Ukraine, May 10, 1999
Adventures at the headwaters of Russian Culture: Ukraine
|What a scene! I'm chilling on a balcony in Kiev (or Kyiv,
as its know here), watching the show that's unfolding below me. I'm on the
main street, Khreschatyk Ulitza, and they've closed it to traffic for the
weekend. It is a madhouse down there, today being Victory Day and all, the
national holiday celebrating the defeat of Germany in WWII.
The people here seem so much more relaxed than their Moscow brethren. Maybe it's the holiday spirit, maybe it's the river's endless cycles, maybe it's the warmer winters, but whatever it is, I'm glad! I was so stressed in Moscow, and always so on the go, that I was really a bit worn out. Kyiv feels like a good place to zero-out from the Moscow madness, where I can chill on this balcony and watch the day pass.
As I was told by half a dozen cab drivers so far, Kyiv is the source of all Russian history, culture, language, and religion. It was here, many moons ago, that the pre-Russians invited a Viking down from Sweden, to be the first Tzar. It was here that the two monks wrote down Russian, using a mix of alphabets, with one, Cirryl, even giving his name to the new alphabet. It was here that Valodoya sent three emissaries to each of the great western religions, baptizing his city in mass, in the Dnipro, when he accepted Orthodoxy as the truth for his people. It is here that I will wander about, exploring the forgotten capitol of Russia.
As a capitol city, it definitely has a European flair. Unlike Moscow, where war and Stalin remade the city into grey buildings, Kyiv still has unique and interesting homes facing tree-lined streets. The people look more European too, with less of the Tartar influence you can see in the north. I am still getting used to the language though. All the advertisements are in Ukrainian, but people speak Russian, with a few Ukrainian words thrown in. I keep waiting for someone to look at me funny cuz I am speaking Russian, not Ukrainian, but so far, I haven't met anyone who knows the latter.
Oddly enough, there are still quite a few monuments to Lenin standing around. I'd expected that Ukraine would have torn down all the USSR trappings, like the Baltics did, but it is not to be. I guess they are still a bit nostalgic for the "good old days" when, although there were bread lines, everyone was dirt poor equally.
I just hope I don't get nostalgic for the Moscow lifestyle. I'm on a budget these days, and even though it is quite cushy by backpack standards, I can't go clubbing every night like I did in the past. I am not sure if I could if I wanted to. The city isn't as rich or as big as Moscow and therefore can't support the same amount of nightlife. It can support me, though!