My trip to a post-revolutionary Ukraine
March 7 (Friday looking at Folk Architecture)
The fog finally lifted Friday, making for a bright and beautiful day. Mila and I caught a marshrutky, a shuttle-sized privately run mini-bus with an allegedly well-defined schedule. Sometimes packed beyond comprehension, and sometimes more reasonable, this is, in some sense, the final link (before walking) to places not served by larger (and faster) means of transport.
In the bus, newcomers in the back would give me the fare, which I'd then walk up to the driver. Once off the bus, Mila told me that I wasn't expected to walk back and forth, but could have just handed the money to the person in front of me; sometimes the driver would even hand back change the same way. It struck me as a stark contrast with two images of that part of the world: One was the large-scale corruption which made leaders into billionaires while bankrupting the country, or so those supporting the protests allege. (They back up these allegations with math, noting that if you divide the amount alleged stolen by the number of years Yanukovych was in power, it more than makes up for the annual shortfall which the country needed some sort of relief from.) The other form of theft countries like Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia are known for is cyber-theft. So when it comes to stealing billions from the masses, there isn't much trust there, but on a marshrutky there's far more trust than you'd see in any American city.
Our destination was the Open-Air Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life, on which was built over a hundred buildings designed in the style of Ukrainian rural homes, churches, etc. Subdivided into regional "villages," it gave a detailed, life-sized view of Ukrainian folk architecture (including, in the case of the last "village," that of the Soviet era). One could easily spend all day in such a place, and we basically did. Though it was a beautiful day, it was still a March weekday, so I think there were more dogs and cats than people. Still, a film crew seemed to be using the backdrop, and one older woman guided us through half a village. She asked whether Mila knew Ukrainian as well as Russian; since Mila didn't know Ukrainian well, the woman said she'd speak Russian. Mila later said it was actually more a mix of the two, going back and forth between the two languages, as folks in Kyiv tend to do. Mila posits that most folks aren't even conscious of which language they're speaking. And, again, like the museums, the "village" was exhaustive and detailed, but without much of narrative or explanation. You're not going to learn history, but it is a change of pace from the city, even with its many parks.
In one "village," the lake was solid ice, excepting the portion by the edge. I threw a rock to the ice, and there appeared no evidence of (liquid) water below. This prompted Mila to note that it could be quite cold in her apartment during the fall, then quite hot when the government turned on the heating system. I'm not sure about the logistics of that, though I'm pretty sure that's not how it works in the U.S. (However, I did once had an apartment with a very old heater, and the gas company would turn the pilot on and off, each once a year. This was appreciated since, not only did the burning pilot light use energy and add to warmth, it also blew out once. They probably should have updated the heaters there.)
I later found out that these artificial villages were about as far south from the city center as they were east from the historic village of Boyarka. This is the town on which author Sholom Aleichem based his turn-of-the-century stories. These stories were later turned into Fiddler on the Roof, the most well-known American portrayal of Eastern European rural folk life (and the play my high school put on when I was a senior; I was in the orchestra). People familiar with the play might be shocked to learn that the real-life Anatevka is a surburb of Kyiv, only an hour away from the city center via public transport.
For our late lunch (or early dinner), we went to another location of Varenicnaya Katysha, this one on the island upon which Mila lived. This one was, if anything, more homey, offering adults a nostalgic trip to the better side of Soviet life in Ukrainian SSR, and offering the kids a play area and a piano; older kids were free to (and did) play it. The best thing we had there was one of the simplest and most traditional, potatoes and onions (perhaps with some mushrooms if memory serves), pan-fried. Also simple and good was cauliflower in a cream and cheese sauce. Even for a vegetarian — no, especially for a vegetarian — Kyiv isn't the healthiest place to eat. The third entree — at these prices, why not? — was a pancake made of peas. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't the best thing on the menu. We finished the meal with poppy seed cake.
Most nights in Kyiv, I couldn't resist turning on CNN to see what the bigger picture was in Ukraine. This was how I learned that former Georgian President and Putin invadee Mikheil Saakashvili, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and Russian oligarch-turned-political-prisoner-turned exile Mikhail Khodorkovsky had been on the Maidan stage during my stay there. One night I even saw a split screen between Maidan and the Stanford quad, a place I've spent much of my life, where a Stanford resident (probably from the Hoover Institution) was being interviewed. On this particular evening, I heard Russia claim it had to take Crimea because, "Moscow cannot ignore calls for help." I couldn't help but think those "calls for help" really originated from Moscow. Few nations are buying this shtick; the sad thing is that some individuals are. (A year later, Putin fessed up, but, years later, his apologists still believe the original story.)start // back / next