Ukraine – My First Impressions
We experienced another fantastic day in the Ukraine.
I’d have to say it was an eye opening one for all of us. The Ukrainians have had so many struggles to endure. There was the famine under Stalin’s rule when thousands lost their lives. The Nazi’s slaughtered over 100,000 Jews a short distance from where we are staying. The Ukrainians endured Chernobyl. Just 4 years ago over 1 Million Ukrainians gathered in what is now called Independence Square demanding their freedom. Some took thick wads of newspaper and wrapped themselves with it to possibly protect them from gunfire that erupted. That gunfire encouraged more to gather. The urge for Freedom was so strong people were willing to lose their lives. Over a hundred lost theirs and are now honored as hero’s of the cause. Independence Square is also very close to our hotel.
There is no middle class here – probably most earn around 300.00 a month. If one makes 1000.00 a month they are doing extremely well. In the mens clothing store at our hotel I priced a passport holder that was over 600.00 USD ….. that one price tag opened my eyes to that gap between the rich and poor.
As Canadians we have been treated so warmly. Canada has done much for this country. A local told us that Canada is “a republic of the Ukraine”. Canadians police come here to train the Ukrainian police.
Health care and education on the whole is free but if you hand over money to a doctor your care is going to be better. Private insurance can be purchased like in Canada – if you can afford it.
We visited an incredible Orthodox Church today. Our guide was excited to bring us there. She is not a church goer but loves entering this church. There are no pews or chairs in an Orthodox Church – you stand – often 3 hours for a service – on special occasions like Easter the service may last most of the night. Our guide feels that the church has turned into a money maker and she is against that. We saw line ups of people paying to have have prayers said by monks for the ill or those that have passed. We were surrounded by so many lit candles. Ukrainians were constantly entering to pray. It was a touching experience.
We’ve only spend a day and a half here but we have already seen so many amazing things. We are all so impressed. My passengers are commenting that they are so glad that I brought them here. One couple told me this morning that they would never have thought to come here but they are so glad to be here.
Our hotel, the Hyatt Regency is of world class caliber. We’ve experienced delicious Ukrainian cuisine at the best restaurants. If you regularly read my blogs you know how much I love potato pancakes. My Mom serves them to me when its my birthday. Here they use to be considered peasant food but the Ukrainians are at the cusp of identifying themselves to the world and have realized it’s important to be known for things like the Easter eggs, their embroidered clothing, the Borsh soup, the potato pancakes and the vodka.
There is one street we ventured down that features local hand-made products. I was told before I left for the Ukraine that I should barter when buying but for us these beautiful handicrafts that could take days to produce are so reasonable so there is no way I am going to ask for a better price.
Todays dinner was a true Ukrainian feast. It was held in a locally owned restaurant. We have seen North American chain restaurants like McDonalds and KFC but sit down restaurants are locally owned. The food kept coming – platter after platter. The vodka shots kept being poured (a Ukrainian tradition). I especially liked the welcome horseradish shot. The band was terrific. The button accordians is an award winner. He played a waltz that he had written – beautiful. They also joyfully sang a hit spanish song – Ukrainian style! I thought I knew what Ukrainian music was all about but I’m starting to realize that I really didn’t know much about their music. Its much different than I thought.
Tonight the locals were beaming. Their smiles were intoxicating. They were so pleased to share with us their food, their culture and their music.
During the many toasts (another Ukrainian tradition) I got a little teary eyed when I said my Grandparents would be so proud that I am here – I toasted “family”. When I met with Mark from UniWorld cruises before we left on this journey he told me that I would feel something special when I visited the Ukraine. He couldn’t explain the feeling but he said that after I was here for a while I would know what he was talking about. I also can’t express that feeling other than to say its a good one.
Of course when we travel we often say we are so lucky to be Canadian and it is so true but I somehow feel that Ukrainians are stronger people than us. Their lives are so much more complex. They have had to endure so much. They are so proud.
Our journey has just begun and I think I can speak for the rest of my passengers when I say they are going to come home and tell you that you need to put Ukraine on your must travel list.
We anxiously await our next experience.