated to him but there was a massive statue of him and you can tour his childhood home! The museum was great – there were space chairs for people to try out, a lot of colored lights, some mirrors and rocket models, what’s not to love?! And there were even two full-sized rockets outside! After the museum we walked around the city and came across a pretty awesome Lenin statue. And by awesome, I mean my Lonely Planet described it as Lenin emerging from a huge chunk of bedrock, basically making it sound like the Lenin version of the new MLK Jr. memorial in DC. Sadly, the description definitely amped up the awesomeness of the statue. The Korolyov statue was much cooler – especially when the two girls playing around it noticed Kaley and I taking pictures and decided to start posing for us. They were great little models! We finished out the day at a local coffee shop and then it was time to catch a bus home. Now, on the way to Zhytomyr, we took a charter bus: all was well and the ride was comfortable and quite safe. The same cannot be said about the ride home: we did not have the luxury of taking a charter bus. Instead…we got to ride home in a GAZelle…aka the scariest vehicle I have ever been. There were probably about 20-30 of us in this tiny van and the driver was INSANE. Imagine 2 hours of driving on the road’s shoulder, about a foot away from the guard rail (when there were guard rails), going super fast with sudden stops to let people on and off while an old black and white Russian movie plays on the van’s TV and you get the idea of how our ride home went. Needless to say, we were all VERY happy to make it home in one piece!
2) Got my first visitor from home! One of my friends from growing up, Sunnie, is currently coaching lacrosse in Cheltenham, England and came to visit me for a few days! We had a ton of fun walking around Kyiv – she got to try Georgian food, saw a ballet and got some great souvenirs – and catching up on what we’ve been doing the last few years. The best part of Sunnie’s visit by far though, was getting to see someone from home in person – definitely helped to keep the homesickness at bay. It was really nice being able to show her the highlights of Kyiv and what Ukraine and Ukrainian people are like. And while showing Sunnie around, I definitely realized how much I’ve come to regard Kyiv as my city. It really is starting to feel like home!
3) Went to my first protest/rally! In November 2004, thousands of Ukrainians gathered on Maidan/Independence Square to protest the presidential elections and thus, the Orange Revolution was born. Basically, the election results were tampered with to declare Viktor Yanokovych the winner instead of Viktor Yushchenko. In the end, the protestors won out, another election was held and Yushchenko won the presidency. 7 years later, on November 22, people still gather for the revolution’s anniversary and Kaley and I headed down to the Maidan to join the crowds. Yanokovych is the current president and, understandably, wasn’t too thrilled people wanted to celebrate the Orange Revolution’s anniversary and, thus, tried to block people’s attempts to do so. In addition to these measures, there were pro-Yanokovych protestors there and LOTS of police officers in full riot gear (highly amusing moment: seeing Ukrainian police officers standing next to and ordering from a donut shop…some things are universal, I guess). Kaley and I heard different people speak about the revolution and lead the group in song. We also saw one very energetic woman dance around and thrust an orange in people’s faces to take a bite from (I took a bite from it!). After a few hours, the Orange Revolution celebratory group had tripled in size and decided to march from Maidan and try to take over Khreschatyk St. – which the police quickly prevented from happening. Overall, it was a very exciting afternoon and I enjoyed my first protest type of event :). To prep for the event the day before, Kaley, Carolyn and I watched a really great documentary about the revolution. Check out the trailer!
4) Celebrated Thanksgiving! The Fulbright office was really sweet and put together a super nice Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday for all of us American pilgrims in Kyiv :). They did a great job at making sure almost all the fixings were there, though I definitely did miss my aunt’s stuffing and my mom’s pumpkin pie. On Thanksgiving, Kaley, Devin, Ruth (another Fulbrighter who just recently got here) and I headed over to Carolyn’s apartment to join her and her friend from home, Zak, for dinner. We had to make-do with a chicken and had more desserts than one dinner party should ever need, but it was a perfect Thanksgiving dinner nonetheless. We had an amazing time together and I even got to Skype with everyone from home for a few minutes! Even though I missed the annual Alexander-Nolte Thanksgiving get together, I had a great time with friends here :).
5) Went to a remembrance march! From 1932 until 1933, millions of Ukrainians died from hunger during what is known as the Holodomor. On November 26, Kaley, me and our friend Maki joined hundreds of other people, if not thousands (I’m really bad at estimating numbers of people!), to walk from Arsenalna metro station to the Holodomor memorial (not too far away) and then stayed for a vigil. The walk and following ceremony were very somber yet very beautiful. We were all given a candle with a ribbon tied around it along with a ribbon to tie around our arm. Each candle ribbon had on it the name of a different child and their age who died during the Holodomor – making the experience that much more personal for me. During the ceremony at the memorial, different religious leaders gathered to lay flowers and wreaths and light candles, different leaders spoke and a choir sang beautiful, somber, hymns. As a third generation Holocaust survivor, a Virginian with lots for friends who were at Virginia Tech during the shootings and an American who clearly remembers 9/11, I have a deep appreciation for remembrance ceremonies such as these. Sometimes, language and cultural barriers don’t matter – even though I couldn’t understand what was being said and sung, I definitely understood the accompanying feelings. So far, this remembrance ceremony tops my list of the most moving and memorable experiences I have had here.
6) Went to my first Ukrainian Orthodox church service! Our Ukrainian friend, Yulia, and her boyfriend, Dima, took a group of us Americans to church at the Lavra this past Saturday. Growing up, all the church services I went to everyone sat in pews/chairs, sang hymns together and heard the pastor give a sermon about various topics that relate to God’s message. The Ukrainian orthodox service Yulia and Dima took us to was very different but extremely fascinating. The inside of the church was beautiful – like all the churches I’ve been to, every inch of the walls were beautifully painted so mixed with the lit candles/low lighting, burning incense and priests in ornate robes, it made the service feel very majestic. At the start of the service, one priest stood in a small area in the center of the room and worshipers and monks approached him one by one, were anointed with small oil crosses on their foreheads, and then kissed his ring before walking away. During and after this portion of the service, other priests and monks read prayers (which sounded almost like chanting and was very pretty) and two choirs sang hymns. At different points during the prayers, worshipers would cross themselves and many bowed. It was all amazing to watch. While inside the church, the women all had to cover their hair (we all wore scarves so that was easy) and everyone stood, the entire time. The service we went to was an hour long – Yulia later told me they are usually two or more hours. I was quite thankful it was a “short” service that day!
Well, that is about it for what has been going on in my life for the past month and a half. I am going to Bykivnia tomorrow morning with Kaley, Carolyn, Maki, and two of our other friends, Aaron and Amy and then Kaley and I are off to the Western Ukrainian city, Lviv, to visit our friend Amanda for a few days! Hopefully, our first train ride is fun and uneventful – I will be sure to post about these upcoming experiences before I head off to Italy with the parentals for 10 crazy days!
Also, I’ve finally updated my photo site as well as this blog, so be sure to check those out as well!! Here’s the link: http://toukraineandbackthepictures.shutterfly.com/. Enjoy!!