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Kyiv Days and Speaking Ukrainian

It’s raining. It started raining last night and has continued on and off until now. After a day trip to the extravagant residence of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych (current resident of Russia), I decided to go through some photos of sunny days before I go to see a French foreign film set in New York City here in Kyiv. Globalization at its finest. Seven years ago, when I was last in Ukraine, I only visited Kyiv for three days, so I feel like I am really exploring this city for the first time in some ways. The first few days I was in Kyiv were nice and hot, so of course I decided to go for a long walk. Kyiv really is a city of churches and Ukrainians by and large are religious — the western part of the country remains under Rome (but retains Eastern rites) while the further east you go it’s Orthodox. Here’s St. Michael’s with its golden domes.

Blue and Gold

Golden Window

St. Andrew’s is my favorite church in Kyiv. I just love the green/blue colored domes and the fact that the church sits atop a hill.

St. Andrews

Earlier this week I attended the opera. For $5USD I saw a lovely performance of The Tale of Tsar Saltan with absolutely exquisite costuming. The opera was in Russian. Kyivans, like many Ukrainians, switch between the two languages. I think western media inaccurately portrayed the east-west divide in Ukraine in a lot of early reporting. Just because someone speaks Russian, doesn’t make them any less Ukrainian or make them want to become a part of Mr. Putin’s empire. Many people are happy to speak whatever you want. When people start speaking Russian to me I smile, tell them I only understand and speak Ukrainian (I understand basic Russian but can’t speak it) and then they gladly switch. The two are different languages. Both use Cyrillic, but letters make different sounds. There are many words that are totally different in both languages. Spellings differ, for example the city I am currently in is Kyiv in English because in Ukrainian it is Київ, in Russian it is Kiev, Киев and the и letter makes different sounds in the two languages. On our tour today our guide switched back and forth because my European friends speak Russian and not Ukrainian. The reality here is that after decades of Soviet rule a lot of people speak Russian, especially as you move further east, while as you move west many speak Ukrainian. The Ukrainian-American diaspora is incredibly firm in its stance that Ukrainians should speak only Ukrainian. But that’s simply not the reality of the situation. While I am all for promoting Ukrainian as a language and I believe it sounds much more lyrical than Russian, people should speak what they are comfortable in. And if the last seven months have shown anything, it’s that there are a lot of proud Ukrainians who are Russian speakers. Here’s the opera:

Opera House

Something is playing almost everyday in June:

June List

Statue of Mykola Lysenko, a famous Ukrainian composer, by the Opera.


Statue of Taras Shevcheko, Ukraine’s national poet. Shevchenko was bought out of serfdom and wrote in Ukrainian at a time when no one did. His poems have incredibly powerfully meaning, especially today. His great work, The Kobzar, was recently translated into English. I have always loved the following lines, in English for you: “Thoughts of mine, thoughts of mine/You are all that is left for me/Don’t you desert me, too/In this troubling time.”

Shevchenko Statue

University in Kyiv named after Shevchenko:

Shevchenko University

This may be the coolest classroom I have ever been in. This is at Kyiv Mohyla Academy where I heard French scholar/philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy give a lecture in French (that part of my brain still works). He called Putin the true fascist in today’s world and drew connections between France’s far right supporting Putin and vilifying Ukraine (interesting to think back to this lecture and look at recent election results in the EU).


Mohyla Academy

Statute of Mykhailo Hrushevskyi a historian and president of Ukraine in 1917-18 during a very brief window of independence…we all know what happened next.


I always take the long way in the metro station to walk by the florists. Peony season is winding down.

Flower in the Metro

The tents on the Maidan may soon be gone if Kyiv’s new mayor, Vitali Klitschko (yes the boxing champ) has his way.

Bird of Peace

Maidan Ribbons

Maidan Now

Ominous skies:

Dark Kyiv Skies

Kyiv Skyline

A church round most corners:

Podil Street

“I believe in freedom for everyone” reads the Marley street art:

Marley Man

Here’s my writing view in Kyiv. Not bad, eh? I had my latest piece published on the condition of the Ukrainian military that you can read here. More interviews to transcribe and more full days ahead. The time passes quickly here.

Writing View

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. A great view as you write. I read all your essays with interest. It is hard to come by balanced coverage of Ukraine. You also share the beauty of your country. Such a sad chapter is being written now.

    May 31, 2014
    • Thanks for this comment, Andrew. Being here now has been interesting, sad, difficult — many emotions rolled together. But I feel cautiously optimistic that my generation in Ukraine is not going to let the mistakes of the past repeat themselves again.

      June 11, 2014

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