Tuesday, July 1, 2014


It was a three-day weekend for many people recently as June 28th marked Ukraine's Constitution Day. Now, just a few days later, the long weekend is over, the ceasefire has ended, and the news is again sadly full of bloodshed.

But Sunday was quiet. We caught a marshrutka to the outskirts of the city and then piled in a friend's car and drove toward a small river as far as the road allowed.

It was the same area we'd visited before but the water was so high this time that I had trouble recognizing the usual swimming spot. A man walked by, advising us not to swim as a factory upstream had been dumping something in the water.

The moratorium on swimming lasted a few hours and then some of us braved the waters. (On the other hand, the guy who gave the warning was carrying a fishing pole himself... )

Our gentlemen proved themselves useful as they did manly, fire-y things.

Us ladies were first up, following a recipe copied from a coworker-

- which, after lots of stirring and waiting, resulted in a delicious porridge.

Then the men were back to do all the slimy-raw-meat stuff that's required for the greatest picnic staple of all: shashlik.

Nature cooperated beautifully that afternoon.

Other picnickers passed by. One group settled down about 6 meters away: skinny husband, wife squeezed into a blue string bikini, and mom, all relaxing to the sounds of the portable radio they'd brought and keeping an eye on their black poodle (who made several sneaky attempts to ambush the shashlik!) : )

We got to be on the menu too, to legions of hungry mosquitoes.

They sure weren't bothered by liberal doses of this stuff!

Eventually we began to trade sunlight for shadows-

- and a fog started to rise off the still-warm water.

We packed everything up and headed indoors for some tea.

Our friends live in a building that was built in the 1930s for workers at a nearby coal refinery.

It's a two-bedroom apartment, perfect for a family their size, but it was surely close quarters for the original occupants: two families- one family per room- sharing the kitchen and bathroom!

My friend showed us his collection of incredibly old things he'd dug up at his dacha-

and a report card from school days long gone by-

We listened to a tan radio on the wall, which he says was installed when the building was built. It receives a single channel, the government news, which played as we sipped our tea. "Do you understand this?" he asked me. "It's in Ukrainian." Fortunately, I'm getting a little better with my Ukrainian now. "Uh, something about three months and the Russian Federation?" "Yeah- they're saying that we've been in an undeclared war with Russia now for three months."

As with almost all of my friends here, these friends speak Russian and are unabashedly pro-Ukrainian. "I've always felt strongly Ukrainian," my friend said as we walked towards the marshrutka stop. The media has turned language into a huge dividing factor but what's on your tongue doesn't necessarily label what's in your heart. Or as my 13-year-old student put it: Russian is my home language but I speak Ukrainian with my friends because it's cool and I am Ukrainian. But still, there are other opinions in the city as we discovered when we finally arrived at the marshrutka stop.

"We are Russian"

I'd like to think that this isn't our final Ukrainian picnic, that one or two more lie ahead, but it's hard to say. Two weeks ago I would have been surprised that we were here for this one, but a "final visit for paperwork" to the veterinarian turned into "pay a bunch of money and wait for the results of this blood test", so who knows... there might be one more long sunny afternoon left in this story.


  1. Oh my, this reminds me of every Russian piknik/ekskurtsiya I've ever been on! I'm so glad you guys are still finding a bit of normalcy.

    1. Glad it brought back some good memories for you, Polly. Sounds like you might get the chance for a piknik soon yourself! : )

  2. I am simply jealous. ;) That shashlik looks amazing as well as the picnic area. But being form Minnesota and enduring the nightly feeding of mosquitos here, as I’m sure pales in comparison to Alaska, I did think wow I bet the bugs are bad there. I feel a certain homesickness or nostalgia in your tone that fans the flames of my own homesickness for Ukraine and all things Dnieper River picnics and hot summer afternoons. Good stuff. Thank you Zak