I had a very uncomfortable sleep on the train and we made it to Lviv! However I don’t think I can complain… occasionally our train would pass older, obsolete train carts which I can only assume are from the Soviet era. Before we left, my mom described her visit to Ukraine in the 1970s. And when she took the train, there were no “first class” options, only bleak wooden seats…..
So I was grateful for the fall of the Soviet Union in this regard so at least I could be somewhat comfortable 😜
We arrived at our Lviv apartment which is great, except the elevator door feels like it is always trying to eat you. It shuts as soon as you press the button, and I have slammed it on Patrick about a dozen times already…
It feels like there is even fewer English speakers here than there are in Kyiv. The woman who set us up at our apartment was sent from Booking.com. Her name is Irina and she speaks no English whatsoever. However I didn’t find it as difficult to communicate with her as I did with some people in Kyiv. Perhaps because people here speak more of the Ukrainian that I am used to. Patrick and Matt are terrified to lose me… they would be so screwed. Patrick would walk around saying “Христос Раждаєцья,” (Ukrainian for Christ is born!) and Matt would only say “Borscht?” Which might not be the worst thing…. Regardless, I imagine it would be difficult to travel in Ukraine without knowing the language. Even in Asia, I felt it was much easier for an English speaker than it is here!
We are growing accustomed to the Eastern European apartment life. In our building there is this bizarre “key” thing which is meant to open this bizarre metal “door/gate” thing that divides our apartment and a few other apartments from the rest of the stairwell. You have to stab it into this key hole and turn it to the right. But it is pretty much impossible to stab it into the hole. It is truly a terrible system.
We could not for the life of us figure it out when we first arrived, and the metal door was clanging like crazy and this old Baba came out and was yelling at Patrick and tried to show him how to use it and Patrick had no idea what she was saying and then she stormed away.
It was a pretty great moment. But it is not a great door.
The differences between Lviv and Kyiv are immediately apparent in the architecture. Kyiv experienced a lot more physical destruction during WWII than Lviv, so it needed to be rebuilt. Consequently a lot more of the buildings’ architectures reflect the utilitarian, severe Soviet quality. Whereas Lviv has maintained more of its central European aesthetics.
Lviv is an absolutely stunning city with an old world charm. Ukraine’s borders have shifted several time in its existence. For example, my maternal grandfather identifies as Ukrainian, but he is from the Lemko region which is now geographically in Poland. Lviv was once a city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Which is why the architecture is more “European.” Walking around feels like you could be in Prague or Vienna.
My second cousin, Halyna Makuch, and her daughter, Sofia Luchak Makuch, came to Lviv from the town of Kalush for the weekend to meet with me! And it was truly wonderful to reconnect with them.
The last time I saw them was when we were in Ukraine in 2006. I was 17 at the time and Sofia was only 4. I remember she was this tiny, intensely bright eyed, precocious child! Now she is almost the age I was when I first met her. Now, she is a smart, sweet, articulate, and all around beautiful young lady… but still has that same intense brightness in her eyes.
Halyna and Sofia took me for a drink at a bar under the beautiful Lviv Opera House. Lviv is filled with very cool, trendy bars and restaurants! This one was converted from the canals that were built under the opera house. The foundation has began to sink, and so the restaurant was designed around that and is a bit tilted.
We caught up and once again, there was a sort of familiarity amongst family. It was very special to see how important it is for my family to meet with me — I mean, they travelled to Lviv to come and see me. In Canada, getting together with relatives has always been very important to our entire family. My dad has always maintained that at the end of the day, family will always be there for you. Family is all you have.
I imagine that is particularly the case with our family because of our grandparents immigration from Ukraine. When they arrived as displaced people, they didn’t know the language or the culture. They had no money. They literally just had each other. My paternal Baba immigrated with her two sisters and brother, lived in a 1 bedroom home with all of them, their husbands, and their subsequent children. So it makes sense why family would be very important.
My maternal grandmother arrived in essentially the same circumstances, except without family. She was alone, and had only the community of other Ukrainian immigrants as a support network. She would have lived knowing she would likely never return to her homeland and see her family ever again.
So perhaps these are the experiences that have shaped our culture, and probably all cultures, that hold family and their communities so closely.
As for our Ukraine family, I imagine it was the same for them when their brothers and sisters were taken from them. My family that I met the other day in Kyiv described how my Baba and her brother were stolen from their village and taken on trains to Germany to work essentially as slaves. They were separated, and when the war ended, there would be no way for them to find each other. It was easier for her brother to return to Ukraine, but my Baba had made the choice to move to Canada.
None of them truly chose to leave their families. What would it be like: the fear of not knowing where your family has gone, if they were alive. How would you even go about finding them again?
So I imagine that my Ukrainian family has also been shaped by these experiences. But rather than experiencing the pains of leaving your home land, it was the pains of losing those closest to you who were forced to leave their homes, and their families.
With Halyna and Sofiya, we chatted for a couple of hours, catching up on life — which we were hilariously up to date on because of Facebook! But I did learn that Sofia is interested in becoming a director, particularly a film director! It seems the artistic streak spans across the ocean in our family. 🙂
Today, we met with Halyna and Sofia once again (along with Matt and Patrick who didn’t join us the day before, since they were both not feeling well). Halyna and Sofia were incredibly generous hosts, and took us on an amazing whirlwind tour of Lviv! We haven’t really had a chance to play “tourist” yet on this trip since we have come here with an agenda. However, today proved to be super fun and rejuvenating… and a bit of a break from the emotionally heavy experiences we have been seeking out.
Halyna is a grade school history teacher in Kalush, and she made for an excellent tour guide…. and teacher! She had an agenda and we shot through the old Lviv centre with great efficiency. I learned a lot on our tour! It was a really nice way to catch up and immerse ourselves in the wealth of culture and history this city has to offer.
We started our day with some delicious strudel. We then checked out a plethora of churches, including the Dominion Church which, under the soviets, was a museum of atheism. But has since been reinstated as a Catholic Church. We also saw the beautiful Armenian Church. She took us to a couple of stores where we could buy both modern and traditional vyshyvany — Ukrainian embroidered blouses, as well as to the market at Rybok Square.
There are sooooo many chocolate shops in Lviv — we went to an actual chocolate factory which smelled DELICIOUS, and made some important purchases. We also climbed the bell tower at city hall which had spectacular views of the city!! Totally worth the hundreds…. and hundreds…. of stairs !
We ended our day at a very cool ( or should I say… «крут,» the Ukrainian word for cool which Sofia taught me. Which just might be my new favorite Ukrainian word!) restaurant called Криївка — Kryivka. Kryyivkas (underground bunkers) were used by soldiers enlisted in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) of the mid-20th century. And this restaurant has recreated a Kryivka in its design.
There is a long line to get in. When you enter, the host that greets you is in a military uniform and takes you into a side room. You have to say the password which is Слава Українi. Героям слава. Which means “Glory to Ukraine. Glory to its heroes.”
You then get a shot and are sent down a wooden staircase to the bunker like rooms which are the dining areas. They’re decorated with antique UPA items. The menu is designed like an antique newspaper, and periodically throughout dinner, singers come and sing Ukrainian folk songs at your request, or a small skit happens. The courtyard out back has a few antique machinery items like an anti air gun (I think!), and a motorcycle.
After dinner, Halya and Sofia had to leave to get their bus back to Kalush. We said our goodbyes, which were filled with so much love that I may or may not teared up… Which feels so crazy for someone you have really only met twice. But I don’t know… there is that familial connection that is so familiar. Today was a very special day and I am so grateful for the opportunity to spend with family two continents apart.
Tomorrow! We are renting a car and driving to my paternal grandfather’s village near the polish border. Hopefully the roads aren’t as bad as everyone says…….. wish us luck!