Monday, December 30, 2013

Odessa in photos

Odessa, as seen December 26th - 28th, 2013.

Enjoy! : )

Morning fog at the Odessa train station.
The Saint Panteleimon Orthodox Church and its neighboring "Mister Sandwich" cafe.

Found this cat on duty outside a discount shop.
Changing of the guard?

Friday, December 27, 2013

New Years and Other News

New Year's preparations in progress...
The local paper already has weather predictions for the entire coming year. How in the world can they predict that??!
The predictions include "a frozen and snowy February, a rainy spring, an early summer (@ 40° C) and a warm fall".
As I stood near the straws at Coffee Life, looking over the front page, an old woman entered from the street. She grabbed the copy on top of the pile, frowned, and looked at me and said: Why do they print this stuff? They can't even get tomorrow's weather right!, tucked the paper under her arm, and hustled herself right back out the door.

For those of you who live abroad, do you often read the local news? Do you do it online or via newspaper? Every time I see a newspaper I wish I were more up-to-date on what's happening locally. Maybe that will be New Year's resolution #1!

This December 24th issue of Вести had a lot of interesting tidbits- for example, a New Year's poll. Ever wondered what Ukrainians do to celebrate? Read on! You can see how "Ukrainian" your celebration will be...

5 questions about New Year

Where do you plan to celebrate the holiday?
  • @ home [59%]
  • with friends [35%]
  • at my parents' place [21%]
  • undecided [8%]
  • in a restaurant or on the street [7%]

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!!

We're mixing old traditions with new for Christmas this year-

Last night two local American couples hosted a craft night:
Attempting to decorating cookies. Mine looked like they were done by a drunken elephant with a paintbrush.
The hostess found the idea for these adorable nativity scene ornaments on Pintrest: cinnamon, cloves, anise, yarn, glue gun and voilà!

Our Christmas tree is up, made possible by the dollar store (mini tree & tinsel garland), Yves Rocher (ornaments), friends (santa), students (angel), and the aforementioned craft night:

Tonight may be Christmas Eve but it's business as usual in Ukraine. Here's where we're deviating from tradition and instead going to the Russian banya until the wee hours of the morning. Then back to work tomorrow morning for D (but don't worry, I'll make him a nice Christmas breakfast!) and come evening we'll be on the train for Odessa with the rest of his coworkers. This time I'll be properly dressed for lots of stomping around en masse in the cold :P

As for costumes, D managed to track down a gangster costume [of which he's most excited about his faux machine gun] and I'm busy panicking about my [so far] lack of a costume. Does a black dress cut it?

Anyways, Merry Christmas to all of you who will be celebrating tonight and tomorrow!!!! : ) Wishing you a day filled with fun, family, and friends!

A "real" Santa Claus (aka Дед Мороз, Grandfather Frost) for hire!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Saturday in Ukraine

Saturday, 3:30 PM

Just a random Saturday in Ukraine...

8:30 AM: Alarm goes off. Ugh. Alarm gets quickly turned off and reset.

9:30 AM: Alarm goes off again. Кит is meowing up a storm, demanding his breakfast. D feeds the cat and heads out to drop off some paperwork with someone. I sleep in : )

10:30 AM: D returns. Кит makes it known that he's ready for breakfast, round 2. Then it's nap time for all.

11:30 AM: Now everyone is awake. Breakfast is grechka (buckwheat) and ketchup. Two cups of black tea. Some discussion over what will happen this week... it's time for the yearly corporate party down in Odessa. This year's theme is 1920s/gangsters and the company seems to be taking it fairly seriously so we've been in minor panic mode trying to come up with ideas. The office is leaving for Odessa on Wednesday but suddenly now we have some bureaucratic tangles to unsnarl- and quickly- so Odessa might not be an option this year after all.

1:00 PM: Leave for the Pivdenniy Vokzal metro station, as D has more paperwork to drop off at an office across town.

1:30 PM: Get to Pivdenniy Vokzal. An outdoor market has sprung up around the train station. It's been there for a couple of days, usually playing these guys via massive speakers.

1:50 PM: Seems like the office is closed until 2 PM, so we set off on a walk around the neighborhood.
Lots of icy sidewalks this time of year, be careful out there!
How much? Why, quite a bit, thank you for asking! :p

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The holidays are coming!

13 days remain until the festivities begin in Ukraine!!

Window displays are already in place around town:
Everyone always tells stories about mandarins being the best treat of their childhood. "My mother would only give us one per day", said a businessman the other day. "We could hardly wait until New Years Day, until she finally let us eat our fill."

New Year greetings Yoda-style (something like New Year Happy, it is)

Kharkov's Freedom Square remains fenced off, ostensibly for municipal workers to create a winter wonderland...
Freedom Square, December 2013. Photo credit to the lovely Maxine : )

But last year (and the year before, if memory serves) there was no such restriction:
Freedom Square, December 2012
... so that could be because of EuroMaidan.

Meanwhile, the ёлка at the train station has received its final touches.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Kharkiv EuroMaidan

Even the BBC is talking about Kharkiv's rather laid-back attitude towards EuroMaidan, but I'm going to change my stance a little and say that while the reaction here isn't like the massive patriotic fervour seen in the capital, opinions are nevertheless being expressed on the streets.

These stickers have popped up around town:
"Kharkiv Euromaidan, 6 PM, at the Shevchenko monument"
At first I wasn't sure what they meant- 6 PM when?- but guessed maybe they meant 6 PM daily. Sure enough, a few days later I ended up downtown at 7 PM and came across this crowd, complete with the mandatory loudspeaker-holding motivational speaker.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Winter Blues

Winter is so exciting at first: the snow, the cozy evenings, the matching gloves and scarves. But after the first few weeks have passed, ugh. It's like a marathon of endurance. A seeming lifetime of 3 PM sunsets and frozen toes. The winter blues have hit me hard this time around. Looks like this centipede feels the same way-

Readers- what do you do to keep your spirits up during this time of year?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Euromaidan update

The streets of Kyiv, December 8th.
People from around the world have been asking what it's like in Kharkiv right now. The capital (Kyiv) has been action-packed for almost 2 weeks: protesters have occupied government buildings, special police forces are in the streets, the Kyiv Post newspaper is providing continuous updates.

This is Майдан Незалежності, Kyiv's Independence Square, on December 6th:

And to compare, here's Площа Свободи, Kharkiv's Freedom Square, on December 7th:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving and... a revolution?

Kharkiv's Freedom Square at 3 PM today, now closed to the public.
As we enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinner, little did we know that a storm was brewing. No one brought it up that Thursday evening but within 48 hours, talk of a revolution was everywhere.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Russian away from Europe?

A long, long time ago (6 months ago?), this ad for parking popped up in Kyiv:
"Be European! Buy parking tickets!"
And now, as you've most likely heard after the internet blew up with protests and calls to action, there's a lot more going on with this European idea than mere parking customs.

Should Ukraine align itself with Europe? With Russia? Do its own thing?

The first political display of opinion to show up in Kharkiv was this, about two months ago:
"Independence 1991 - 2013. We remember, we love, we mourn."
I noticed the sticker on the back of an advertisement stand at the train station. Who had put it there?

A few weeks later, the billboards spoke out:
"EU association means an increase in prices." [depicts 19.99 uah becoming 19.99] "The Ukrainian Choice political party is warning you."
"EU association" [warning symbol] "The Ukrainian Choice political party is warning you."

If you're late to the game, here's some good reading to get caught up. Or just use the dates as a timeline of what's been going down.

Nov 3: Ukraine's Risky Bet: An eventual new alliance?

Nov 11: Phantom Pain in Russia's Amputated Limbs: Russia just won't let go?

Nov 12: Ukraine, a Chocolate Factory, and the Fate of a Woman: Poisonious chocolate? Or political pressure?

Nov 16: Waiting to See if Ukraine Tilts East or West: What will happen to Yulia Tymoshenko?

Nov 16: Epic Drama in Ukraine: Do Villains Turn Into Heroes?: Ukraine... as a Hollywood screenplay?

and then the President called things off...

Nov 21: Ukraine Suspends Preparations for EU Trade Agreement: Further delays?

Nov 22: From Facebook and Twitter to the streets: Ukrainians protest of ceased EU deal: #євромайдан, #майдан, and #euromaidan? 

Nov 22: EU loses out on Ukraine, but may have dodged a bullet: Did it?

Nov 22: Politics of Brutal Pressure: What's going on behind the scenes?

Nov 24: Huge Ukraine rally over EU agreement delay A second Orange Revolution in the works?

And that's pretty much where things stand as of today, November 26th. The mayor of Kharkiv has banned all mass public gatherings, allegedly to try to contain a flu outbreak. Lugansk has outlawed all peaceful public protests until 2014. There's already been violence in Dnipropetrovsk. One blogger witnessed her students leaving school and taking to the streets in Kolomyia.

By the way, this is NOT about Ukraine joining the EU tomorrow- that's not what was on the table. What was being offered was a trade agreement.
The political ads around Kharkiv protest any form of alliance with the E.U. but I wondered what the average person thinks.

So I put the question out there:

What do you think about Ukraine and the E.U.?

And here's what people (students and friends) said:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

На кухне 12: Odds and Ends

Support your local sausage industry

Ой, it's been six months since the last edition of на кухне (in the kitchen)! To be honest, it feels like it's been that long since I actually cooked something. Is there anyone else out there guilty of shirking their womanly kitchen duties? Since the entire summer and fall have looked like this:
Banjo café, Prospect Gagarina
... I don't have any delicious recipes to share this time, sorry. But I do have some other tasty odds and ends for you!

Drink your soup

Actually, the last recipe I remember trying to make was a disastrous attempt at okroshka, a chilled soup that's popular in Ukraine.
This is how okroshka should look. Disclaimer: not my okroshka. It's from the cafeteria.
Most people nowadays seem to use a milk product (i.e. kefir, sour cream, buttermilk, even mayo [if you can believe my friends]) as a base but this Baltika beer ad suggested using non-alcoholic beer instead.
"okroshka with shrimp in beer" Looks good in the ad, doesn't it? (Can you see where this is going?)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What I love: Kharkiv architecture

Ten of my favorite things about the architecture in this city! : )

 #1. Buildings with arches that you can drive through:
Overwhelming, slightly depressing, yet impressive.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Snapshots of Ukrainian Life, Part 16

There's a Russian-language version of the board game Monopoly. It's called (what else?) Capitalist. This is the Ukrainianized-version: Capitalist Ukraine, in which players can purchase famous landmarks and services from around the country. Cool, huh?
cigarette kiosk near the Central Market

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What is Ukraine?: an odd collection of quotes

Ukrainian FAQ: all the questions Ukrainians are undoubtedly sick of answering
image found on

There's one question that people always ask you more than any other when you're a foreigner living in Ukraine.

Not "Where are you from?"
Not "Why did you come here?"
Not even "Do you like our country?"

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Great Blini Peace Treaty of 2013

Thank you guys for your comments and emails! I'm happy to report that all of us are alive and well, even the cat (who has been eating the [extremely, extremely well-cooked] meat).

For forty-eight hours I've been attempting to tone down my shameful super-bitch alter ego. It's like she manifests herself out of the darkest recesses of my head, making a special appearance for only 2 particular people on this planet, one of those people being D's mom. (As to the other person, sorry. Probably nothing is ever going to change there and you know why.) D's mom is really sweet- she tries so, so, SO hard and watching my evil twin treat her so poorly practically constitutes a crime against humanity. But I have learned a couple of things by now:
  • Mothers + their sons + the son's girlfriend = a combo that probably doesn't work well long-term in any culture. It's like two angry reindeer and an innocent man, all stuck inside a bottle.
  • I am the mistress of cleaning and decorating my home. If someone tries to rearrange the plants on the windowsill or clean my sink, prepare for war!!
  • Cooking, however... please step right up. Here I'll totally yield ground.
  • Guilt gifts help.
So, after buying a scarf for D and a scarf + tapochki (aka house slippers, the building block of Ukrainian society) for his mother, it came time to put part two into action: a truce cemented by the noble pancake.

We made blini together.

It was surprisingly easy to make them.
2 cups of milk, 2 eggs, 1 tsp salt, 2 tbsp sugar, and roughly 2 cups flour.

Mix gently.

Add (a shocking amount of) oil to a dry frying pan and wait for it to heat up.

Pour the heated oil into the batter, stir once, then begin frying.