Greetings - we hope you
are all well. Unfortunately, summer is over here.
If we were home we would be happy to now have football season.
But although we can get Husker radio, with the time difference
most of the games begin about 3:00 in the morning, and it
somehow is not quite the same…
Our school kept us busy
through July, and even though they wanted us in August also
(after telling us when we started that they would not need us
the second half of June, or all of July and August) we told
them no for August so we could get a nap plus go see a couple
parts of Ukraine that we had not been to yet. We are getting
pretty good at taking the trains. It is how
everyone travels, and would be one thing we would bring home
with us if we could. The cheapest (and our usual choice)
are the overnight trains, with open cars full of upper and
lower bunks. (And if you pay extra they even give you
sheets!) Each train car has a toilet at each end that
may or may not be clean, but they sometimes have toilet paper,
and it is a convenient and cheap way to travel as long as you
don’t care about privacy or sharing your space with people who
drink beer and eat sausages and snore. We went first to
the Carpathian Mountains for five days, a beautiful part of
the country close to Romania. With respect to our
children in Colorado we use the term “mountain” advisedly;
the highest mountain there is about 5,000 feet.
But we had a good time. It is a beautiful part of the
country and we can see why it is a popular tourist spot. We
have learned that Ukrainians do not typically travel around
like Americans, due most likely to what they had in Soviet
times, when the government told you where you would work, and
then when and where you would take your vacation, and then
they would take you there and bring you home.
So now, although they don’t have the Soviets to organize
everything for them, they still usually only go places in an
“excursion”, and our Russian friends think we are something of
a curiosity in that we look at the train schedule and decide
on our own when and where we want to go. It gets a
little more interesting than that in the mountains, as the
villages are too small to have train service, so they have
lots of buses, but no bus schedule that we could find, and
also the villages are so small they do not have autobus
stations, so if you have no car (that would be us), you stand
on the side of the road and wave down the first bus that comes
along going the direction you want and you get on and hope
there is a seat (otherwise you stand) and pay the driver about
12 cents a mile for however far you want to go. We
stayed in a very lovely resort between two villages out in the
middle of nowhere and about a mile up a mountain. When
we first arrived the bus driver left us off at the bottom of
the road and we walked – plus suitcases – up the mountain on
the dirt (mud) road in the rain. Not a pretty
sight. But all was well when we got to the top,
and it was a lovely place to stay that even had western
plumbing and an outdoor restaurant with live Ukrainian music.
It is interesting to see
differences in parts of Ukraine. Before
independence (when they were part of the USSR), every town had
a large statue of Lenin. After independence (and
even before in some cases) some of them decided that Lenin had
to go, so now in western Ukraine where there used to be a
large statue of Lenin there is now a large statue of a
Ukrainian poet named Shevshenko (he wrote very bad
drippy poetry in the 1800’s). Except in the east
and south (the parts of Ukraine that still like Russia), and
there they still have their Lenin statues. But there is
also the one little village that thought that Lenin needed to
go, but they had no money to replace him, so they put a
moustache on their Lenin statue and changed the sign to say
that it is now Shevshenko.
Then in late August we took a
long weekend to go to Nikolaev in southern Ukraine, and also
Kherson. Nikolaev is on a large river, with
wonderful access to the Black Sea. When Catherine the
Great was czar she decided they needed a shipbuilding port,
and that Nikolaev would be a great place to put it.
So in the late 1700’s she had her friend/manager/field
marshall Potemkin create the city from scratch, and she got
her shipbuilding industry. During Soviet times
they still kept it as a shipbuilding port, except that since
they were Soviets they made it a closed city and no one could
go in or out without special permission. So even
though it is now part of Ukraine it is still very “Russian”,
and was interesting to see. One of the stories
about Nikolaev during the time of Catherine is that she
established the city, and sent shipbuilders there, but after
some time they all complained that there were no women.
So Catherine gathered up all the prostitutes in St. Petersburg
and sent them to Nikolaev to live, and now many of the natives
claim that as their heritage!
We also went to Kherson, in
southern Ukraine on the Dnieper River, which is on a par with
the Mississippi River, and with access to the Black Sea about
30 miles away. We negotiated with a private
boat owner (he started by quoting the “American” price but we
told him we were poor volunteers and could only afford the
Ukrainian price and he very nicely relented…) to take us out
into the delta one morning, it was beautiful. Lots
of little summer homes built in the early part of the century,
and handed down through the families after that.
And wildlife, except we wonder about it since the water that
comes through there has worked its way down through Ukraine
from Chernobyl. In the area are also a
wildlife “sanctuary” and 100 sq km of preserved natural
“steppe”, the native grass plains of Russia and Ukraine.
We took a little bus for three and a half hours one morning
out into the middle of nowhere to see the “steppe”, but when
we got there it was closed. (We aren’t quite sure
how you close 100 sq km of natural grassland, but they did,
but most likely because of the near drought conditions this
year in that area.) So we went to the
wildlife “sanctuary” instead. They had a lot of
birds/ ducks/ pheasants/ swans/peacocks, and also many
varieties of cows/emus/ostriches/horses, etc. Including
an Amerikanskee bison! So it appears
we have traveled many thousands of miles just to see buffalo.
We also stayed in our first “Intourist” hotel.
For those of you who are old (like us) you may remember that
going through the Intourist Travel Agency was the only way you
could get into Russia in Soviet times. There were
stories that all the Intourist tour guides were KGB, because
if the KGB kept control of Intourist they would have control
over every “tourist” (aka foreign/American spy) coming into
the country. We have a Russian friend Sergei, he
is former Soviet military, then he worked for Intourist, and
he is now working for the American Embassy.
We have not asked him yet about any KGB background, but we do
admire those Soviets who have been able to so successfully
But now it is back to work.
Over the summer Karen was able to get a grant approved from
USAID for her organization, so now we need to go to work and
spend it. And Don is finishing up a rather big
project, but his organization already is making plans for the
next great thing he is going to do for them…. And our
school is back in session also. We told them only
4 classes this year, and we are hoping we can hold them to it.
But Viktor (the owner) is nothing if not an opportunist, and
he likes having Amerikanskees at his beck and call.
So we will see. In the meantime, keep in touch -
and Go Huskers!
Don and Karen