Kyiv 2014

My trip to a post-revolutionary Ukraine

March 9 (Sunday seeing what I'd skipped)

Since I hit the wall on museums the prior day, I still had some things left to visit in and near the Lavra complex. First was the Historical Treasures Museum, also called the "Jewelry Museum," since most of the treasures were jewelry and other precious metalwork. It was a big and comprehensive museum (of course), with much about the land's history, from pre-Roman to modern. As with many other museums, I found that, this Sunday morning, I was the only one there (aside guards, one in nearly every room); I was there for two hours and left around noon. Also, many items were given one-word explanations that I'd have to look up later, such as "torques," which are apparently ancient, stiff, metal necklaces designed for permanent wearing. (For some reason, though, they thought "quiver" needed more explanation.) Highlights included quality ancient jewelry pieces and a silver-and-coconut goblet, a motif I'd see again in other museums. The museum also had a Russian room (including Fabergé), a Western European room (with lots of beer steins), and a small room of Judaica, including some beautifully detailed sunflower-shaped spice boxes.

Sunflower spice boxes (and other silverwork) for Jewish religious ceremonies
Sunflower spice boxes (and other silverwork) for Jewish religious ceremonies

Sabbath prayers echoed from the time I entered the museum, which was right next to the Cathedral of the Dormition, to the time I left. They were coming from electric speakers discreetly placed in the fa├žade of the church. My plan was more secular, though, so I left the complex, grabbed a potato-and-herb crepe from a kiosk, and went to the war museum area, passing by Soviet-era sculptures I'd previously missed, then returning to the War Relics Expositions.

Area outside the war museums
Area outside the war museums

Someone posing with another sculpture
Someone posing with another sculpture

Housed in a small building in the War museum complex and closed Tuesdays, the day of my first visit, the expositions number two. On the bottom floor is the "Foreign Wars" exposition, with artifacts from the military adventures of the Soviet Union. That's right: This was a memorial to the Cold War, told from the other side. With Soviet music in the background, I got to see all sorts of "relics" from the civil wars in Spain, China, Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam, as well as more obscure conflicts, like those in Angola, Yemen, and Ethiopia. Remember Ethiopia's infamous famine in the 1980s? When Western rock stars tried feed the hungry (with questionable results)? The Ethiopian government which led the country during the famine was hailed for its struggle for "proletariat internationalism" in a commendation at the museum, dated 1989. (The despot at the top has lived in Zimbabwe as an official guest of Robert Mugabe for over two decades, dodging a genocide conviction.) Other items touching on wider events included the use of the Olympic logo in 1980, and a Che icon plus he and the Castro brothers in photos and letters. They also had American medals from the Korean War. For a small room, it was packed full of history.

Outside the room was a list of conflicts Ukrainians (i.e., Soviets) had been involved in by the year the conflict began. Most noticeable was the final year, 1979, during which no less than eight Soviet-aided wars began. Afghanistan was just the tip of the iceberg.

Afghanistan was, however, a big deal, so upstairs, in the second of the two rooms, was a large exposition on the war, "Afghan tragedy and valor." Every type of weapon you could image — any type of war artifact in general — was there. There were mines and bazookas, tires and netting, letters and official papers, photos and sketches, watches and compasses, clothes and awards — both from the Soviets and from international organizations (e.g., for nursing). There were also 15 or 20 propaganda posters. Some of these had clear symbols of peace; it was unclear to me whether these called for peace through withdrawal or peace through victory. (Afghanistan, ultimately, would get neither of these.) Again, very different to see from the other side. Just outside of the war museum complex was a memorial with tons of flowers, dedicated to the "eternal memory courageous sons of Ukraine who fell in Afghanistan."

Afghanistan War memorial
Afghanistan War memorial

Afghanistan War museum
Afghanistan War museum

The trip back to the Metro took me down the park on the hill, and along the Dnieper, this on a beautiful clear day. There was someone fishing there, but most of the few people there were just walking. It also afforded a good view of the Lavra complex, at least if you squinted enough to ignore the nearby freeway.

Lavra complex viewed from the Dnieper
Lavra complex viewed from the Dnieper

I boarded the Metro at Dnipro, which was right next to not only the river, but an Azerbaijani restaurant; several former Soviet republics are culinarily represented in Kyiv. From there I went back to Podil, the bottom of Andriyivskyy Descent. After buying some chocolate truffles as the Lviv Chocolate Factory, I went to yet another small, dense museum, the famous Museum of One Street. This place told the story of Kyiv through Andriyivskyy Descent, with a few dozen displays, each having a short description regarding the relevant period and/or aspect of life there. There was also a temporary exhibition with historic photographs; one photograph in particular, which I'd bought a magnet of, seemed to be repeated two or three times, I suppose because it showed how empty that part of Kyiv had been in the 19th century.

Little "workers" at the Lviv Chocolate Factory
Little 'workers' at the Lviv Chocolate Factory

Museum of One Street
Museum of One Street

One of dozens of displays at the museum
One of dozens of displays at the museum

Reliquary with relics of St. Andrew at the museum
Reliquary with relics of St. Andrew at the museum

I waited for Mila in a juice bar, ordering the unusual combination of pumpkin juice and olive oil, which tasted about the way it sounded (but not awful). Looking out, I was treated to the sight of a street guy in a Slayer hat pouring booze into a Sprite bottle. Some things, I guess, are almost universal.

When we met up, Mila asked if I wanted to try a new Ukrainian place, but this place turned out to be much more crowded than the others we'd tried, so we fell back on Varenicnaya Katysha. This was the point at which I noticed that their menu was in Russian, but they were advertising Ukrainian language children's books; like I said, they languages are practical interchangeable to Ukrainians, but noticeably different nonetheless. Also, this time we were in a room where a concert video was playing. Amusingly, it began with the English disclaimer, "This bootleg is for previewing purposes only." This bootleg?

The mushroom soup was reminiscent of matzo ball soup, and we also had garlic sautéed mushrooms, savory cabbage perozhki, and a sweet cherry perozhki, perozhki being the fried, stuffed dough that's not to be confused with "pierogi." I had another compote, and Mila had her usual as well, a latte.

After dinner, we took the subway to the northernmost reaches of town, to DreamTown, a mall that wouldn't have been out of place in a middle- to upper-class American suburb. I'm not sure what you call the sections of every mall that have the elevators and escalators, usually an open area with a café nearby, but here each was internationally themed: Greece, France, China, jungle, and Hollywood. They went all out — even having a piano on a glass platform suspended in air by cables. But really there was nothing we needed there, so we went to the kiosks next to the mall to do our shopping, getting candy and Uzbek-style bread.

There's no Greek like fake ancient Greek.
There's no Greek like fake ancient Greek.

Nothing says "Hollywood" like a piano suspended in mid-air.
Nothing says 'Hollywood' like a piano suspended in mid-air.

At this point, news reports were making it very clear that a rushed plebiscite was about to occur to justify Russia's invasion and annexation of Ukraine. With gun-wielding soldiers/paramilitaries at their sides, and only the deceitful Russian media allowed in their homes, it was clear which way the election was going to go. I devoured reports of the latest developments, opinion, and astonishing first-hand reports. If we wanted to play Putin's game, I suppose we could always seize ally Cuba in order to ensure the safety of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. But at the very least we could follow the advice of President Theodore Roosevelt, and speak softly while carrying a big stick. Here it seemed that the West was offering a lot more talk than intimidation. And now someone who could barely get 4% of the vote in Crimea was the figurehead who was allegedly calling the shots, to the point of secession.

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