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

Classes are going well. The general mood has been a bit low as people are distracted by what's happening, but we get by.

at company 2
D and I shared a salad and dessert at Pizza Maranello one recent weekend, then bought an assemble-it-yourself-or-go-crazy-trying table at a nearby furniture shop.
We managed to not go crazy and now the electric tea kettle no longer sits on the kitchen floor (getting covered in roaming furballs, meow!).

Speaking of desks, I long-ago hijacked the original kitchen table to make a mini-office on the balcony. Until then, D had to grudgingly share his "man cave" desk. It took us a while to organize things on the balcony, but we finally did it...
...only to discover that a little guy with a big attitude decided he also needed a desk.
He likes paperwork (aka sitting on top of any loose papers) and knocking paperclips to the floor.
By the way, Кит has taken up two new hobbies this year: gardening and jigsaw puzzles. (That's code for "rampant plant destruction" and "hiding puzzle pieces" in cat speak.)

Valentine's Day was low-key. Stayed home and played an absurdly long game of Capitalist Ukraine (Ukraine-themed monopoly). Out of the two of us, D turned out to be the better capitalist.

Also been playing lots of Scrabble recently. It's good to sit down with others and talk over the news.

One pleasant thing: it used to be getting dark when we finished Scrabble:
...but now the sun sets significantly later. Sunbeams have even been known to stream in through the coffee shop windows.
February (ignore the fog :p)

In my free time, I'm attempting to organize the unruly stacks of lesson plans that can be found on every flat surface at home. It seems like teachers are the worst when it comes to accumulating papers!

On a totally random note, I can't wait to try out this idea that was shared the other day on vk:
Finally, no more milk all over the counter! Triumph at last! (Milk is sold in boxes and bags here.)

D took a short train trip recently. Train travel has really changed in Ukraine over the past few years: first came the faster trains, then ID requirements, now fancy tickets with a QR code. On this particular trip, the train between Crimea and Kharkiv was a Russia-bound train. Everyone got a little travel kit (containing the local holy trinity of disposable slippers, a shoe horn, and a shoe shine wipe) and those continuing on to Russia even got a hot meal.

Speaking of traveling, last weekend we hopped on board a random tram and ended up at the Sun Mall. The Sun Mall had more Coming Soon! signs than actual shops and a complicated scheme in which escalators and elevators go to different floors. We managed to get up to floor 6 to discover fast food (burgers and sushi) and lots of families enjoying the view of Gagarin Avenue.

Back to politics for a second- these signs have popped up around town, reading YOU HAVE A CHOICE! DEMOCRACY. (I'm noticing for the first time that the Russian word for democracy- народовластие- is literally "people power".)
The billboards are sponsored by the pro-Russia political party Ukrainian Choice.
You have a choice as long as you choose this box, it appears.

And a few random snapshots...
Ads for a new boutique opening soon near Arkitektora Beketova.
Maslenitsa, a spring holiday, began yesterday.
Local supermarket on the day that everyone started panicking about food supplies.
Getting a cooking lesson from my neighbor.
Empty late-night corridor at Pushkin metro.
Looks like Кит got his own cat food label, doesn't it?

Outside of what's been reported in the news, that's what February has been like. Some of this normalcy probably comes with the territory (the indisputable expat bubble) so I've been watching my students and friends very closely. Are they panicking? Are they out in the streets? For the great majority- no. They're at home, they're at work, they're in English class. The news makes it seem like Ukraine is constantly teetering on the edge of the apocalypse- and who knows, it may turn out to be true tomorrow- but I think some of those articles are hype. Hype is what sells. Hype is what brings in ad revenue. I'm really hesitant to make the call that everything is okay, but I'd say that in Kharkov for now, most leftover conflict is taking place behind closed doors instead of on the street. A Ukrainian acquaintance just returned from a trip abroad; "I thought there'd be war everywhere," he said. "That's how it looked on the news."

I've been downtown several times in the past 48 hours (not by choice, for work) and while there are constant demonstrations in the square, they're sparsely attended. Last Saturday thousands of people were in the streets; now it's maybe 100-200. I guess next weekend will show us whether that's simply because it's a workday or if people are no longer as involved.

It seems like more and more people are reading this blog because they have loved ones living in Ukraine that they worry for. Unfortunately I can't offer you any direction on what will happen next, what Kyiv will do, or what Russia will do. All I can share with you is what I see and hear around me, and for the moment it seems like the news is making things appear worse than they actually are in Kharkov.

As I wrap this up, just want to say thank you and farewell for now to the Ukraine Peace Corps volunteers. I didn't get to meet as many of you guys as I would have liked, but have heard only wonderful things about your work here. Wishing you guys all the best!!

*PS: If you're also in Kharkov, it would be very interesting to hear your opinion on this. Do you feel safe? Are you considering leaving? What do you think about all the news reports- do they reflect what's actually happening?*


  1. Hey! I am feeling the same way you are! I am feeling cautious more than scared. I have Ukrainian friends on all points of the spectrum: some are actively participating in the protests, some are pro-euromaidan but are not active, and a few (definitely the minority of people who have expressed their opinions to me) are anti-euromaidan. I feel that the reality, compared to the news as reported in the west, is that very few people are pro-Russia and pro-Yanukovich, and most are just anti-conflict. I was confused for a while why the protests were still continuing now that Yanukovich is gone, but it seems that here in Kharkov, people want the local pro-Russian mayor and governor gone, and in the rest of Ukraine, people are making sure that the new government does not forget about their desire for more systematic changes.

    So far, I have never felt in danger here in Kharkov and the couple times I went downtown recently, the protests seemed very tame. I am keeping my eye on the news everyday and I have investigated quick escapes in case of an emergency, but I strongly believe it won't come to that. My family is very concerned for me and I have promised them that I will not take any risks and that I will consider leaving if there is the slightest cause for alarm. Otherwise my days mirror yours: cleaning, shopping, working, cooking, and continuing unhindered with all aspects of daily life :) It is good to hear your perspective and here's to hoping we have no need to leave our lives here earlier than we plan to. All the best to you!

    1. just pls avoid desolated or unlit places. there were already a lot of provocations under false flag to blame this or that side in the central and western Ukraine.
      in any uncertain case - run to be among the passers-by: metro, bus stop with people, café, big shop etc.

    2. Maxine, what a thoughtful response! It's really good to hear from you : ) Sounds like we're pretty much thinking the same things.

      Roman- will do. I try to avoid those kinds of places no matter what is going on. Hope you and your family are doing well!

  2. Thank you so very much for this piece of "real life" blogging, I have re-shared here: https://plus.google.com/100146646232137568790/posts/TiWKUBVVhWJ

  3. THAT MILK THING. DOES IT REALLY WORK?! I will have to try it -- seems to good to be true.

    Glad everything is staying pretty settled. Hope it stays that way.

  4. I think my mom wrote you that message. Also, those pictures of my love, Keet, are awesome. He is photogenic.

    1. Yes, she did. She's a very smart woman and brought up some good points in her email.

      Кит says hello, btw : )

  5. I'm with Polly, the milk in Belgium is sold in boxes too and I FLIPPED OUT when I saw that. YES IT WORKS! little things, guys, it's the little things.

    1. Very cool! Thanks for being our guinea pig, Kirstin : ) : )

  6. I have lived in Russia and Ukraine for a combined 7 years and had no idea about pouring that way! I live in Kharkov but am in the States and am waiting on visas. But last we heard the government offices aren't working on those kinds of things right now. Not surprising! Glad things seem pretty normal.