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.

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Some thoughts on the Bangladeshi factory disaster

mibOn 24th April 2013 an eight-storey building in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed, trapping thousands of factory workers inside, injuring about 2,500 people and killing 1,127.

Fifty-four days on, the disaster has mostly slipped out of the headlines and from the attention of the media.

What, if anything, has changed?

I found myself struggling to work out my own complicity in the disaster. In my wardrobe I found four t-shirts bought in British high street stores with the label ‘Made in Bangladesh’. Of course, the fact that these t-shirts were made in Bangladesh is not the issue; the main problem is a lack of ethical/ humanitarian constraints in the clothing market. The clothing companies who sell us cheap t-shirts can do so because they source their products from suppliers in countries where minimum wage standards, working conditions and building regulations are not as developed and/ or regulated as in economically better-off countries such as the UK. But the label ‘Made in Bangladesh’ is the only thing on this plain, unremarkable t-shirt that reminds us of the complex chain of events that has placed it in our hands, on our backs.

I feel as though I’ve got too used to buying things – whether clothes, food or toilet paper – without considering how they were produced. A brand new t-shirt appears so clean and complete that it seems even harder to think about the many hands it’s passed through to reach that wearable state we tend to take for granted.

The latest factory tragedy shows that this untroubled consumption can’t continue – it’s already coming apart at the seams.

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There’s an interesting report on the factory disaster here, on the Democracy Now website:

http://www.democracynow.org/2013/6/11/striking_workers_bangladeshi_activist_challenge_walmart