Traveling to Ukraine was the most important trip of my entire life; it was my pilgrimage to my mother country. Being of Ukrainian descent, I always knew that it was my destiny to travel to Ukraine, but when I met people from Ukraine while traveling in Australia, I knew my destiny was now here.
Arriving in Borospol Airport, Kiev, Ukraine
I arrived in Kiev in a dream-like state with my head in a fog. Although I had developed some sort of head cold overnight, I attributed my condition to being truly overwhelmed – I felt like I was in a Fellini movie and it all felt so surreal. People around me were speaking Ukrainian and Russian and although I fully understood them, I suddenly forgot how to speak the language. I felt intimidated and as I walked through border patrol I hid behind my American passport.
My friends Oleh and Olya greeted me at the arrival gate – snapping pictures like paparazzi. I finally exhaled. All was well. Privit! Privit! – Kisses, hugs and exchanges of warm salutations.
We began my tour of Kiev immediately after my arrival with no rest or delay. Oleh felt that it was important that first site that we visit was the Perchersk Lavra because of its historic and spiritual significance. The Pechersk Lavra also known as the Kiev Monastery of the Caves, is the historic Orthodox
Christian monastery built in 1106 AD. It is perched high on a hill over-looking the entire city of Kiev and the River Dniper. Oleh is a landscape architect and did the landscaping at the Lavra so we were able to get a private tour of the premise
which includes nine churches each erected to honor a different saint.
The Grocery Store
Despite what I had always heard about the bare shelves the supermarket in Kiev was mega-they had everything, from cheeses to prepared foods. I was amazed and told my friends that when I learned about Ukraine they told us that people waited in line for hours for bread, butter and cheese and the store shelves were empty – they said under communism that is how it was but with capitalism they have everything.
The Brothers House
We stayed about 10 kilometers outside of Kiev at Olya’s brother Ihor’s house. Ihor is an interesting character with quite a racket going on. As a profession he is a booking agent for rock n’ roll bands, but he seems to have many ventures on the side. He is the type of guy that always has “a guy”- a wheeler and a dealer. He also used to own the first night club in western Ukraine – a businessman. He does very well for himself to say the least – his house near Kiev is his second home and it comes complete with a guest house which is where I stayed. Throughout the house there are pictures of him hanging out with celebrities such as Sting and Enrique Iglesias. He is slick and shady, but a total character with a gut splitting sense of humor.
We had dinner at home will lots of food that Olya had cooked, peppered vodka, wine and champagne. The alcohol took hold of the conversation and Oleh began pontificating about how we were brought together from vastly different corners of the world by god’s will. I myself always thought such events were random, but which such relevance one can’t help
but think it was a greater power or fate lending a hand.
It was only one day and I felt a deep emotional stir inside me and a spiritual connection to this place – a sense of home, a sense of family, feelings of belonging, an emotional pull and tie to its history and my ancestry – I felt this place run through my veins.
Day 2, April 11
Kiev and About Today we went around Kiev and saw all the relevant sites that I leaned about in Ukie School. Kiev is such a beautiful city; it reminds me of Vienna. The old part of the city has the same ornate architecture meticulously adorned with the same gilding. The buildings are painted in the same cheerful colors – yellows, light blues, pastel greens and pinks. Among the old buildings stand gray, ugly soviet style buildings, the erected remnants of communism.
Ihor then took me to a part of the city that I could walk up to the banks of the Dnipro River. As soon and the car stopped I ran out – pushed by an overwhelming desire to rush to the banks and to touch it – I needed to touch it. I began to wash my hands in it, and although the water was very cold, I just could not stop. This was the highlight of my day and will remain in my heart forever as one of my life’s most memorable moments – which to most will seem inconsequential but to me it is significant and it brings me a feeling of warmth.
I dreamt about my mother. We were at my aunt’s apartment on 7th street in NYC. We sat at the kitchen table and I told her about my day in Kiev. She showed me a picture of her favorite place inUkraine. I didn’t recognize it. She had never been to Ukraine.
Day 3, April 12
Leaving Kiev Today we drove to Lutsk where my friends live – 375 kilometers outside of Kiev – can you
imagine in the US we are reluctant to pick up our guests from Newark Airport which is 35 miles from home.
From the inside it was the imperial palace complete with red walls and gold trim. Olya has a great sense of style even though it leans towards something you would see on a Real Housewives of Odessa. The home has been meticulously remodeled and decorated with RED crystal chandeliers and what looks like very expensive red wall paper. And it’s not my taste it is still better than many of the homes I’ve seen in New Jersey.
The dreaded Ukrainian dinner
So, I finally had the Ukrainian meal that everyone warned me about. There is no avoiding such a meal – it is a rite of passage. If you are visiting Ukraine someone, somewhere will serve it – hopefully only once.
Fat on bread. Yes, you heard me correctly – lard spread, with garlic that you put on bread – it was like eating a heart attack. The borscht would have been perfectly fine, but the home made sour cream that looked like it was just spewed directly from the cow’s utter had a bit of awful smell. I politely ate it knowing that it is a HUGE insult if you don’t. I drank it downwith shots of honey liquor and sweet champagne – where is the vodka when you
need it? I was saved by the pirogues – they were delicious.
For a night cap they gave me juice from a birch tree that they poured out of a gallon gasoline container like the one that your landscaper has on the back of his truck. It tasted like dirty dish water. Na zdorovye!