|Kharkov's mirror stream fountain. Opera House in the background.|
|The whole family- to vacation!|
Let me rewind to a couple of past events. First, Happy Independence Day to Ukraine! What happened here in Kharkov on that day? Well... not much. In fact the streets downtown looked like this by 11 PM:
(Meanwhile, other cities wasted no time in celebrating- check out this cute Kiev blog for details!)
The night before that, though, was different. August 23rd, 1943 was the day that the Red Army liberated Kharkov from the Germans back in WWII. There had been several previous attempts to do so; none had succeeded until this final battle. By that point the city was in ruins and the number of dead was staggering. To give you an idea of the chaos, there's a local story about several monkeys escaping the zoo's destruction and living in Freedom Square during these years, kept alive by handouts from kind-hearted locals. Remember the 23rd of August metro stop and the giant statue of a soldier with a rifle raised to the heavens? Yep, that's in honor of this, so it's a pretty big day for the city.
August 23rd, 2012 was the final day of the semester at my school. I was in class from almost 9 AM to 9 PM, missing a lot of the day's festivities. During one of my classes a student looked curiously to the window: "Is that thunder?" I assumed it was until I got outside and saw colorful fireworks in the distance. D and I quickly made our way to the crowded sidewalks and cobblestones of Sumskaya street, which had been closed to vehicles. There were fire dancers, a drunk foreigner shouting out один два три! repeatedly, groups of teenagers, beer bottles underfoot everywhere. Freedom Square was filled with giant TV screens and an eager audience for these guys- Дискотека Авария!!!!!!!!! I was SO THRILLED to join the audience- these guys have been on my playlist for the last 6 years. Here's one of the songs they played that night:
Not long after we'd settled in, two men appeared and spread out a picnic blanket nearby. One of them was carrying this gorgeous cat in a shopping bag. The cat hopped out and started nibbling delicately on the grass. I worked up my courage and went over to complement the owner on his cat. I said, "You have an extraordinary cat." "Hey, I've seen you! You're that reporter on TV!" he replied. I stuttered, in my marginally acceptable Russian, "Um, nope, probably not." He didn't appear convinced but he told me more about his housecat, such as how she could swim. "No way!" I replied in awe. "Oh yes, no doubt. She's a swimmer." he answered reassuringly. Tanya, I'm sorry, I know you think this is animal cruelty, but the rest of us just had to see if he was telling the truth. Sure enough, a short while later he stripped down to his speedo, picked up his cat, and waded into the water. When he reached deep water he let go of the cat which, true to his word, started swimming bravely..... toward the shore. The cat didn't look that upset and not a single meow escaped from her mouth but surely she couldn't have been a happy cat. Or could she? He repeated the swim one more time, telling us how he'd trained her to do this. And- this is a direct quote- "I might drink but I don't abuse animals." The cat got back to dry land, shook herself off, and haughtily stalked back to the picnic blanket.
And that- Ukrainian Independence Day, Kharkov City Day, and Belgian Independence Day- brings us up to now, vacation time and its possibilities. This week I want to explore a new part of town with an English student, organize a Scrabble game, meet a Texan for tea, and welcome my penpal Lena to town. There's a lot to do and only a limited amount of vacation to do it in, so I'd better get started!