Sunday, February 1, 2015

A letter from Kharkiv

This beautiful letter was waiting in the mailbox the other week. Ukraine is not synonymous with cool stationery in my mind- it was always a hunt to find writing paper, the post office would often be out of envelopes (yet have plenty of laundry detergent for sale)- so seeing this was a wonderful surprise.


Featured on the envelope and letter are the Mirror Stream Fountain and the train station, two of the city's most recognizable landmarks. I adore the fountain's winter backdrop- brings back memories of walking home past its white dome on the way home snowy night after snowy night- and the cute way the artist added a kneeling photographer in front of the train station's columns. That tree to the right of the train station though, is not very realistic; reality is more like a rickety beer/kvass stand or a shawarma shack.

These two places were among my favorite sights in Kharkiv! Let me show you why...

Mirror Stream Fountain

If I just saw it once during the day, I'd probably agree with all the people who are like eh, a dinky fountain, what's the big deal? But stay in Kharkiv long enough and this place will grow on you.

All the weddings stop here, brides and grooms showing off impressively-long kisses to shouts of "Горько! Горько!" from their friends. Kids run around the edge of the pool, young lovers pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist from the security of park benches, and there's always a guy with white pigeons who will take your picture for a few grivna.

Summer is a great time to visit-

It's the time of year when rainbows get caught in the spray of the fountains and everything is bright, clean, and uncomplicated.

Spring is quiet and quite pretty, as the trees are just starting to green.

With all the darkness of winter, the dome itself really stands out against the sky. The fountains are off, though, so there's not much else to admire at this time of year.

The Mirror Stream Fountain is situated across the street from the imposing opera house / ballet theater, in what's called Victory Park. Interestingly, plans were struck to build a church in the same park, much to the dismay of many people (watch this or look at these). I don't know the current status of the church, but in a March 2014 article, the developer promised that "the situation in the country will not affect the construction of the church."

This area is where the church is (was?) being built. The apartment building stays, but not the memorials.

Train Station

Having arrived to the city by train, this was the first thing I saw in Kharkiv.

I would walk by this train station every single day on the way to work. The giant clock told me if I was running late or not as I dodged the flocks of pigeons that always hung out in front of the building. Many a Red Bull was bought from the underground kiosks when first adjusting to the teaching-at-night schedule.

It's a beautiful landmark both inside...

and out. In fact, when people who read this blog came to town and wanted to meet up, we'd often do it here, on the steps of the train station because it was a) easy to find and b) just so stunning!

In front of the train station is a cute little park, with plenty of benches for those who prefer to wait outside for their trains. In my dreams we would have been among those people, but we were usually the people hustling through the halls last minute, hoping the train hadn't left yet ; )

the park
The post office also borders this park, as does an administrative building and a police office.

The Railway Admin (Management) building in 2011.

The train station was not only the first thing I saw in Kharkiv, it was also the last thing and the location of my sole photo sessiya. About a week before leaving Ukraine, two of my friends decided to send me away a Ukrainian devushka instead of an American girl. First, Lena took me to the salon with her. A few days later, Karina insisted on doing a photo shoot at the train station. I tried to wiggle out of it but she put her foot down, saying that it's part of the Ukraine experience. I'll admit that's true; no matter what we did no one even gave us a second glance, since girls doing photo sessiyas are such a common sight.

I tried to copy what I'd seen others do: posing, half-smiles. A few more years in Ukraine and I'd probably get the hang of it. Anyway, it was a lot of fun and I'm so grateful Karina made this photo shoot happen!

When I think about the train station now, it's a mix of memories. All the everyday moments mingle with the adventurous rush of leaving for another city and the comfort of returning home to Kharkiv.

I like trains. I like their rhythm, and I like the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of: for this moment I know where I am going.

― Anna Funder, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

So thank you, Timur, for your thoughtful choice of stationery earlier this month!! It brought back many wonderful memories of my favorite city : )

PS: See both these Kharkiv landmarks (and get a song stuck in your head for days) in this 3.5 minute song-


  1. Your photographs are beautiful!

    1. Thank you, Georgia! I like your pics from Poland and Slovakia... so pretty! And lucky you, to be in a land of summer right now : )

  2. Never half-smiles, always ENIGMATIC! ;-)

  3. Oh how I loved Kharkiv! It was my favorite city in Ukraine. Thank you for sharing Kate.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Jo! Did you have any posts about Kharkiv on your blog? I'd love to learn more about your time there.

    2. Here you go Kate!

    3. I meant to tell you...a lot of men are being conscripted into the Ukrainian army now. This is getting scarier by the day. I have a few friends who have been told to report. I'm scared for them.