Return to Kiev

For the past few days I’ve been working in Kiev. As instability and violence continues to grow in Donetsk, my employers and many of my friends have relocated – hence my change of location too. The circumstances are permeated with so much sadness and worry for those families fleeing and broken up by the violence in the East, and Ukrainians across the country anxiously forseeing an invasion by the Russian army.

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St Sophia belltower

The reasons for being in Kiev are far from ideal; however, it’s been wonderful to have an excuse to visit this beautiful city so soon again. I’ve visited a few new places, discovered some incredible Ukrainian folk music and seen ballet and opera for the first time (and done some teaching too!).

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Street art. Chicken Kiev..?

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A protest outside the German embassy

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The son of Yaroslav, a struggling artist who sells his work on Andrii’vsky Descent, shows off his dad’s paintings

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A gala concert performance of opera and ballet at the National Theatre

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An exhibit in Ivan Gonchar museum, woven from corn. I am keen but yet to find out its name!

kievjuly09A chance encounter at the Golden Gate led to a pretty magical evening sitting on the grass, drinking kvaas and listening to singing and kobza-playing by Taras Kompanichenko and fellow folk musicians. More to follow on their music! In the meantime, here’s one of their songs – ‘De Libertate’ (On Liberty). Thanks to John Doe for the comment and additional info.

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Kiev: Maidan

Walking through the centre of the city on the second day of my trip, I unwittingly wandered down Khreschatyk Street and into Maidan, where riots earlier this year led to the overthrowing of the government.

Maidan01Maidan02Although the streets have been peaceful for a while now, the effects of the protests and violence remain tangible. Blockades constructed from piles of tyres block off traffic at both ends of the street and square, and walls and stacks have been built from bricks taken up from the pavement. The pavement may be gone, but now pedestrians wander freely down the wide, previously traffic-filled street. A few years ago I took part in a large protest in London against the rise in tuition fees, and remember most of all how strange it felt to walk down the middle of the Strand, normally blaring with cars and buses. I imagine Kievans experience the same sensation now in Maidan.

Maidan03Maidan04Maidan05Now the area has become a strange sort of tourist attraction, with visitors having their photos taken in front of tanks and burnt-out cars. There’s even the odd ice cream seller. Shrines consisting of multicoloured clusters of candles in glass jars, keepsakes and photos remember those who died.

Maidan06As I approached the main square I was puzzled by the smell of burning, but then, seeing tents, realised that many protesters are still occupying the area. The bonfire smell came from the cooking of meals rather than tyres (I’d heard rumours that pigs and chickens were also being kept in the square but saw none during my visit).

Maidan07Maidan08Maidan11Maidan09After sheltering from the rain under the tall Independence monument, I wandered out of the square again, stopping to ask a man for directions. Since my Russian (let alone Ukrainian) and his English didn’t quite meet in the middle, he called a friend out from the tent to translate.

Before I knew it I was inside, drinking tea and eating homemade cake with Ted, Alicia and Anastasia, sitting amongst pillows and sleeping bags in a large, dimly lit tent. My hosts were from different parts of the country, and different walks of life, but had been brought together by a common cause. We didn’t talk politics too much (I think their occupation speaks for itself) but I was sad to learn that political unity had loosened familial ties; one woman had become estranged from her family in Donetsk because of their difference in opinion. I placidly accepted gifts of a book, an “I love Tymoshenko” pen and a rosary (we didn’t talk religion either) and made my goodbyes.Maidan10

Kiev: Day 1 – tour

My arrival in Kiev was greeted with torrential rain, claps of thunder, and lightning so bright the pictures look as though they were taken in broad daylight.

lightning in Kiev on Make A GifSo I was rather surprised to have come back from my first day of sightseeing with dry clothes and sunburn.

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Statue of Yaroslave the Wise, 10th century Grand Prince of Kiev, holding the cathedral of St Sophia

My guided tour began with the city’s ‘Golden Gate’, a reconstruction of the main entrance to the old city, under which a bit of 10th century wall is still preserved. The eighteenth-century zeal to recoat and paint ancient monuments also struck the city’s oldest church, St Sophia. Originally built by Yaroslav in the 11th century, its bright white, green and gold facade is hard to connect to the originally round-domed church within (as seen in the model held by Yaroslav in this statue) and its old frescoes and mosaics.

Outside St Sophia, and in several other parts of the city, clusters of candles commemorate those killed during the tragic events earlier this year.

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the bell tower and entrance of St Sophia

IMG_1575The tour was sprinkled liberally with stops at statues – to make a wish on the lucky ear of the cat, the lucky ring and shoe of the lover, the lucky hand print on Yaroslav.. This, and my guide Hannah’s enthusiastic report on the importance of the number 13 and black cats, made me wonder if she, Kiev, or both, were just a little superstitious. However, my skepticism didn’t stop me wishing on the ear of the cat for peace in Donetsk.IMG_1560IMG_1598IMG_1592

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A recently-painted mural on Andreevsky Descent

On Andreevsky Descent, we wandered past stalls selling antiques, embroidered Ukrainian shirts and tablecloths, and pottery bowls and ornaments, to number 13 – home to the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pose for a picture with the bronze Bulgakov next to the museum, holding my (borrowed) half-finished copy of The Master and Margarita. The stranger who took my picture recommended reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand* next.

IMG_1911We then went on to Vichnoi Slavy Park, a popular spot next to the Dnipro river for couples to have their wedding photos taken, and tie a ribbon to the ‘love tree’. IMG_1624When the tour finished, I asked the guide to drop me off at the Ivan Gonchar museum and National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Decorative Art, which really need a piece of their own to properly do them justice.

*20/05/2014 My dad has warned me that Atlas Shrugged is “the most extreme neo-lib novel imaginable”, and it’s been described by critics as an “homage to greed”, and “shot through with hatred”. Perhaps I’ll try Gogol’s The Overcoat instead.

Jewel of Donetsk

Last week I paid another visit to Donetsk, a city in Eastern Ukraine where I’ve been regularly working as a teacher over the past few months.glass03

In November, I came across the most breathtakingly beautiful thing I’ve seen in the city so far – even more so because it was completely unexpected. While on a hunt for Ukrainian linen, I ended up in the central market, ЦУМ. A large neoclassical block of a building, ЦУМ is fairly impressive from the outside, if a little dull. There’s certainly no hint of dazzling creativity from its grey exterior.

Inside, it looks pretty much like any other department store in Europe, but at the more rundown end of the scale. Wires trail, there’s a distinct lack of heating and it seems that the decorators never quite finished after the fire that gutted the building in the 1980s.

To reach the fabric stalls on the top floor, I head for the stairs, weaving through a maze of glass-topped jewelry counters and glassy-eyed security guards to the back of the building. I push open an unassuming little door – and stop dead in my tracks. The bare walls of the stairwell are lit by the brilliant colours of one enormous stained glass window that spans the three floors of the building. It’s hard to do it justice in photos, but that’s what I tried to do with these, taken a few days later, when I returned, armed with a camera.glass09glass05glass04I know little about the window, except that it was made in the 1960s when the original 1937 building was rebuilt (having been nearly completely destroyed during the Second World War).

The window seems to flow up through the building, with its central composition of near-life-size figures set against a swirling, semi-abstract background. In typical Soviet style, it depicts the ideals of culture and industry: elegant dancers wearing traditional costume, scientists gazing nobly into test tubes, farm workers proffering baskets of fruit, and broad-shouldered figures at work in the mines and steelworks that Donetsk was originally built on (the name of the city’s football team Shakhtar means ‘miner’, the equivalent of Northampton ‘cobblers’ or Arsenal ‘gunners’).

glass03The whole enormous composition is full brilliant bits of detail. Pieces of glass have been cleverly cut and arranged to depict the shadow of a jacket lapel, smoke rising from factory chimneys and the light cast by a miner’s torch. Even in areas of the background where only one or two colours have been used, the orientation of triangular-shaped pieces suggest the outline of the distant, mountainous slag heaps on the outskirts of the city.

glass12The colour scheme reflects the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, itself supposed to be based on the broad sky and fields of the country’s landscape. The designer has used it to great effect to contrast blue-shadowed workers against the flames of the forge roasting their backs.

Of course, this also reflects the temperature of Donetsk, ranging from 30 in August to  -30 degrees in January. In these pictures, a cloudy and dull -20 degrees day lights the window; I look forward to seeing how the warmer rays of summer will illuminate it.

glass08On a final note, there are plans to redevelop the building, but, according to a recent article, the new owners are planning to keep the windows. I’ll certainly be keeping a watchful eye on proceedings.

Plasticine!

Today my pupil and I were hard at work making a plasticine town. We’re not finished yet, but have got the basic infrastructure sorted: hospital, roads, bakery, grandma’s house, slide, sandpit, golden bread statue, roundabout, hotel, fountain and squirrels.

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my personal supply to take back to London

Cheburashka

Thanks to some new friends I am becoming properly educated in Ukrainian culture. Meet Чебура́шка (Cheburashka), an unknown species of cute furry creature who turns up in a box of oranges and his friend Крокодил Гена (Krokodil Gena), a bow-tie-wearing, accordian-playing reptile.

Here’s the first episode: Gena the Crocodile, made in 1969 by Roman Kachanov.

Sunday afternoon in Donetsk

I’m already halfway through my two weeks in Donetsk. Until today, I’d only ventured outside the hotel to go to work or out with friends, always driven or escorted to a specific location with no danger of getting lost or need to attempt any Russian beyond ‘spasiba’.

However, this afternoon I found the time and courage to explore a little of the city by myself. Here’s something I wrote halfway through my adventure into the unknown, enjoying the feeling of not having to be anywhere in particular and not knowing exactly where I was anyway. The blazing sunshine helped.

I’m sitting in a garden of scented roses overlooking a lake, surrounded by kids eating candy floss and strolling lovers. Arms drape over railings and be-heeled feet flick for lakeside portraits. Beneath the rose bushes, invisible against the dark, manure-rich soil, hundreds of sparrows tweet a continuous high-pitched beat, giving themselves away to the passersby.

How did I get here?

Out of the hotel – sunglasses descend onto my nose, held in place by the bony ridge therewith – left onto Boulevard Pushkin, down shady steps all the way to the bottom, right, past stalls selling dubiously sparkly-looking amber necklaces and black-and-brightly-coloured Peruvian shoulder bags, under a bridge, doughtily/ doubtingly across a disused railway track, through a cloud of candy floss and roller blades and over another bridge guarded at either end by sagging-bellied, strong-willed babushkas selling nuts.

Afterwards, I walked around the lake, enjoying the challenge of trying to discover the source of the amplified squawks and rasps at the edge of the water (answer = big, green, noisy frogs). On the way back up Boulevard Pushkin I happily play up my naive tourist status with two more babushkas, who press The Watchtower into my hand but give up after a few minutes of courageous glossalalia against shoulder shrugs and an inanely good-natured smile.

Back to the hotel, safe and a little more sound, to type up my blissful wanderings so as not to forget.

Back in London

No posts recently, sorry! My main excuse is that I’m just back from a week teaching art and art history in Ukraine. It was a very exciting visit and I’m looking forward to returning next month and exploring the city of Donetsk with my camera. Unfortunately, my current camera battery lasts about ten minutes tops, so no pictures from this visit.

After a couple of frenzied months, knitting has slowed down a little lately. My green swiggle jumper and I aren’t talking right now. Although we’re completely and utterly made for each other there are still some serious relationship issues. After some denial on my part, I’ve come to realise that we need to take a couple of steps back – namely reknitting the armhole edges of the front.

Tomorrow renegotiations begin.

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In the meantime, I’ve rekindled love for my sewing machine. Some beautiful blue stripey silk found in a fabric shop in Glasgow last month is gradually coming together into a shirtwaister dress. It’s working out nicely despite the fabric (and, incidentally, my mind) unravelling faster than you can say ‘seam allowance’.shirtwaister2