Category Archives: Ukraine

A Sensory Tour of Kiev

Happy Friday! To wrap up my thoughts on Kiev, I wanted to share Kiev as experienced by the senses. Sometimes, months after an adventure, you will suddenly be reminded of a moment in time just by the smell of fresh baking bread or the texture of a dress. As you read, leave a comment on what you think I might be missing! Did I forget to add the taste dried fish or the smell of cigarettes?

 

Sight: Well, frankly, a lot of gray. Many of the Soviet Era buildings are aging, some of them not so gracefully. But if you look closely, there are brilliant patches in the cement city. Kiev locals can dress very colorfully. Orthodox churches traditionally have a gold roof, which can be seen from far away, shining in the sun. I also really enjoy the green canopy of the parks in the city.

Taste: Dill and Sour Cream. Every Day. If we want to take it beyond toppings, then cabbage comes to mind.

Touch: Metals. A lot of the doors in Kiev are metal. So are the handles on the metro. Also, people in Kiev touch other people. Ukrainians are more affectionate; I loved being able to watch people of all ages get swept up in the moment.

Hear: Techno music, mostly when in transit. Choirs singing from the churches in every neighborhood. Children playing, the kindergarten used to play outside my window every morning.

Smell: Diesel and Sweat. Whenever you walking anywhere in Kiev, you will have an exhaust pipe overtake your senses. Once you get to your metro stop and step into your train car  you will inevitably smell the odors of everyone around you–sans air condition. During the summer, in the heat of the day you also might find yourself overwhelmed by the scent of hot garbage. After you step out of your sweaty train car, you will walk past street vendors and smell the fresh perogi, inducing hunger into unsuspecting people.

Next…I am going to head back to the States. To Baltimore, Bmore or Charm City. Whatever you call it, it is my temporary home for now.

A City by the Sea: Odessa

This park lights up at night.

My trip to Odessa was a rambling adventure. We took a night bus which was nearly impossible to sleep on due to the heat and crowds. Arriving in Odessa around 4am, we took a cab to the shoreline and spread out our towels on the beach and tried to grab an hour or so of sleep.

In the daylight hours, we found a place to eat some breakfast. At the next table was a Frenchman who worked at the world famous Ritz Carlton in Paris. Since the hotel was closed for renovations (I can thank Vogue for knowing this) he was in Odessa to learn Russian for a few months to increase his tips among Russian customers. After breakfast, we walked around looking at some of the statues, the one pictured at left shows that the gold parts of the engraving are rubbed clean. The superstition is that if you touch it, you will have money in your life. The image that comes to mind for me is the similarity to the Alice in Wonderland statue in New York City’s Central Park, with her finger rubbed clean.

Odessa is a gorgeous city on the Black Sea. With that, comes the “let your hair down and kick your feet up” attitude of a seaside town. Odessa locals are known for being happy and having an unusual sense of humor. In the photo below, two teenagers were practicing swing dancing as we walked by. Sometimes, being surrounded by joyous people can be contagious. The city has about one million residents, but there is no subway! The public transit options are these tiny, crowded buses. To get down to the beach, we took this contraption that looks kind of like a ski lift, it provided a great view of the city and the shoreline. The city itself is absolutely beautiful. It has a festive nature with an array of restaurants tucked into courtyards. Mostly, I feel that Odessa has something for both beach goers and city folks. Most of the restaurants had ample outdoors seating. Being able to walk through the streets and preview live versions of the food choices made picking only one place to eat difficult. Though part of me wonders if Odessa was so great to me because the busier streets looked more American,  I hope it’s not the familiarity that is so appealing.

Life’s a Beach (Black Sea Edition)

Waking Up.

Time and time again, people tell me that they think of blistering cold when they think of Ukraine. Let me assure you that the summers can be equally warm. With incredible heat and no promises of an air conditioner, I wasn’t the only one fleeing my apartment for the beach. We took a trip to Odessa, which is a city of around one million and situated on the Black Sea.

First, let me explain that I actually woke up on the beach the morning we arrived, not in a hotel room on the beach, but literally on the sand with seagulls around me. But I will explain how I ended up sleeping on the beach next week. What’s important is that my day started with a sunrise (and maybe some background noise of Euro-electronica music bleeding into the morning). Sleeping on a beach is not something I make a habit out of, but I would do it again in a heartbeat; it made me feel kind of youthful, resilient and in touch with my surroundings.

The beach in Odessa is much more crowded than I had expected, but also cleaner than I had imagined. If it was sand that we laid our towels on, it was the most cement like sand I have encountered, frosted over with smaller pebbles and some dirt trying very hard to be sand.

The dress code for the beach is a bit more liberal than in the States. Women can comfortably go topless. Other beaches have (gasp!) a nudist beach nestled next to the “family” beach. Alcohol is not only permitted, it is sold on the beach.

The people watching was great, but I found the most amusement by watching the police chase boys selling dried fish to beach goers. The boys were so persistent, and the police would shout about how they had only bribed them to sell their goods in a small portion of the territory they were claiming.

Religion in Kiev

Today, the vast majority of the country is Eastern Orthodox. A big difference (compared to traditional American holidays) is the calendar. For the Eastern Orthodox religion, Christmas falls on January 7. Once you move past the language barrier, the services feel very similar to a traditional Catholic mass.

The pictures posted are memories of how religion interacts with Ukrainian public. The first picture, is in a public park, where the presidential palace is housed. Finding something that is so lovingly taken care of and tended to by the public is a gentle reminder of the role religion has in most citizens lives. The second photo is one that I had to sneak to take, but it really shows the humanity of the priests, how they are real, approachable people.

One morning as I woke up (on the ninth floor of a building), I heard a choir singing because it was a holiday. They carried on for hours; I was told this is not unique to our building and I could only imagine choirs all over the country swirling through the air as the whole city woke up. It’s definitely one of my favorite memories of morning. You can always know a holiday is on the way because the women who sell things on the street add specialty items to their regular rotations.

Kiev Monastery of the Caves

Remember all of the discussion of Arsenalna last week? Well, next to the contemporary art flagship is a place of huge importance. The Kiev Monastery of the Caves or Kiev Pechersk Larva is a must see on any person’s Ukrainian visit. Yes, you did read the word “cave” and “monastery” in the same title. Many Eastern Orthodox Christians make a pilgrimage to this place that is home to more than 100 religious relics. Even if you are not particularly religious, it is quite a site to see. The Monastery is like a small, walled city within Kiev complete with a garden and living quarters for the monks.

According to Best of Ukraine, two Monks named Anthony and Theodosius first began this community  more than 900 years ago, founding it in 1051. As the numbers of monks grew over time, an architect from Constantinople (modern Istanbul) was selected to build the monastery. The Kiev Pechersk Larva was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site honoring its contribution to history. The picture to the left shows a woman touching a religious relic. Other relics have the tradition of a woman kissing the relic after saying a quick blessing. Pictured, is also a (modern?) monk walking; the variation in age of monks can be quite surprising to someone who is used to an aging Catholic Priest population.

Now lets talk about the fact that THERE ARE CAVES HERE! It is one of the most interesting walks I have taken in Kiev. The first time I went, in October of 2011, they had not installed electricity in the caves so each person was expected to bring a candle into the dark with them. Before entering the caves, women must cover their hair and make sure they are wearing a skirt (you can borrow one). Once inside, you can see the     caskets and bodies of Eastern Orthodox religious figures. Sometimes you can look into the spaces that these monks used to pray and live in. The caves are winding, with no clear path. The second time I visited, in August 2012, we slid into the Caves just as they were closing for the day; as we were walking through the caves the sound of monks singing rang through the air. It sounded loud and far away at the same time. If I closed my eyes, it could have been any point in history.

At one point, the bell tower pictured to the right was the tallest in the world. When I look at it, I see resemblance to a decadent layered cake. From the photo, it’s difficult to convey how tall this tower really, except to say that it can be seen from very far away.

Aside from caves, there is a breath taking garden that slopes down the hill toward the Dnipro River. It’s full of thousands of roses. In addition, the monks have a gorgeous orchard and garden of edibles that is tended to by women.

The Kiev Biennial of Contemporary Art (Part 2 of 2)

Is Kiev what comes to mind when you think of an incubator for artists? Probably not, but that might slowly change. The Kiev Biennial was the first of it’s kind for the capitol and largest city in Ukraine. The massive Biennial had almost 100 exhibitors. An article in The Independent explains that the exhibits featured 22 artists from Ukraine, giving the Biennial a bit of a nationalist flavor.The international variety also gave voice to artists who are not from the traditionally saturated Western European art circuit.  The Biennial brought 13 artists from China into the spotlight; the political nature of an exhibit might hit close to home for Ukrainians who share a common history with Communism.

The Mystetskyi Arsenal welcomed David Elliott as the curator for the Kiev Biennial, an art world superstar. Blouin Art Info mentions that some of his credentials include director/founder of the Mori Art Museum and curator of the Sydney Biennial in 2010. Elliott was attracted to Kiev, in part, due to the building it was being hosted in, which is an old weapon and military center. The Biennial really had a distinct flavor, making references to Communism and the Soviet era, issues that still profoundly affect Ukrainian life. Some of my favorite exhibits made commentary on ecological issues and consumption, which can speak to people of any culture. The Biennial really had a distinct flavor, making references to Communism and the Soviet era, issues that still profoundly affect Ukrainian life.

One of the local artists to be featured is Boris Mikhailov, who might be most well known for his social documentary photography. He is famous for his “Red Series”, which are both political and graphic in content. But that is the point of a Biennial, to stimulate discussions of politics and culture at present. His lense is not focusing on people at the Biennial, instead it depicts the urban decay and industrial grit of Ukraine. Mikhailov is truly something to brag about, as he is home grown with the silver lining of international fame.

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An artist to be featured who has been a recent part of the news is Ai Weiwei. Weiwei is quite a force to be reckoned with–from China, who as of late, has been making his name criticizing the Chinese political regime. Weiwei is an internationally acclaimed artist who spent more than 10 years in New York City, studying at Parson’s. He has been instrumental in establishing the Beijing East Village and setting up a Chinese artists network. Weiwei has used blogging as one of his platforms to express his distaste for Chinese Human Rights policy and government procedure. The guts it takes to use one’s power to criticize a powerhouse like China for the betterment of a billion people is makes his art so powerful.

Ukraine has an image problem among the European Nations (among other more tanglible issues). It is always striving for admission into the European Union, but faces serious setbacks almost every time there is new press. Most people hear about government corruption more than advancements for the common good. This summer certainly seems to be dedicated to showing the world it’s cultural contributions. Florence Waters wrote in The Telegraph “The nationalistic incentive behind this event is no secret. Twenty-two of the 99 artists who are being represented in the main exhibition are Ukrainian born. Many of Ukraine’s successful artists – like their writers, among them ‘The Master and Marguerita’ author Mikhail Bulgakov who was born in Kiev – are perceived by the world at large as being Russian. By presenting these artists alongside international giants like American Paul McCarthy and Japanese Yayoi Kusama, the Ukraine can hope to re-claim their lost identity.” I would recommend readers to venture over to Waters’ full length article, it was one of my favorite perspectives of the Biennial. Some pictures from the exhibit are featured in my earlier post, Part 1. Cheers!

The Kiev Biennial of Contemporary Art (Part 1 of 2)

If Ukrainians tired of the Euro Cup 2012 festivities this summer, there was another option– ARSENALE 2012: The Kiev Biennial of Contemporary Art. A complex name for a complex exhibit. The number of photo’s  taken during my visit would be extreme to try to fit into one post. So instead, the exhibition will be spread over between Tuesday and Friday. I will work from the outside to the inside of Mystetskyi Arsenale; first, discussing the building itself and second (on Friday), discussion of the artists themselves. The patio of arsenale had the feel of a swanky invite only part, with live music and expensive drinks. At the same time, I also felt right at home because the exhibits had signs in English so I could actually read a bit.

The Kiev Biennial of Contemporary Art was thought provoking, well curated and highly anticipated in the international art world. It was also well timed, coinciding with the summer tourist rush and the added bonus of the Euro Cup football fans. One of the very best parts of this exhibit was the variety of people who attended this exhibit. The people came dressed in every variety; I got to see Ukrainian hipster students, socialites of every age, and those from the international scene.

All of the greatest museums demand a great gallery space. The Mystetskyi Arsenal or Art Arsenal is no exception. When restorations are finished, Arsenale will provide more than 50,000 square meters of gallery space. Construction of the space began in 1783, with the building mostly being used for military and defense purposes.After the fall of the Soviet Union, the building lost its usefulness.  Many locals don’t really consider it one of the more beautiful buildings in Kiev, having passed it for years on the way to somewhere else. Almost everyone agrees that it is a fabulous space for art exhibitions. What remains true today of Arsenale, is that the cavernous space is a meaningful gallery space and hosting large crowds.  I must be honest; the size of the exhibit–there is nearly 250 installments–is something I would have to set aside a whole week to fully absorb. Instead, I made it part of the way through. The slide show is a peek at some of the exhibits:

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Stop by on Friday to read about the artists that will were part of the biennial and see more photo’s of the exhibit.

I would also like to mention that the photoblog Toemail featured one of my posts about Landscape Alley. Their website is devoted to photos with (you guessed it!) toes! Stop by their site to see some other places toes have recently visited.

The Euro 2012: Is that a United Nations Convention?

Good Morning! It has been one of those weeks that someone pushed the fast forward button on time and forgot to tell me. Lesson learned, planning ahead simply isn’t enough anymore, the new standard is plan for the unexpected (but still in advance).

Today has a more frenetic focus. First, an explanation for the title of this post is in order; before becoming so intertwined with Ukrainian culture I had absolutely no idea what the Euro Cup was. I also thought Kiev would be a cozy little city with a “tourist” district and maybe some rolling hills, I was not aware it was such a behemoth city of around 5 million. I know that people use the world “eurocentric” to describe people who are unable to think outside the cultural box, but I think that eurocentric would be inappropriate to describe this sort of misunderstanding because the Europe they are talking about apparently does not include any of Eastern Europe. Instead I will admit to a case of full blown americentrism. I think this is probably not a real word, but it describes how little I knew about cultures that are not American or beloved by American Mainstream Media until recently.

For some reason, I took comfort in the existence of a Chanel store in Kiev. It validated the city as “real” to me. In addition to Chanel, there is every kind of high end and couture shop I am not able to afford in Kiev.

The photo to the left could be a perfect analogy for Kiev. Slava pointed out to me that there are essentially two buildings pictured here: one, you need to look at the top to see clearly and realize that it does not match the americanized business park look that is the majority of the exterior; two, that americanized exterior was literally built around the older part of the building. Lord have Mercy! That is unheard of at home. What would possibly cause Ukrainians to do such a thing? The Euro Cup 2012.

I had no concept of the sheer size of Kiev. It has around 5 million residents. You are reminded of this any time that you ride the metro. It is also home to lots of shiny, new sky scrapers. It is amazing what a city can achieve a mere 20-ish years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Euro Cup is one of the biggest soccer (or football, whichever you choose) events, taking place each year in a chosen host city. I arrived for the final festivities. The host of the Euro Cup benefits by having every kind of football fan pour into their city to watch the matches. What follows is a very passionate kind of tourist, flowing alcohol and lots of public urination.

This is a view of the entrance to the metro. It is probably the best way to get around the city. I would consider you suicidal if you volunteered to drive. Plus driving tends to take so much time. The metro has some beautiful stations. They are historic and artistic. Better than Paris or London. Also, Kiev has notoriously long and fast escalators.

As a final point, many Americans do not know how cheap having a cell phone is in most other countries. It is so cheap, in fact, that quite a few people have a phone for each major carrier to get free minutes by talking to people with mutual cell phone providers.

Kiev Polytechnic Institute

One of the older buildings which has aged so well.

Kiev Polytechnic Institute (KPI) was not exactly on my “must see” list. I certainly never expected to find it to be one of those hidden gems in Kiev, saturated in it’s own history and grandeur. KPI was established in 1898 and boasts around 40,000 students spread through its three campuses. This post only has photos from the Kiev campus. I feel that it might be more difficult to impress me with the beauty of a university because I graduated from one of most beautiful colleges in the United States (Agnes Scott College, you should stop by if you’re in the Atlanta area). I was floored by the whole campus, it doesn’t feel like any other part of Kiev. If you have a penchant for old buildings and love of history, here is your place in Kiev. I will let the photos speak for themselves.

One of the older buildings, which smelled of fresh paint.

KPI is a little world carved into Kiev, with some serious impact in the scientific world. The list of notable people who have spent time as faculty or students includes Dmitri Mendeleev who is father of the table of elements and E.O. Paton who invented electric welding. A more complete list is available at the KPI Wikipedia page. Throughout the campus there are small statues of recognition to former KPI members who have made an impact in the world. Sometimes, they are statues of the person’s face, other times they might be a small plane in recognition to the career of the person.

A view of the courtyard.

Even among such intelligence and modern thought, I felt I was part of a different time in history as I wandered the campus. I was told of the extensive and historical collection of documents the library houses. When trying to enter the library, a man stopped us to tell us the place was closed while finishing his cigarette. As an outsider, I could only think about what 150 years of smoking indoors has done to those documents. But then, you have to stop.Take a deep breath. And channel Billy Pilgrim by saying “And so it goes”.

KPI has some of the most expansive lawns that I have seen in the city. During the academic year, students populate the area to socialize and rest between classes. Also, it is one of the only places in Kiev where there seems to be a lot of squirrels.

All of this sounds like a dream. How wonderful would it be to go to school in a city of 5 million and a school ranked in the top 1,000 in the world? There, are some downfalls of course. I didn’t show pictures of the ugly buildings, which outnumber the beautiful ones. Call it a rose colored tour of KPI. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences with me to make this better!

Besarabsky Rynok or the Most Fancy Market in Kiev

This is an entrance to the market.

I was always curious about Besarabsky Rynok, but happening across a New York Times article  “36 hours in Kiev, Ukraine” by Finn Olaf Jones, solidified the food market on my destination list.  The trip to any city market is exciting to me, but what makes Besarabsky Rynok unique is the variety of goods offered. For instance, anything that can be consumed in pickled form can probably be found here. This is less of an international food market, and more of a national tribute to Ukrainian cuisine. In addition to fresh cut meats, you can find Ukrainian sweets and dried fruits here. It is considered by locals to have the best quality produce, but also the highest prices. I am keen on believing this because when I entered on a Saturday evening, I was one of a small number of people there–maybe due to the prohibitive prices. There is a particular group of people who tend to shop here–Ministers of Parliament, it is somewhat close to their offices and they have no shortage of money.  And contrary to almost any other market in Ukraine, you shouldn’t dream of negotiating with the vendors at Besarabsky Rynok.

Men wade through the dried goods stand.

My time in the market was cut short by a security guard telling me that I cannot take pictures. For a moment I tried to communicate in English and then gave up, disappointed, but my most enduring feeling was irritation. At a certain point, my most immature side surfaced and I sneaked a few more photos before stealthily leaving.

Meat is an essential part of the Ukrainian diet, being a vegetarian there can quickly get monotonous.
The Produce Section.

The other main way to get your produce in Ukraine is through a generic grocery store or through women who sell their goods on the roadside stands. I would deduct that most people use a combination to feed their family.

The “Pickled Everything” counter.

Above is an example of the enormous amount of pickled items available here. Would you try one of the pickled items available? I suspect that Ukrainians are so fond of pickling and preserving due to the harsh winters, at least compared to a mild Atlanta winter. I was reminded that this is one of the few places where the vendors would actually shout at me in English, which is relatively rare in Ukraine. How they knew I was English speaking, I will never know.