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All Quiet on this Eastern Front

12 September 2014

A week’s journey around Kyiv and the quiet parts of Eastern Ukraine, with stops in Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, and Kharkiv. Warning: lots of pictures this time.

The Sich at Zaporizhia.

The Sich at Zaporizhia.

Returning to Ukraine for a week after two months in Moscow feels, on so many levels, a return to normal. In no small part for this reason: coffee and alcohol are actually affordable. I feel like the time I spend in vacation in Ukraine is invariable spent cafe hopping. From morning to about 5, it’s all about the coffee, and from about 3 onwards, all about the beer. This time was no exception.

Coffee, all over Kyiv. Sometimes fancy, sometimes from a snail truck.

Coffee, all over Kyiv. Sometimes fancy, sometimes from a snail truck. Seriously, that snail truck makes totally reputable coffee. What you can buy for less than $1.50 in Ukraine from a truck is almost always far better than what you’ll pay $6 or $7 for in Moscow, if you’re lucky and find a place somewhat reasonable.

This time, the affordability of everything in Ukraine rose dramatically, thanks to the fact that the currency is, while not in a complete free fall, dropping pretty regularly. The currency has lost more than 50% of its value against the dollar since we lived there last summer, rendering everything very inexpensive. Especially after the sticker shock of Moscow. Anyway, we started off in Kyiv.

Maki near some of the painted barricades. To the right, I meet a Cossack!

Maki near some of the painted barricades. To the right, I meet a Cossack!

Aside from a day wandering around the Maidan, Kyiv provided a lovely chance to meet up with friends, enjoy absolutely amazing food, and drink coffee like it was my literal job. Our first night there, we met up with Orysia for dinner at La Veranda, a restaurant recently relocated from Odessa. The fanciest food I’d had in a long while, if a touch too chemistry-inclined.

We even split a bottle of wine!

We even split a bottle of wine!

We had a fabulous lunch, too, at Milk Bar, which included some of the best ice cream I have ever had. Plus other good food. This place had a really amazing dessert counter. Plus, Maki also had a great salad. So much to rave about.Starred Photos71

We also gorged ourselves on more traditional Ukrainian foods, Read more…

Kyiv, One Year On

10 September 2014

A return to Kyiv after an eventful year away. Please note: I claim to be no expert. Since central Kyiv has changed a lot in the last month, I’ll also note, all photos were taken in early August 2014.

Candles along the Maidan, August 2014.

Candles along the Maidan, August 2014.

A lot happens in a year. When I think of the last year in my own life — between teaching, exams, and grant-writing, and wedding planning (and execution) on the other — so much has changed in just a short time. The same, of course, has proven true in world events, and nowhere more so than in Ukraine. The week before we set off for a month of traveling in India, Maki and I spent a week traveling in Kyiv and Eastern Ukraine, eager to see and take stock of what we would find. Now, more than a month later, I still contemplate all that we saw and did.

Maidan leftovers, August 2014.

Maidan leftovers, August 2014

Last year, I left Kyiv on August 22. The city I left behind had grown ever more familiar in the four weeks I lived there, in a wonderfully appointed apartment just off Independence Square, the “Maidan.” For almost a month, I called central Kyiv home. I returned home from the archives each day past the statues and flags that dotted the horizon, and I took pleasure in the daily absurdities of enormous Sponge-Bobs and Mickey Mice that regularly added to the hustle and bustle of living in tourist-central. As everyone knows, that very square — literally a block and a half from where I once lived — became the epicenter of the protests that began in late 2013. With a mixture of hope and concern, we watched events unfold over the last year, and with heavy hearts, we ponder what the next months will bring. With knowledge of all that had unfolded in the last year, Maki and I returned to Kyiv in early August, eager to see what we might find.

Founders-turned-patriots.

Founders-turned-patriots. Compare to my post from last year.

I think the overwhelming sense that I had from our return to Kyiv was the extent to which everything seemed simultaneously completely different yet somehow life continues as usual. This proved true in Kyiv, less so as we headed further east (and definitely much less so as we chatted with fellow passengers on our train back to Moscow at the end of the week, some of whom were fleeing violence and chaos in and around Donetsk). Perhaps the best illustration of this was the Billa grocery store, located in an underground mall below the Maidan itself. Walking from the seeming chaos of the Maidan, which was, as of a month ago, still a tent city of protesters and activists, many of whom had nowhere to go, into the quiet mall was, frankly, shocking. As we entered, the world seemed wholly unchanged and unaffected by the world outside. In the grocery store and mall, it was business as usual — as it apparently they did basically all of the last year — despite all the changes that took place on the street. Even on the street, as you walked further away from the Maidan, many streets had clearly returned to business-as-usual, with countless markers and ribbons serving as solemn reminders of all that had been.

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These memorials were really everywhere — perhaps the biggest reminder of the countless tragedies and unnecessary death that had taken place over a long period of time.

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At each site of death and violence, candles and flowers commemorated the dead, and photos, letters, and mementos were left in tribute to those who had died.

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Of course, there was no shortage of blame.

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The three most prominent signs from the right: “Kolomia is Europe,” “Stop fascism in Russia,” “Hitler-Stalin-Putin.”

More often than not, however, signs called for unity and a brighter future.

Ukraine

Maki has always held that Ukrainians excelled at mourning the dead. We found ample proof of this statement. Yet I also think we found plenty of suggestions that Ukrainians also continue to maintain hope against all odds, that they continue to look to the future, hope for the best, and work hard and sacrifice much to get there.

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At the same time, I think I’d be lying if I said things didn’t look bleak. On one level, much depends on Ukraine’s ability to be unified, but even from the week we spent traveling, all the rifts in society are painfully evident. I don’t just mean between the East and the West, or between pro-Kyiv and pro-Russia, or between Ukrainian and Russian speakers. Alongside these major differences, it is also apparent that the crisis has been experienced by people in different ways, particularly when you consider just how life for many goes unchanged. A fact that is highly resented in regions where everyday life has been completely altered and changed by the crisis.

Kyiv graffiti.

Kyiv graffiti.

But on another level, it is also increasingly obvious that things are quickly spiraling beyond what can be realistically managed by a poor and struggling government. And thus, the fate of Ukraine is being slowly determined not by the Ukrainian state and people, but by the decisions, actions, and inaction of others. In the month since we left, the Maidan has been cleared as the Kyiv government tries to return the city to a normal that may take years to achieve. Meanwhile, we’re left with little to do but wait and see, hoping for the best while preparing, mentally, for the worst.

 

 

DEL-DYU

10 September 2014
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September 5: Goodbye, India! Hello, Tajikistan.

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The end of the road. And the start of another.

Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi

10 September 2014
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September 4: Delhi.

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We spent most of the day tackling visa hurdles, but the late afternoon, between Humayun’s glorious tomb and a night of qawwali at the Nizamuddin shrine, we made the most of our last hours of sightseeing.

The Taj Mahal, Agra

3 September 2014
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September 3: Agra.

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Every bit as stunning as expected. And more.

Central Asian Bureaucracy in India

2 September 2014
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September 2: New Delhi.

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Fingers crossed that both Maki and I fly to Dushanbe on Friday…

St. Thomas Mount, Chennai

2 September 2014
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September 1: Chennai.

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So big! Also, this girl’s parents INSISTED that I take a photo of her. She was NOT interested.

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And now back in Delhi, preparing for the next adventures!

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