Monday, March 31, 2014


The seasons come and go, buildings are renovated, artwork is remembered- or forgotten, old nations grow into new nations. Everything changes.

In the spirit of those changes, here are a few local snapshots showing exactly that:

Poetry Plaza



Thursday, March 27, 2014

The truth about blogging right now

Shevchenko Park, March 27th, 6:30 PM

Dear readers,

I love blogging and sharing things with you but it's been hard lately. Not hard to actually sit down and write but, in a way, hard to justify the posts. I tend not to write about politics on here, share my own political opinions, or get into any "who's right and who's insanely evil" discussions. Interview offers that turn up are usually turned down, because everyone wants "the view from the ground" and my answer is lame, something like this:

Went downtown last night and there was nothing to report; a handful of police in normal uniforms, candles and flowers near the Lenin statue, lots of young couples out on dates. No angry mobs, no Molotov cocktails, no war. Came home, waited for the news to load, and wow, suddenly some newspaper in Kyiv or London or New York or Canada is saying that yep, 100% sure war will come (or worse, they hope it comes) tomorrow. Then I feel like a big idiot: did I miss the memo? was there a town hall meeting? maybe a secret handshake that communicated this kind of info? a Facebook update from Yatsenyuk? did Putin ride into town atop a tank?

Obviously a super-boring answer. Those foreign correspondents who show up for a day or two manage to find vastly more exciting things to say. Still, that brings me to the whole point of this blog: to share those little, ordinary things. What the park looked like yesterday. Something funny a student said. A strange new food in the supermarket. An unusual Ukrainian superstition. If I wake up and see an armored convey rolling down the street, you'd better believe that's going to be my opening sentence but so far (thank God) there's nothing like that in Kharkiv.

There are many talented bloggers here in Ukraine who focus on politics on all sides of the spectrum (like this blogger, this blogger, and this blogger, just to name a few). Also, as you've noticed, pretty much every single news agency in the world is churning out Ukraine-related news 24/7. If you want that kind of info, really, it's everywhere... except maybe here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Getting an international cat passport in Ukraine

It's happened.

A certain furry someone has his own international "passport" now.

He says he's ready for a high-flying, jet-setting lifestyle, expecting to be served only the finest caviar and freshest cream. (I said he should look for an oligarch to adopt him in that case :P)

This morning we took Kit to the vet.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Early spring

It was an unbelievable 64F in Kharkiv this afternoon! I'd forgotten how good it feels to be surrounded by sunshine and look up to a clear blue sky.

Lots of people are taking advantage of the weather for those ubiquitous impromptu photo shoots that are so popular here. What surprised me most is that it wasn't only girls posing... the girl in the photo shoot below had only about 10 minutes before two guys showed up to take photos in the same spot. By the time they were wrapping things up, another group of guys had come along and were striking different poses near the graffiti.

It was a huge pleasure to get out and walk around some today. After a movie, a quick trip to Central Market, and pizza along the river, we spent twenty glorious minutes just standing in the warm air while waiting for the tram, wanting to soak up massive amounts of Vitamin D. The land of springtime truly feels like a foreign country after winter's long reign.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fairy tales and cartoons in Ukrainian parks

Out on a bit of a wild goose chase to find a vet clinic, we happened across this playground of fairy tales across the street from the Oleksiivska metro.

Fairytale Meadow
I did a little happy dance at seeing this place. Something new, something new! Oleksiivska is one area of town we haven't explored much and I've long been on a hunt to photograph the frequent сказка (skazka, fairytale) and мультик (multik, cartoon) themes in Ukrainian parks and playgrounds.

First up, these three lovely gentlemen, ready for some lunch:
In reference, perhaps, to the 1975 cartoon How The Cossacks Bought Salt (part of the entire "How the Cossacks..." series).

And then the quaint cast of курочка ряба (Speckled Hen): Ded, Baba, Mouse, and the Speckled Hen with her golden egg.
Click here for a YouTube animation of their tale.

Next, here's a guy that would probably look more familiar to you if someone hadn't broken off his most distinguishing feature-
Buratino! Known also as Pinocchio.
I'm not sure if there's a Jiminy Cricket in this Soviet version of the story, but there's something even better: a big turtle named Tortila : )

There's also a poodle involved, as seen in this fountain at the Kiev Zoo-
The entire cast of Buratino, including the evil puppeteer Karabas Barabas.

Speaking of evil, let's talk for a moment about the undisputed Queen of Slavic folklore- Baba Yaga.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The waiting game

Saw this sign while out for a walk this morning-
Who stole what and where have they hidden it? Be in the know! News Radio 100.5

Monday, March 10, 2014

Traveling by marshrutka

As the weather heats up again (it actually looks like summer today!), I'm mentally preparing myself to make the transition from Winter Marshrutka to Summer Marshrutka.

час пик on the marshrutka, courtesy of my student Karina.
 The Russian word for route is marshrut (маршрут), thus a vehicle that travels a particular route is called a marshrutka (маршрутка). Any trip to a country that borders Russia usually includes this rite of passage. At some point you'll find yourself on board one of these vehicles and at час пик (rush hour), you'll be crammed in close enough to your neighbors to get to know them very, very well ; ) Consider it the closest thing you'll get to a hug from a stranger in Ukraine. (Although who knows, you could end up with a marriage proposal, like Polly did!)

The Winter Marshrutka and Summer Marshrutka each have their own challenges. In winter, you stand around in your fur coat, stomping your boots and peering down the road to see if the marshrutka is approaching. When that flash of green appears, you've got to either fumble around for the correct change (2 - 4 uah) or rip your gloves off, exposing hands to the freezing air, to find the money. Once the marshrutka screeches to a halt, you'll have to fight your way on board. It's not so much the other passengers that take up all available space- it's more their own gigantic fur coats. In the winter, we all look like bears (some, of course, being more fashionable than others).

In the summer, it's the opposite.  

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Kharkov Zoo Update

Good, good news!!! After the Kharkov Zoo released a cry for help, a stunning response came in from the local community.

Today was International Women's Day and as a fundraiser the zoo offered half-price on all tickets: 20 uah ($2.17 USD) for adults, 10 uah ($1.08 USD) for kids. The line for tickets went on forever, stretching all the way from the admission gates back to the Ukraina theater. I thought we'd never get in!

Rest assured that for today, the animals are fed. Kharkov, you rallied together and saved the day! Bags and bags and bags of food were dropped off, a constant stream of potatoes, cabbage, apples, and more goods. The zoo's little red tractor was in constant motion, shuttling food between this massive pile near the admission gates and a mountain of plastic bags inside the administration building.

Here's the translation of what the zoo posted on their website earlier today:


We thank you all! Our animals have been provided with enough food for the next few days! 

We sincerely thank all who helped the zoo during these difficult days: with groceries, with money, or simply by buying a ticket to visit the zoo. We're really pleased that thousands of Kharkovians and guests of the city responded to our cry for help.

Today we received a huge quantity of all kinds of food stuffs, so many that we can barely manage to shelve and count them all. Now we have food for the immediate future, so we must turn away further food donations (especially food that spoils quickly).  If you want to help the zoo, please, buy an entrance ticket. If there will be enough visitors, the zoo itself will be able to provide all necessary food in the future.

Please be patient about the long lines at the entrance of the zoo. So many kind people decided to visit the zoo this weekend that the cashiers simply can't keep up with such an enormous quantity of people. If you don't want to stand in line, please come back in a week or so. In the future, your help is even more valuable than right at this moment.
At the same time, we ask all zoo visitors not to feed animals in the zoo because overfeeding them can be just as tragic as not feeding them at all.

A huge thank you once again! 


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Help save Kharkov's zoo!

The Kharkov Zoo has always been one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon. Hidden in the heart of the city, bordered by Karazina University, Shevchenko Park, and a busy side street, this place has a certain charm that lures us back over and over again. (Or rather, it lures me and then I drag a reluctant D along with the promise of a beer.)

*Update on the zoo situation (things are looking much, much better for the animals!!):*

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A birthday amid the uncertainty

As you know, the news about Ukraine is full of полный мрак и ужас, total doom and gloom. It leaves me with a constant headache, like I've been breathing in fumes all day long. Yesterday we spent most of the day at home, clicking through progressively scarier and scarier articles. A student messaged me in the morning: will there be class today? This particular class meets downtown, in a building that borders Freedom Square. I checked with my colleague who would be teaching that morning: No, he texted, I'm going home. There's a strange atmosphere here. Sure enough, before long, something had happened. Meanwhile, the updates from Crimea (where D's extended family lives) just kept getting worse. He checked in with some friends and family by phone, who assured him they were all fine, at home with full pantries. Then he got a call from a co-worker in another city; I don't know what the coworker said, but after the call D immediately filled up the bathtub and all available containers with tap water.

I do want to point out one thing to you; although the media is screaming "war" right now, showing pictures of gun-toting soldiers, and fear-mongering as much as possible, here in Kharkiv- except for the area around Freedom Square- life is more or less normal.

It's not what you're seeing online.

People ride their bikes, children run around playgrounds, school is in session, transportation runs as normal, the stores are stocked with food, orange-suited sanitation workers are out keeping the streets clean, students attend my classes, taxis are everywhere, salaries are being delivered, florescent spring tulips are for sale in underground passages, our bank card works. I do believe what's happening now in this country is incredibly serious and will affect not just Ukraine but the entire world, but what is shown in the news is not everything, it's only the worst. 

On to something more cheerful; yesterday wasn't just a Saturday, it was also my birthday! Of course we had to at least get offline and out into the real world for a little bit.

Walking down Gagarin Ave, we spied on the (increeedibly slow) progress of this building. I'm not sure if construction has stopped or if they're just adding a brick a day. Anyway, I can see this place easily becoming a favorite of Star Wars fans worldwide.
This is what you'll see on Google maps if you search for "Kharkiv death star".