For the sake of inclusion, I figured I’d also write about our final days. Technically, these were before our trip to Ukraine, but since we swung through Moscow on our way to India, it still feels like we wrapped up our time in Russia later.
Before we knew it, our time in Moscow was drawing to a close. Summers bring a large assortment of characters through the revolving doors of Moscow, so part of me feels like the whole summer is spent saying goodbye — even if you’ve only just arrived, but by late July, the goodbyes started to feel like our own.
I also organized a final going away dinner, in our case, at a hole-in-the-wall Tajik restaurant near Kievskaya metro, called Skazochniy Dvor. Because what perfect way to celebrate the end of your time in Moscow and your anticipated continuing research in Tajikistan than with Tajik food! No alcohol is served at this particular restaurant, so we improvised a toast with Tarkhun, a tarragon soda that is oh! so artificially flavored and colored, but which is still nevertheless strangely enjoyable.
I was really happy that Maki was around to join me for most of the summer, because he was also able to tag along on all the adventures that I wanted to catch up on. I’ve already written about our trip to Sergiev Posad, of course, but another thing I had been dying to do was visit this rooftop bar that had been the site of a going away party for someone I didn’t know. I was pretty tired that night, so I declined the invitation, but the pictures! Oh, the pictures!
Cocktails were pretty pricey — nearly $15. Our bill came to nearly 1000 rubles between the two of us. I was delighted, however, that the cocktails themselves were fantastic. And the views made them all the more worth it.
And the views, oh the views!
By the end, I started playing around with long exposures, and Maki was patient and humored me.
This one came out the best: Read more…
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
We also gorged ourselves on more traditional Ukrainian foods, Read more…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, there was no shortage of blame.
More often than not, however, signs called for unity and a brighter future.
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.
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.
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.