Monday, July 14, 2008

Kiev, Ukraine

After completion of our work at Baby Eagle camp, we flew back to Kiev, Ukraine, leaving our group there for some travel around Eastern Europe. We were fortunate that Lyuda, Polina and Derek were also staying in Kiev and helped us find our way around. It is a bit more difficult than I expected to navigate in the Ukraine. The map I obtained at the airport was in English, which turned out to be a mistake, since the streets and subway stops were in Ukrainian, with their Cyrillic alphabet. As a result, it was difficult to recognize locations. And, relatively few people speak any English.

Our first order of business was to buy our train ticket from Kiev to Krakow. I had been unable to find any train schedules which included this trip on the internet, and in any case it is not possible to book train travel from outside Ukraine. The best I could do was an indication from a friend of a friend who thought there was a train from Kiev to Krakow which could be booked on arrival in Kiev.

Without Lyuda, we’d have been in deep trouble. The taxi drivers and train clerks we encountered do not speak English. Lyuda negotiated for a minivan ride from the airport to the train station and then bought our train ticket. She helped us find and check into our hotel. They had never heard of Travelocity, but had rooms available at just slightly more than my Travelocity reservation said. Then, we met her sister Ula, who lives in Kiev and they showed us the highlights. We took the funicular up to St. Sophia and St Andrews churches (below). Approximately 90% of Ukrainians belong to the Orthodox Church, and the Orthodox churches and monasteries are beautiful.

We also visited Andryvski Street, a market street and the main plaza. As with many Eastern European cities the main plaza was the focus of activity…street musicians, break dancers, human and real statues. Here is a sample.

We also visited the Chernobyl Museum. It was an eerie feeling seeing the signs indicating the villages near Chernobyl when you enter the museum, then see them struck through when you leave because they no longer exist. And, a lot of brave men gave their lives to make sure the disaster was not worse. Soldiers worked in 15 minute shifts to reduce their exposure to radiation.

Then, Derek and Polina offered to help us attend their church on Sunday. Good thing, because even though I had the address of a church in Kiev, I doubt we would ever have found it. We met Polina’s mother and sister, and Polina’s mother translated the service for us. I’m always amazed that, no matter where you visit, you will find a loving community and family in the church.

After church we visited the Lavra, a beautiful monastery over caves lined with mummified remains of monks who lived there. (I didn't take my camera that day, but I hope to post some pictures when Dee publishes hers.)

After that, it was off to visit the Rodina (a 300 meter tall steel statue) and the surrounding park, celebrating the Russian/Ukraine victory over the Germans in WWII. Despite the difficulty of communicating and navigating, we had a great time. It was a rare opportunity to visit with rare insights into an intriguing world. And, we discovered that if you stared at your map with a confused look on your face long enough, someone would volunteer to try to help you….despite speaking at most a few words of English.

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