Friday, February 28, 2014


There have been hundreds of photos taken lately that show Ukrainians dressed for war.

These are not those photos.






Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Snapshots of Ukrainian Life: Revolution Edition

Despite all the shocking photos and stories pouring out of Ukraine, much of February has been quiet for us. I feel terrible writing that, knowing many have lost their lives this month. It's very strange for mundane activities like work, riding the metro, and holidays to be set against such horrific events.

I don't feel like Kharkov has been a dangerous place to be recently but in the back of my mind there's always the paranoia that things could change very fast. A friend sent this message the other day: I am old enough to remember similar unrest in an adjacent area around the time when you were born. As soon as it only "seemed" to be making its way to a city, it was already upon it. Part of me tries to prepare for such a possibility while the other goes to work, goes home, checks the news, and waits. As another blogger wrote, life is surprisingly normal for most of us. And the good news is although much remains to be decided, the present moment is already more peaceful in Ukraine.

Here's what has been happening for us this month outside of Euromaidan.

Ad for a local English school

It's been warm recently. There's just something about the month of February; snow or no snow, it's never pretty.

At least there's color to be found indoors:
at company 1

Sunday, February 23, 2014

February 23rd demonstrations

Today was the first day I'd been to Freedom Square since it all began. We had a meeting in a restaurant that overlooked the square and, not having heard any recent warnings about the area, decided to go. Here's what we saw upon emerging from the Derzhprom metro-
3 PM
The Lenin monument, the preservation/destruction of which has become a hot topic in the past day, has now been fenced off and surrounded.

Using a loudspeaker, a man called out to the small crowd: Kharkovites, it doesn't matter which side you're on! We are here to prevent vandalism! This is why we are here! Wake up, get off your asses, and join us!

Still, the crowd was small and unstable. People approached, listened, and drifted away.

Ukrainian flags and Kharkiv city flags fluttered in the cold wind, joined by a handful of Ukrainian Socialist Party flags.

On the other side of the square, directly in front of the Regional State Administration building, was a second crowd.
People crammed themselves together on the sidewalk across the street, fronted by a line of policemen.
There will be no fascism here! roared the man on this loudspeaker. If we take the statue down, it'll be done in a lawful manner!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Kharkov Maidan

Crowds tonight at Freedom Square. Some vow to bring down the Lenin statue but allegedly a vote has postponed such action for a few days.

A lot has happened in the past 24 hours.

The President (ex-President?) of Ukraine left the capital. Reports come in periodically- Yanukovich is in Kharkov, he's headed to Russia, he's in Donetsk, he pledges to not leave the country. Meanwhile, the doors of his mansion have been thrown open and some outrageous photos are surfacing on the internet: a golden 2-kilogram loaf of bread, a toilet built like a throne, garages full of motorcycles and luxury automobiles. At the same time, the Parliament of Ukraine voted in favor of impeachment.

Yulia Timoshenko, the (until now) jailed politician, she of the blonde braids, has been freed. She's made it to Kyiv already and speaks to the crowds on Maidan.

The mayor and governor of Kharkov fled the city earlier this evening.

Thousands rose up and marched in Kharkov today. You can see it for yourself in this 30-second clip. They marched against the government, in support of the EuroMaidan movement.

I haven't heard anything so far from my friends and students who support Yanukovich. I did catch up online with a friend from the opposite side who marched with the protestors today. A great day, we won, Kate! It was like an endless unity of the nation and people. I almost cried, it was so true without any masks. Today was a crucial moment; if we didn't rise up — we lose. When I asked him what would happen next, he replied Now we must work hard to exterminate the corruption.

A live stream of the events in Kharkov can be seen here.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

February 20th in Kharkov

Today I'd planned to share a post on the Vietnamese community in Kharkov, but it just doesn't seem appropriate right now.

Chaos has begun to engulf the nation.

Kharkov, which had previously been passed over by most of the violence, is now showing signs of falling into the maelstrom.

It's so hard sometimes to know what's real and what's not; people say one thing, the media says another thing, and the government might say something completely different. The truth can't always be confirmed. Sometimes you can only trust what you see and hear yourself.

It's shocking that in just 20 months, Ukraine went from Euro2012 to EuroMaidan.

From this-
2012 UEFA European Championship  picture from

to this.

The streets of Kyiv, February 2014

I don't want to spread half-cocked rumors or fear on the internet. There are other people and organizations out there with analyses and breaking news and hard facts (although whether you can trust them or not is another matter). I don't know what's going on, I only can tell you about the things that have happened yesterday and today in my little world.

We played Scrabble yesterday. One friend apologized, saying he wouldn't join us as he was taking part in a protest to prevent forces from heading to the capital. Things turned ugly, of course. He wrote later on the vk social network: I left for work half an hour before the crackdown. It was horrible - the riot police was beating the peaceful protesters up, from the other side thugs, armed with baseball bats, attacked as well. They were chasing people everywhere. Thanks God, my girlfriend and her mom were able to hide inside the metro.

Then during classes last night, another friend sent me a text: Are you okay? I heard there'd been a shooting in your part of the city.

That text made me a bit antsy about the walk home from the metro but what was more worrisome was the group of young men hanging underground near the metro doors. They were about a dozen guys, all squatted low to the ground, not talking, giving off a really bad vibe. I didn't manage to get a good look at them as they seemed incredibly hostile, like they were waiting for trouble... but willing to wait patiently for it only so long.

Although the death toll in Kyiv has continued to rise, business went on as usual in Kharkov this morning. I went off to class and heard not a whisper about any of this in the metro... but things were different after class. At both metro stations I saw long lines near the ATMs and bank windows (this was around 2 PM). The supermarket down the road now has an unusually-full parking lot. And D just emailed from work with this: I tried calling you because I've heard that something is going on with the metro. I don't know about food. I think we should get a bunch of basics such as gretchka, sugar, etc. I'll come home earlier so we can shop. I don't want you to go alone. We should go together.

As I've written this post, the online forums have started to discuss these long lines near the banks and what it could mean for the country.

Two separate emergency vehicles have gone by the apartment, sirens blaring.  

A friend near Kyiv sends a Facebook message: everything is so scary and I can hardly stop crying.

Let's just hope the darkness means dawn is coming soon. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mystery Park

11 days until the first day of spring, I told myself today as fat snowflakes plummeted past the window. The streets had just managed to clear themselves of crusty piles of leftover snow, the kind that melt away to reveal about 20,000 cigarette butts. But there was a time- and will be a time- without snow, a time of year where cigarette stubs are immediately swept up, where one doesn't have to always dodge ice slicks and mud puddles.

Remember that?
They say it does actually exist... once a year ; )

Last summer we discovered a cool plaza near the Palace of Sports. It just so happened to be across the street from our favorite movie theater and eventually a day came when we were early (!!) to the showing, meaning a chance to walk across the street and check this place out.

On the other side of those trees, men laboured to build a new arena that will host the 2015 European Basketball Championship. It looks like it'll be a rather fancy place, seating around 6,000 people (making it one of the smallest of the EuroBasket arenas). Speaking of hosting events, it seems like Ukraine is eager to continue attracting this kind of attention. A whopping 1.6 billion is slated for Ukrainian EuroBasket development, 44 million for the Kharkiv arena. If you're thinking- what's next? The freaking World Olympics?- you may be right. Lviv has put in a bid for the 2022 Winter Olmpics : )

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Wow! We've come so far!

From this:
on the brink of 10,000 views

To this:
the big 5-0!

And now, incredibly, to the next stage:
Almost 100,000!! : )

This is my 435th post, which means about 2,000 hours have gone into the writing of this blog. That's 1/5 of the way to expert level, right? We've got over 1,000 comments on here which is AWESOME : ) I love hearing from you guys!! The Facebook page has become my go-to site on the days I'm not posting here and a very cool and engaged community is slowly growing there. It's safe to say that I've very much fallen in love with blogging . It's like coffee for early morning commuters or sunshine for plants; taking pictures and arranging words has become a vital ingredient of my day.

Looking back at all those posts, here are the ones that people visit the most...

The 6 Most Popular Posts of All Time

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What was left behind

While in Crimea last month, we went through some things that D's family had left behind when they moved away. Crumpled school reports, yellowing New Year's cards, employment record books from a nation that no longer exists; the random bits and pieces that are accumulated over a lifetime, all of which had been hidden away from the world until that January day.

Monday, February 3, 2014

5 places that will keep you warm this February

Brrr! It's been around -20C recently! (That's -4F for you guys in the US... but it doesn't sound quite as cold that way, does it? And not near as chilly as some of those polar vortex temperatures.)

This is definitely stay-home-and-drink-hot-tea weather, the perfect excuse to share some new finds with you.

The Lviv Chocolate Workshop

The Lviv Chocolate Workshop is a relatively new addition to downtown Kharkiv and one of the few places in town where staff will speak to you in Ukrainian no matter what. (I heard they even sent their staff to Lviv to practice their Ukrainian, but can't confirm if this is true or not.)

It's a bit like the Шоколадка café over on Pushkin Street in that you can buy chocolate novelties (spoons, cell phones, paintings, etc) but I suspect the chocolate here to be tastier (the chocolate cat from Шоколадка sadly had far more value as a decoration than a dessert). This workshop of chocolate delights offers not only cute gifts- there's also a buffet that would make even Willy Wonka jealous! And if you're more the DIY type, you can always shell out to take an actual chocolate-making class here.
live music!
This place has all the usual coffee shop drinks (15-30 uah) plus 4 varieties of melted chocolate (23-25 uah) accompanied by a long list of toppings (2 uah each). D went for melted milk chocolate with kiwi. I went for complete chocolate overload: chocolate cake + hot chocolate.

There's one drawback. though; since it's new and cool, competition for seats can be fierce and they don't accept reservations. Show up hopeful anyway and- by hook or by crook- find yourself a seat.

Location: вул. Квітки-Основ'яненка 12 (as well as 5 locations in Lviv and 16 franchise locations spread throughout the country!). Take the metro to Radianska and then walk to the Assumption Cathedral. The café is next door. 

Hours: 9 AM - 10 PM

Гигант (Giant)

Not much to say about this place except that it's my favorite place to go dancing!!

If you like classy night clubs with elegant people, avoid this place.

If you enjoy the company of students (particularly those from African countries or countries that end in -stan), cheap drinks, and don't mind a 5-to-1 male-to-female ratio (aka BYOW [bring your own women]), this is your spot. But most of all, this is the kind of place where people don't care too much or judge you too much (mainly because they're young and drunk).