7 hours to Amsterdam and 2.5 hours to Kyiv, and we have arrived!
We were greeted by a driver, Yuri, who was sent to bring us to our apartment downtown. He was a very good introduction to Kyiv as he spoke no English, and primarily Russian. But was a very nice man — and an even more impressive driver — navigating between cars in the busy city centre within inches… or turning off the engine to coast down a hill when we were stopped in traffic. Very tricky.
The Ukrainian I speak is the Ukrainian that our grandparents brought over to Canada following WWII. Which is, as I understand it, almost it’s own odd dialect in comparison to Ukrainian today. Even more so, in Kyiv, most people’s default language is Russian. Some people will speak Ukrainian, and it will be more common in the West, but in Kyiv I definitely stick out a bit. People are interested to know how I learned Ukrainian, and seem to appreciate my communication efforts. I tell them I learned from my grandparent’s, and then proceed to ask where in Ukraine they are from, when they moved to Canada, etc. But a lot of people will switch over to English when they hear me struggling. Which I think people are OK with because they get to practice their English. And I get to practice my Ukrainian. So win-win!
Regardless, it was nice talking to Yuri as I could really flex my “mova,” (language) muscles. Patrick and Matt speak absolutely no Ukrainian, so right now I am translator, guide, and overall liaison to the Eastern European ways for these two Canadian boys. Matt has travelled all over Europe, but this is actually Patrick’s first time on the continent. So he has a very unique perspective! The friendly Canadian mannerisms definitely stand out here, which friendly Patrick is beginning to notice.
After a power nap, followed by a quick clean up, we headed out for dinner at one of TripAdvisor’s most highly rated Kyiv restaurants — which happens to be down the street from our apartment, Spotykach. It is a modern, quirky approach to traditional Ukrainian aesthetic and comfort food. While I think on the upper end of typical restaurant prices, it was definitely still very reasonable — after 3 courses, wine, beer, and 9 flavoured vodka shots (we will get to this later….), we walked away with a combined 1700UAH bill, about $80CDN for the 3 of us. Not that we intend to indulge this way everynight BUT we were celebrating our first day on this grand adventure!
The waiter suggested we get the bread, which was served with three pate-like butter spreads — one salmon, one egg, and one herring. With lots of garlic, of course. Matt and I had the borscht (top-notch), Patrick got the blue and yellow varenyky, coloured for the Ukrainian flag. The blue varenyky were sweet cheese (so good), and the yellow were potato (also so good). By this time we were full, but Matt had garlic sausage coming, I had regular perogies, and Patrick had an entire trout. Needless to say, we were very full by the end of it all. And I am not exaggerating when I say that I still have the taste of garlic in my mouth.
Matt felt it was wrong not to do a shot of horilka (vodka) on our first outing in Ukraine, but the waiter suggested we try their “home style vodka,” which was infused with various syrups made in-house including currant & mint, strawberry, melon, and my favourite — beet bitters.
Patrick does this hilarious and very endearing thing, which I first noticed when we went to Asia last year. When he is trying to communicate in another language that he doesn’t speak, he uses this weird, generalized, non-accent. Which only becomes more regular after more alcohol is consumed… especially when he orders one of each flavour for the table.
Pre-homestyle horilka, we were all feeling a little sleepy. Post-homestyle horilka, we were ready to go on a short walk to Maidan Nezalezhnosti — Independence Square — which housed the 2013-14 Euromaidan riots in Kyiv, when the people took to the streets in what began as a peaceful protest, demanding closer ties to the EU. The riots ended in violence, and the remnants of the conflict occurring currently in Eastern Ukraine.
It was a surprisingly powerful experience returning to to the square after Euromaidan. To see it rebuilt, knowing the violence and destruction that had occurred there. Small diy memorials have been set up — which seem appropriate given the diy nature of the riots. A particularly powerful memorial was just a simple picture of Serihiy Kemsky — who was shot dead by two sniper bullets during the riots, and has become a sort of martyr like figure for democracy in Ukraine. Beside the image is a helmet, some bricks, and what I assume was the shield he used — a makeshift piece of plywood with some brackets fasted to it.
Across the street is the infamous Independence Monument, the angel which hovers above Maidan. Which now feels like a sort of mausoleum for those who have died for Ukrainian democracy. Images of soldiers have been taped to the walls. But there was one man who seemed to dominate a good portion of one side of the wall. There was a young woman taking in the photos, and who brought one of her own to put up. I chatted with her a bit — her name is Slavka. She was surprised I didn’t know who the man was, and explained to me that he was Andrij Kuzmenko, a well-known Ukrainian rock star who was critical of the corrupt Ukrainian government and supportive of the people of Euromaidan. He died in a car crash in 2015, but has remained a symbol of what occurred on Maidan.
We ended our night going to a bar which did not list their drink in the English alphabet, so I helped translate for the boys. Somehow, we kept accidentally ordering Жек Денєлз (Djek Denielz… if you know what I mean) and Геннес (Hennes…. which turned out to be Guiness!). Luckily I don’t drink whiskey so the effects were spared on me. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for the boys currently whimpering in their beds this morning…
We came to Ukraine to glean the perspectives and experiences of individuals stories and experiences as a result of the conflict occurring in Eastern Ukraine. I know it has only been a day, but it has been very interesting to land in Ukraine’s biggest city and see people going about their regular lives. Life is continuing, but every now and again you see something small that will remind you that something more is going on — like a poster of a civilian gone missing or someone walking down the street in military uniform. We haven’t yet talked to anyone directly about their thoughts or experiences. So if we didn’t know any better, you could almost get away with not realizing there is conflict occurring half a country away.
I came to Ukraine for the first time in 2006 on a family trip. It is no surprise that after more than a decade, Ukraine is a very different country. And I am looking forward to seeing the country as an adult, and under the context in which we are here travelling. Before I left I picked three angel cards (because I am like that).
I received Education, Courage, and Gratitude. Which feels like the right values to bring on this trip.
OK I have to go get these boys out of bed now! Stay tuned!