Sunday, 17 January 2016

A Winter Day in Chernobyl

If you would like to visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, go soon. The buildings are deteriorating and obviously there will be no repair.  Already we could see less than two years ago simply because it is not safe to climb crumbling stairs.

If you can choose, go in winter.  My first visit was in late spring - I would choose a visit in the snow all over again.

My 22, 000 steps in Chernobyl and Pripyat on a white Saturday:

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Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Let's Explore Kyiv Together Goes to the Christmas Factory

The tradition of decorating the Christmas tree originates from 16th century Germany and it was Peter the Great who brought the first decorated tree to Ukraine.  It took another couple of hundred years, until the middle of the 19th century  for the custom to spread all over the world. 

Traditionally German Christmas trees were decorated with fresh apples, candles and the star on top, pointing to Bethlehem.  (Yes, Bethlehem - apparently the Soviets made their citizens believe that it was this, the Kremlin star - visible from our apartment in Moscow and a rare photo opportunity for me when crossing over the river I once saw it being washed -  that their starts symbolized on top of the tree).

However, after a particularly bad harvest in 1787 all of a sudden there were not enough apples in Germany to decorate trees.  A very clever pharmacist in the small town of Lauscha (click on the link for an interesting article) decided to make glass apples with his pharmaceutical equipment usually used for producing medicine to replace fresh apples.  To this day Lauscha is known for its glassblowing industry!

Although in many parts of the world plastic and wooden toys have overtaken the popularity of the more traditional bauble, Ukraine is still going strong with producing glass ornaments. There are two Christmas decoration factories near Kyiv and on the first day of the Advent season our fun  Let's Explore Kyiv group visited the Lyubyanka factory, the smaller, newer one that was opened in 2007 and is a 40 minute drive from the edge of Kyiv.

Happy Holidays to you from all of us!

There are 15 people working at the factory, producing 300-600 ornaments a day, exporting them worldwide.  

Enjoy the slideshow I have made for you from my pictures from the factory - just as much as we enjoyed the day.

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Saturday, 28 November 2015

The Holodomor

Ukrainians are lighting candles today in remembrance if the most tragic part of their history, the Holodomor.  This year is the 83rd anniversary of the two years of 'death by hunger' when millions of Ukrainians were artificially starved to death by a cruel regime.

I first visited the Holodomor Museum in Kyiv  - one of the most shocking and touching museums in the world I have ever been to - three years ago. This is the article I published on the blog  on September 29, 2012 with updated resources at the end.


After having cried through the last chapters of the torturous book Execution by Hunger by Miron Dolot (a pseudonym)  I went on a guided tour of the Holodomor Museum (The National Museum Dedicated to the Victims of Famines) three days ago.

I don't feel like writing about it at all, in fact, I have been trying to come up with all kinds of excuses to put it off, as you can see.   But I want to remember, so here's a brief factual summary of what shadowed over my week depressingly.

The museum is up on the high banks of the Dniepro, near the Pechersk Caves overlooking a very picturesque Kiev.  With parks all around it is a beautiful place for an Indian summer day's walk.

With a near-sacred feeling it is a  memorial to the victims of Stalin's systematically planned famine of 1932-33 of Ukrainian farmers that killed 4-11 million people.  Executed by hunger.   Until 1987 it was a forbidden topic in Ukraine 
- no wonder I had never heard about it before coming to live in Kyiv.   The museum opened in 2009 and was approved 'national' status in 2010. 

After passing the angels at the entrance guarding the souls of the victims, you stop for a few minutes in the Square of The Millstones of Destiny.  This is one of the 12 millstones that symbolise a clock - it is estimated that on average a thousand people died every hour, 24 thousand a day. Every single detail of the museum inside and out is well-planned and a symbol of what took place.

In the middle of the square stands the sculpture 'Sad Memory of Childhood'.   The starving, exhausted little girl holds 5 ears of wheat in her hands, the symbol of the 'law of five ears'. There is an inscription at the bottom of the sculpture - a poem by Shevchenko, dedicating the sculpture to the 'living, the dead and the unborn'.

The cobblestones around it are laid in a way to symbolize an uneven wheat field.

The museum itself is underneath the white candle and the heavy, black entrance takes you down to a very dark, sinister history.

For 100 UAH you can hire a German, Russian or English speaking guide and that's what I did, but I strongly suggest you read up extensively on the Holodomor before visiting the museum.

There is also plenty of English explanation provided (the museum gets a lot of Canadian and American visitors, a lot of emmigrants searching for family) and also two English subtitled films.

Millions of wheat that will never grow:

Ukrainian motif all around.  During the Soviet regime Ukrainians were forbidden to wear national costumes, display national motifs or play national instruments.

There are 19 books dedicated to each region recording the names of the victims. At the moment there are only about 1 million names collected but the books are constantly being updated and today it's largely due to American and Canadian visitors searching for family. Often when visitors  come and claim that one of their relatives was a victim there is absolutely no way of finding evidence but the curators will believe everyone and they will add the name. There is also a large computer database to search for family.

The book I read very vividly describes the everyday details of these dark years.  Every single piece of grain was collected from the farmers for export mainly, but often just to be dumped outside of the village and poured over with tar. By the spring of 1933 the villagers all over Ukraine had nothing to eat.  Some ate their own flesh.  Others their neighbours or even their own children.   Hardly anyone survived.    Millions of people were involved.

Thankfully there are still some people who live to tell the tale, and copies of the original secret correspondence of the Soviets (originals are kept at the Archive in Kiev) are displayed in The Hall of Memory, leaving not much to guesswork.

You exit the museum through the Stairs of Recollection,

and the alley of 'Black Boards of Ukraine'.

And then you can ring the bell as you leave in the victims' memory.

Internationally there is  still a debate going on about the exact causes and nature of the famine.  Several, but not all, countries have declared it a genocide.  

Further resources:

Holodomor - a US website with in-depth information, eye-witness accounts  and further resources.

Holodomor and the war in Ukraine today - articles about linking the past and the present.

Ukraine's tragic history - Ukraine remembers the Holodomor.  In the Economics.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Sugar Cookies and Friends

The good thing about friends is that they help you get out of your comfort zone.

The fact that I am no domestic goddess yet ended up decorating sugar cookies today is a proof of that.

I can hear you laughing - but I can assure you, after almost five decades on earth some of us do have to attend a workshop for that!

Besides, although I'm sure it's not impossible to get quality baking ingredients in Kyiv, when you have to use google translate to find випічки інгредієнти and then navigate that.....

.....I challenge you to succeed, dear friend.  All the quality US ingredients were provided for the workshop by our talented American host, what could be yummier and easier than that?

It's fun, fun, fun, always fun to work with friends.

With my first plate of cookies ready for the season - holiday festivities, roll on.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

You Can't Scare Me, Snow

Friends have been posting warnings of the impending snow and I say, bring it on!  We've been through some Serious Snowy Situations during the last decade and we are not afraid.

This is a little reminder as much for myself as for you - we can survive weather, it's all about attitude - and appropriate clothes!

Beautiful Russia.

city centre

village centre

Patriarshy Prudy 

What's better than hot tea in the snow?

Sergiev Posad, a magic weekend

Fun Ukraine.

when you wake up to this

it puts the whole family to work

But a little bit of warning!

Do stock up your pantry - this was our local Billa for three days when we were totally, completely snowed in.

Bonus feature.  Enjoy this video just published in the Huffington Post today.