My pilgrimage to the motherland – Part 2

By tamara on
image of tamara in an old soviet uniform

Day 4, April 13

Life in Lutsk

I spent the day in Lutsk and watched how everyday life unfolds.  I am trying to get a sense of what it would be like to live here.  I came to Ukraine with a notion that was built on a post-World War II framework and my ideas of what Ukraine is really like were wrong.  What I see is a new era Ukraine.  There isn’t anything that you cannot get here  anymore – it just takes money.

My friends own their own businesses, which taught them how to navigate the system.  They seem to do very well for themselves and are well asserted within the local community and its political scheme.   Oleh is a very successful landscape architect.  He is constantly on the phone staying on top of all operations sorting through the snafu that arises at each job.  In many ways his business scenario reminds me of Andrew – my ex-husband who owns his own contracting business – workers not showing up for work, customers trying to haggle him down on price – I guess the issues are universal.

Olya is as cute as button.  Blond, blond hair with big round blue eyes and a mild temperament which makes her very easy going.  She has her own floral design  business, but also has a kiosk in every shopping center where they sell imports from China – you know all kitsch that sell all over Chinatown.

Both Olya and Oleh have a terrific and progressive sense of humor.  We spend a  fair amount of time laughing, telling jokes and acting silly – like when they dressed me in this old soviet war uniform – Ha, ha.

Life here seems good – and people go about their day just like people do in the US – with more similarities than one might think.  A few major differences though:  No one trusts the banking system [although I’m not sure people in the US really trust the banking system these days either].  During the financial crisis, many lost a lot of money so now people don’t keep their money in banks – they keep their money in safes in their homes.  Oleh travels with an inch of cash because they don’t have credit cards – another major difference – but image that?

Another difference is the postal system. We went to the Chevy dealer to have Ihor’s car fixed and Olya asked if her parts for car had arrived.  They had not and it had already been two months.

Little everyday details also reminded me of home.  I was amused to see a old taped up box used to organize spices in Olya’s cupboard, just like the old Tiffany box that I have in my cupboard at home.

Highlight of my day: last night I gave Ihor’s son a toy NYC police car and today his dad told me he slept with it and then took it to school for show and tell.

Day 5, April 14

I am getting sicker by the day – despite all the medicinal spirits that I’ve been drinking.  Today Oleh insisted that I see a doctor.  In order to do so, they had to grease the palm of the chief of staff because the wait for a doctor is about one month.  I would like to say that is another major difference as compared to US, but its not.

Day 6, April 15

Village people

In Ukrainian we have an expression “z cella”which means “from the village.”  It is
derogatory expression which is meant to reference a person’s sophistication level.  But despite the expression, much of Ukraine is farmland and many of its people are farmers who helped cultivate the land that became known to the world as the bread basket of Europe.

One day Oleh and I took a trip to visit his aunt who lives in the village.  Oleh felt that it was important for me to visit the village because I am Ukrainian.

He felt it is important to understand the hardships endured by those who are not as fortunate as him and Olya – and I agreed – I want to see everything – even the grit.  He also admitted that if I were purely American he would never bring me there, but because I was Ukrainian-American the visit was compulsory.

When we arrived Oleh’s Aunt showed me around the farm.  I have to say the conditions were fairly brutal and farm life was very hard because of the antiquated farm equipment.  But despite that the people I met were extremely generous and would have shared all that they had with you.  We ate lunch at their house and they served us a feast – the pig that they they were smoking for Easter Sunday and vegetables which they grew on the farm.  The potatoes were the the most delicious that I’ve ever had.  Life on the farm is the most basic and primitive with no indoor plumbing. The bathroom was an outhouse the size of a shower stall and a hole in the floor boards.  So much for relaxation.

After a few bonding shots of vodka I felt compelled to give Oleh’s Aunt some money.  I knew they were proud people so I asked Oleh if I would offend them.  Just as he was about to answer me his Aunt walked in the room so I made a snap decision and handed her $100 US dollars.  She attempted to refuse but I was adamant.  She was so touched that she gave me a wool blanked that her mother made by hand in 1963.  She said that is all that she had.  Not exactly how I wanted that to play out – the value of the blanket exceeded $100 and sentimental value was priceless.

Day 7, April 16

Road Trip

We spent most of today in the car driving to the Zakarpattia Region which is in the Carpathian Mountains.  Although the day was uneventful although it was nice to see the see the countryside and all of its beauty.  The soil in Ukraine is so rich and fertile that you can its depth from the side of the road  – Ukraine is know for its fertile soil which is called chornozem which translate to “black soil.”

The scene in the car was exactly like an American scene. The kid whining about
when we are going to get there, the mother and father arguing over directions and the father shutting everyone out by conducting business on his cell phone. They are just like us.

Along the way we stopped at a place with a really cool rock formation called Skeli Dobusha.  Steep in legends, the stone giants preserve secrets two centuries old.  It was believed that this was once a site of a pagan sanctuary.  Each section of the rocks formed a different image.  Here is one that looks like a lion.

Day 7, April 16

Our destination was Uzhorod which is the regional center of Zarkapattia Region.  The city turned out to be a bust – overrun by gypsies from near by Romania.  But nestled right next to Uzhorod was a treasure of town called Mukachevo.  No one knows the exact origin of Mukachevo, but ancient chronicles date its settlement back to the days of Kyivan-Rus which would be about 986 AD at which time it was captured by the Hungarians.  You can still feel the Hungarian influence throughout the town and in its cuisine.

Day 8, April 17

Today is Palm Sunday and we all went to church.  It was amazing to celebrate such an important religious holiday in Ukraine.  But typical Ukie style there were two churches right next to each other – one was Catholic and the other was Orthodox and each blasted the mass through outdoor speakers competing against each other like battle of the bands.

After mass we were leaving Mukachevo and were heading to Lviv where my I was going to visit my father’s cousin.  My Aunt Alex gave me money and a laptop to pass along but my plans were fairly loose.  I expected to do a quick pop by and then head back to Lutsk with my friends but that’s not at all how it played out…

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