Monday, March 17, 2008

Mostly about Kyiv, summer 2006

I didn't finish telling you about Ukraine, you know. But I'm going to start at the beginning this time.

I can't remember when it was that we started hearing that there would be another trip to Ukraine, but I knew I wanted to go. So when I was asked if I wanted to go, I admit, the decision wasn't very hard to make. I prayed about it, sure, but it was one of those situations where you pray about it already hoping he doesn't say No. I'm not sure that that's a good thing, but I don't know.

We flew out of Dulles to Frankfurt, where we had coffee. I had never had coffee before, this was dark German stuff, and I didn't particularly like it. But we needed the caffeine to keep us going. We then flew from Frankfurt to Kyiv, where we were picked up at the Airport by Randy, a Baptist missionary, and Valentin, one of the MCF (Military Christian Fellowship) guys. Valentin is Vasiliy's assistant, and Vasiliy is the president of the MCF or something. They took us all to Vasiliy's apartment, I think, where Vera and Tanya, Vasiliy's secretaries, fed us. Oooh that was good food. There was borshch, and some sort of dish made from cabbage. Before Ukraine, I didn't like cabbage, but that food changed my mind completely. Then Kendyl and Nicole went off to Randy and Helen's house, Helen being Randy's wife, where they would be sleeping. Dick and Linda either slept on Vasiliy's bed, or on some sort of guest bed, and Paul, Adam and I had the floor of the living room, or whatever you call the room with lots of books, a sofa and chairs, and the television. I didn't bring any kind of ground-pad or air-mattress, so it was just my very thin sleeping bag between me and the hardwood floor, but I found that I am quite capable of sleeping like that, even if I do ache in the morning. This was particularly good news, given how I'd sleep in Crimea.

We mostly just walked around Kyiv for the next day or two. I'm pretty sure we did some tourism that first day also, come to think of it. We saw Independence Square, where the Orange Revolution took place, which was pretty cool to get to see. Unsurprisingly, there were political speeches being made, trying to convince people to vote for this candidate or another. We saw St. Andrew's Church, which, to be quite honest, is pretty ugly and not worth the effort that it takes to get all the way up the hill. We saw a very, very old church building, which may or not be a reconstruction, and was a lot better looking than St. Andrew's. Unfortunately, I don't think we went inside either of those. At some point, it all begins to run together with what we did after camp, so I might as well tell you about that too.

After camp, we returned to Kyiv, and at some point were given a tour of the Lavra, a very old and very large monastery and cathedral. Some of the art in this place was incredible, like the things we saw in Lviv, which I haven't talked about yet. Apparently the Lavra, or at least parts of it, were torn down by the Soviets, but it's all been rebuilt in the short amount of time since then. Once you get inside, every wall and ceiling is painted, great big paintings of God, Angels, Apostles, Saints, etc. When I was in Sofia, Bulgaria, back in 2004, in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, I was impressed, but on this trip to Ukraine I really got to see a lot of this amazing art hidden within Orthodox churches. I will talk a lot more about this later, I assure you.

Now, Vasiliy's house is not in the center of the city. It's farther out, but Kyiv has a very useful metro system, so every day that we were just wandering around Kyiv, we'd get on at the Poziaky station, on the Green Line, and head into the city. You buy little tokens at a booth, a job always handled by Dick or one of the Ukrainians, and that token admits you to the Metro, one flat rate for no matter how far you're riding. You then put the token into a little turnstile, which is always open, but will snap shut on you if you try and go through without putting a token in. In rush hour, this part was pretty awful, with masses of people all packing through these little gates. That's where Dick got his wallet stolen. Then, at least at all the underground stations, you get on an escalator and descend. Some of these stations are incredibly deep, deeper than the stop near the Zoo on the DC Metro, so the escalator ride can take a very long time, passing by plenty of advertisements as you go. The train cars are blue, and don't necessarily stay in the station very long, but we never lost anyone, though I did have to push Kendyl in once, as she hesitated seeing how packed the car was. I should mention now that while in the metro system, and really you should stick by this rule as much as possible in Kyiv, you don't smile. Just don't do it. You probably look like an American, or at least a foreigner, already, and smiling is only going to make it worse. Stand still on the metro, don't really look at anyone, and make sure you look disinterested and stern at all times. This is a difficult feat, but I got pretty good at it. You just have to think about people dying. Paul was okay at it, but he would laugh when he looked at Adam. Adam was good at it, but Dick said that he still didn't look right, because his eyes "danced." Kendyl and Nicole were pretty bad at this, and kept giggling. I am pretty sure Dick and Linda were pros at it, certainly Dick. I never checked.

I often found myself taking the rear-guard position for these metro journeys, with Dick leading of course. I've never decided if this is because I knew that it needed to be done, or because it eased my nerves knowing that I could be sure that no one was getting lost behind me. Probably a little bit of both.

We ate at a restaurant called "Puzata Hata", which means "Fat House", several times. It's one of those places that is half way between fast-food and slow-food, and it advertises itself as being traditional Ukrainian food. Their borshch wasn't very good, but the rest was fine. McDonald's happened once, of course, because it was convenient, and there were a few other places we ate at that I've forgotten the names of.

There was one Sunday that we were in Kyiv, and we visited an English-speaking church in the city, that met in some other church's sanctuary when it wasn't being used. It was tiny, and pretty boring, I thought. But it gave foreigners of all kinds a place where they could worship in some sort of common language, so it's good that it exists. The church we visited in Sevastopol seemed a lot more alive, but I couldn't understand a word they said.

Leaving Kyiv to come back to Maryland was quite the trick. We had to be at the airport at 4am or 5am or some equally awful hour. But it was okay, because there was Randy with his van, despite the hour, and there was Valentin to help us, I think, but maybe not because his wife had just given birth, and we all got out the door just fine. Without their help, we couldn't have gotten anywhere, ever, I suspect. Valentin, in particular, would help us carry bags wherever we went, helped us get to the pharmacy to buy some sudafed, drove us here and there a few times, and more. We were very thankful for him.

On the way back from Ukraine, we had a long layover in Munich, which I'll talk about some other time. Eventually we got back to Dulles though, and then I slept a lot.

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