Kiev (Ukraine, Part Six)

Kiev Travel Blog

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    I expected to go with our friends to see the Lavra. But instead I now have to put the experience of the Lower Lavra and the caves together from DiAnna and Derrick's experience:
    The caves monastery, also known as the Kievo-Pechersky Lavra, are exactly as they sound. Built over 1500 years ago, the caves were built by St. Anthony and his followers and became an underground monastery where monks prayed, meditated, wrote, and where many were laid to rest.
    Women who visit the Lavra must cover their heads, but DiAnna also told us how she had to also put on a fake "dress" over her street clothes. As if that's not funny enough, DiAnna told us how the only ones left would have only fit "size zero" runway models who only eat a stick of celery once a week. That made me wish I was there. I would have tried one on!
    After talking about the fake dress ordeal, DiAnna told me about how simply asking outloud for something was an act she has learned by living in the U.S. She heard other women gasp when she asked a question outloud, but in the end, as an American, felt she had every right to ask. I found it humorous and extremely interesting how she might do something considered blunt in a land where she grew up being told not to speak up in such a way. And DiAnna said quite frankly that she never would have made such a fuss or been so open had she not lived in the U.S. all this time. She believes being a U.S. American has made her bolder, less afraid to stand out a little and even ask for something once in a while.
    To add to her ability and lack of fear of standing out in a crowd, she married Derrick, a man with a booming and infectious laugh. He also resembles a linebacker from the New York Jets, and I think in a big way both of them decided at some point to simply be themselves and not try so hard to blend in. By doing so, they have become a couple that people are drawn to, and they have only begun to understand the charisma they generate.
    When Derrick had to practically crawl through the tiny caves, which were carved out for people about 5 feet tall, he had to laugh about the situation. Add to it there is an obstacle course of bodies of saints arranged throughout the caves, and they made it sound like traversing through the caves was like some type of action-adventure film.
    I hope to someday go back to Kiev and see the Lower Lavra. But I first wish to see Odesa and Crimea.

Church of the Assumption
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

Church of the Assumption
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

Refectory at the Lavra
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

Church of the Assumption
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

    When we finally made it to the Upper Lavra, one day after Derrick and Dianna, we toured all of the modern-day churches and museums, such as the Church of the Assumption (also known as the Uspendsky Cathedral), The Great Belltower, and the seven other churches that make up the Upper and Lower Lavra.
    Another thing Derrick and Dianna went to see that we missed was the Great Patriotic War Museum, and the Rodyna Mat Monument, or "Motherland Statue." Books and online sources suggest the large statue is made from different things. Once source says she is made of titanium. The other says she is made of chrome nickel steel. Whatever the case, one thing is for sure. She stands on top of the Great Patriotic War Museum. She weighs 550 tons, stands 62 meters high, and when you add the base on top of the museum she is 102 meters tall. In her left hand she holds a shield with a symbol for the U.S.S.R. (because she was built in 1981). And in her right, she holds a 16-meter-long sword weighing in at 12 tons.
    You could often see the Motherland statue from many places in Kiev, and Nicole and I took pictures of her from the Lavra before the sun went down.

Kiev's Motherland Statue
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

    It was such an amazing place to see, and be, in a place with churches for every wage and class level coming together to one place to pray and be part of a community. With the exception of invasions from forces like the Mongols, times during "the Ruin," a massive earthquake, and even a period where Soviets tried to remove the bodies from the Lower Lavra caves (and found out their trucks mysteriously wouldn't start until they returned the bodies), the place now has an amazing peace and tranquility about it.

Troitskaya Church at the Lavra (now used as a gatehouse)
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

The Great Bell Tower at the Lavra (The Tallest Orthodox Structure in the world at 96.5 meters high)
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

Church of the Assumption
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

    There are occasional signs that the Lavra is slowly turning into a tourist trap, but the caves remain free of change from everything I'm told. And they remain free of charge, in fact.
    Nicole and I did happen across a great experience while in the Upper Lavra, a young couple was getting married in the central Church of the Assumption, or Central Uspendsky Cathedral. And I think in a way it made the whole trip to the Lavra worthwhile. To "happen across" such a big event was exciting. The groom was shaking and nervous, standing on the wrong side. The priest corrected him, moving him to the right side of the bride. It was such an innocent moment, and while it would have been fun to see the rest of the ceremony, it was not our day, and while I have no issue with crashing weddings in the U.S., I am not savvy enough nor were we dressed properly at this time to pull of a Ukrainian wedding crash.

Wedding at the Upper Lavra
Photo by Sam Sinke

    Watching the start of the wedding gave us such an amazing glimpse of their innocence, watching the young woman and man fumble around and take their first steps toward entering the rest of their lives together. And at that point, I was happy to see as much as I did.
    Nicole wanted to go in, to snap pictures of the wedding and the beautiful church. But it was grossly inappropriate, and the priests looked like they would throw a fit and possibly call in a strong armed backup if we tried to enter (I know that's what I would do if I was in their place). So we wandered the grounds for a little while, with Nicole taking pictures and with me taking in what I could. We stood on the wall snapping pictures of the Rodyna Mat, we walked amongst artists guilds and galleries inside the Upper Lavra. More than likely all of the artists have their place in society there, with the apprentices helping out the masters, and the masters working on murals, statues, and other religious art. Both of them must have a part in the responsibility of keeping the existing art and murals clean and repaired when paint fades or cracks. And each one of them does an amazing job.

A bell at the Lavra
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

Church of the Assumption
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

Church of the Assumption
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

Church of the Assumption
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

    To walk to and from the Lavra is well within walking distance from the local Metro stop. Once we were out of the Metro, Nicole and I walked out to the street and spotted the sign for the Lavra. We passed businesses and residences, eventually walking down a long, thin park stretching for blocks along the street called "Sichnevoho Povstannya." The park, like many others in Kiev, is well used by adults and young people who simply hang out. We skirted the park, but noticed the many World War II statues in the park.
    Once you know what you're looking for, the Metro stops get easier. The buildings look like normal buildings, with the exception of maybe one or two signs, sometimes with only the name of the stop. But the easiest way to find the Metro stops is to look for buildings with well-used doors and with tons of people flowing in and out of them. The large streams of people are your best clues that you're near public transporation.
    And even though you may think you're ready to get on any public transporation in the world, nothing ever prepares you for the Kiev Metro.
    The escalator takes you down for at least five minutes, maybe more, and quite seriously could be one of the longest public escalators in the world. If this is not the case, I must find out where it is. Because I want to ride it.
    When Kiev built the Metro, they dug their tunnels especially deep. In part, they wished to escape nuclear attack, and the Metro tubes could easily double as nuclear fallout shelters. But there was another reason for digging so deep. They wanted to get deep underneath the Dnepr River.
    Inside, the stations are covered with beautiful tile. Russian influence is everywhere, in all but the newest stops.
    But the craziest part, or rather the most amazing part about the Kiev Metro is not the depth, or the man hours spend hand-digging many of the tunnels, or even the incredible walking tunnels and paths that go on and on for city blocks taking you from the blue line to the red line, or the red to the green. The thing that will really amaze you is the intense effort everybody makes to keep the underground trains on time. Nobody says please or excuse me, or thank you. They just shove to get on, and shove to get off. And unlike the U.S., where you might get away with standing in the doorway and trigger the alarm, even a kind and elderly woman will shove your ass out the door if you're blocking the sensors or keeping the door from closing.
    And yet people do not do this because they are overtly rude, they simply do not let anybody hold back an entire train. It's a non-verbal cue that everybody needs you to move. And how can you get upset? The next train will be there in exactly one minute and 26 seconds.
    Once you get on the train, they take off like a bullet. They start and stop quickly, and nobody seems to care if they have to grab onto you, or you to them if there is a shortage of hand-grab real estate.
    And here's where yet again, many travel writers add something like, "keep your wallets and bags close at hand," or "watch for pickpockets."
    And I'm telling you right now, that's a load of crap. You should always watch your wallets and bags in every city in the world. And as a responsible travel writer, I will tell you god's honest truth that it's irresponsible to make a case of Kiev and its people. At no point did I ever feel that everybody on the subway wanted my wallet. In fact, I found that of the few looks I did get, very few appeared as if they didn't even care about our presence.
    Getting around on the Metro was easier once I started picking up on the Cyrillic language I was learning. There were no other languages featured, and this is mostly because the Metro wasn't built for tourists in any way, it was made for Ukrainians and Russians to get to work.
    That being said, the Metro is an amazing value and a shining example of what public transportation is capable of providing a major city anywhere in the world. For less than 10 cents American, the Metro takes you from downtown to the airport, from far west Kiev to far east, and north to south for about a dime. and they sell you a monthly card good for unlimited travel. That's simply incredible. It's cheaper to travel to a friend's home than it is to make a phone call in the United States.
    What's too bad, but not entirely surprising, is that the machines dispensing the plastic tokens hardly ever work, and you are often forced to buy them from somebody behind a window. The lines get long, but they move along fast. People usually bought more than they needed that day, because why not? The tokens are 50 kopecks. I wish I would have bought more to bring them home as souvenirs.
    The four of us spent some time checking out St. Andrei's church at the top of Andriyivsky Uzviv or St. Andrew's Decent, and the many artists, junk traders, and food vendors along the steep downhill path. We met an english speaking vendor who couldn't wait to sell us Minnesota Matroshka dolls with Vikings football characters painted on them.

Matroshka Dolls, for sale along Andrew's Decent
Photo courtesy Nicole Weber

    There were amber dealers everywhere, and it was our first real taste of the amazing amount of mass-produced "authentic" Ukrainian and Russian trinkets. Some dealers had a few items that were made locally or were real Russian military goods, but for every one item at a big cost, they had fifty or more replicas stashed away.
    We had lunch in another mostly empty Ukrainian restaurant, sitting next to a table full of older women on a lunch outing. It was strange to see locals eating lunch together, and it made me wonder if this was a special get-together or if the four ladies simply get together once a week for lunch. But even though it never felt quite right, it was nice to walk in to another completely empty restaurant. You almost feel guilty, as if the cook is going to have to "fire up the grill" just because you walked in. But this really is only a big deal we bring with us from the United States.
    In the U.S., it is common for restaurant owners to make you the client feel guilty if you are too early or too late for their working hours. Here, this never appears to be an issue. Sure, in some places you get a strange look, as if they weren't expecting you. But Ukrainians are always welcoming and it is never too much trouble to whip something up for you in the kitchen.
    At the bottom of Andrew's decent, we spent some time that day at the Chernobyl museum in Kiev. And this was something I was looking forward to seeing since agreeing to go to Ukraine.
    The museum is fairly new, and is tucked away against another museum of old soviet tanks and World War II vehicles. I'd almost say the museum is hidden, unless you know exactly what you're looking for or have good directions.
    Sadly, the museum does not let anyone take pictures, but there are plenty of online sources with pictures highlighting the Chernobyl Disaster.
    Once you're inside the museum, have paid your entrance fee, and start to climb the stairs, you pass underneath dozens of signs, half of them crossed out with a red slash, others plain black lettering on white boards. And you later find out that the ones with the red slashes no longer exist, because they are no longer habitable. Pictures of many of these ghost towns are posted throughout the museum, and millions more are available through a simple internet search for Chernobyl.
    While most of the museum has been created by and for Ukrainians, it is clear the museum has very universal themes. Museum curators chose the apple, a Ukrainian symbol for life, and these apples and apple trees are everywhere throughout the museum. One apple tree in the middle of the display has no leaves but remains full of apples, possibly a reminder that the tree has died but the apples remain, containing the seeds of hope that life will go on.
    The first part of the museum holds geiger counters, descriptions of radiation and effects of radiation, and thousands of pictures of soldiers and firefighters. The firefighters were the first ones on the scene, and they were the first (with exception of the two who died near the reactor) to receive lethal doses of radiation. Other soldiers were brought in once the place cooled down, and once they were organized, they shoveled death from the remains of the reactor, depositing it into waiting trucks just over the edge of the reactor. The trucks in some cases remain there, are highly radioactive, and the men being filmed shoveling are now dead. Each of them had one minute to shovel as much as they could before receiving a highly-lethal dose of radiation. Film footage showed these men scrambling to shovel as much as they could before leaving the scene.
    It was the worst nuclear disaster caused by an accident, and yet the rest of the world knew about it before Ukraine decided to tell its own people.
    Once the area cooled off, and outside information got into the country in some places up to a couple of weeks later, the government and military sent in men to evacuate the people and clean up the site. This undertaking brought a death toll up to at least 25-Thousand people from either an immediate lethal dose or a slow, progressive one.
    They were completely unprepared. Going into the area with what equalled to what we might call a jogging suit, the soldiers and firemen wore gas masks built to keep out mustard gas but not dust from dematerialized waste. And in the early days, men were literally cooking like hot dogs in a microwave. To make things worse, radiation like this cooks a person from the inside-out. So you may not see blemishes under the skin until you're already cooked inside.
    We moved on from the room containing all of the pictures and medals, a mock-up of a somewhat animated display of what happened the night of April 26, 1986. And if you understand Ukrainian, you get to hear some of the theories as to what experts believe happened, why it happened, and what the sarcophagus now looks like as it sits over the former reactor.
    Reactor number four was supposed to be shut down for routine maintenance. Many people believe at this point, two plant workers decided to test the system to see if the tower and reactor continued to cool properly if they simulated a power loss. Their alleged experiment failed, and since the emergency system had been turned off and stopped cooling, this was believed to have started the overheating cascade.
    The first blast, it is believed, probably killed the two workers there immediately. But it wasn't nuclear, it was from built-up steam. A few seconds later, with the roof of the reactor blown off by steam, the nuclear blast happened without a roof to slow it down in the slightest. 9 Tonnes of radiation, and every piece of everything in the immediate area (which dematerialized into small pieces of toxic waste), blew and rose up at least a mile into the air. The blast created and carried with it all that dematerialized waste as well as xenon and krypton gases. And much of that skyward cloud was carried by winds, mostly north, into Belarus and into the Dnepr River, which washed back downstream through the heart of Ukraine.
    Over 120-Thousand people were eventually evacuated, but not before Ukraine allowed their people living in the immediate area to be exposed to massive doses of radiation high enough to cause mutations, massive and even hideous birth defects, sterility, many types of cancer and even the quick and nasty unseen risks of eating contaminated fish from the Dnepr River.
    The numbers at this point get sketchy. One report from the IAEA, or International Atomic Energy Area, says 56 people died of direct exposure from the blast, radiation, or fallout. They go on to say that 4,000 (*which sounds to me like too round a number) died from cancer, typically thyroid cancer. And here's where they don't pull any punches: The IAEA says 6.6 million people received large doses of radiation.
    30 other countries were affected, and the Swedish made the first discovery of the fallout one day after the disaster when workers at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant had trouble explaining where the nuclear particles in their clothing were coming from.
    Chernobyl has come to mean so many things to so many people. The name and the word have become synonymous with lies, deceit, cover-up, death. And yet the last room of the Chernobyl Museum will tear you up. Dedicated to the help and care packages sent from all over the world, there were packages from hospitals, Red Cross, Salvation Army, and from school children everywhere. The boxes hung from the ceiling, and their contents filled glass cases all along the walls.
    A Japanese school sent a box full of origami cranes, an ages-old story of hope for a terminally ill child.
    Hospitals sent surgical gowns, gloves and masks. One of them I noted was from a hospital near where I lived in Kansas.
    Children of the United States sent letters to then President Reagan asking him to send our doctors over to Ukraine to help. Even young children knew this disaster was too much for these people to handle alone. They didn't know how to find Ukraine on a map. And the children didn't really know the severity, or have the ability to see the actual devastation.
    But these kids knew one thing. We had the power to help. And when we could, and Ukraine let us help them, we did.

Derrick, always the joker, takes a picture of my rear for Nicole. I hope.
Photo Courtesy Nicole Weber

Taken from the upper Lavra, you can note a fast-growing city. There are a lot of construction cranes in the skyline.
Photo Courtesy Nicole Weber

Not only are the big items amazing, so are the little things!
Photo Courtesy Nicole Weber

Wandering around inside St. Sophia's on our last day in Kiev
Photo Courtesy Nicole Weber

    As I wrap up everything I want to say about Ukraine, I must say that I feel that everything in my life prepared me for what I was about to experience when I arrived. However, I was so completely overwhelmed by our traveling partners, by our hosts, our guides, every place we stayed, the people we visited, and the people peacefully protesting or simply enjoying a quiet evening in the parks or independence square.
    Every bit of good that comes to this country is not from luck. Ukrainians are hard working, loyal, well-rounded educationally, and add to that the most intelligent and charismatic in the world.
    The new world is a world of information, of mass-transit, of learning from the world's mistakes as well as our own. And the oldest lesson for the world, the Golden Rule, to do onto others as you wish them to do to you, has never been learned. Yet, if I were to say that one people have come the closest, it is the people of Ukraine.
    I wish to read more and even chase down some movies about the Cossacks: The stories parallel those of the American "Wild" West, with romance, and drama, and action.
    I wish to read more about how Ukraine handles political unrest. They have a model that somehow works.
    We saw things such as a beautiful hotel, with amazing service, and behind the stone facade there was a beautiful garden where food was picked and served to hotel guests. You will never find something that amazing at the Hilton in Des Moines, Iowa.

    I went through all of my notes from Ukraine, and came up with only a few things I left out. It was hard to pick and choose what to write about, so I just wrote about it all. And here are a few things I didn't know where to place in the travel postings:


        For no other reason than the seer joy of riding an aging piece of Ukrainian Public Transportation, we all hopped on the Funicular. This is a basic climbing train built to take people up and down the hill from the Upper City at the top of Andrew's Decent to the Podil at the Bottom.
    The ride is action-packed. No, well, actually, it's just packed. The fun part of the Funicular in many ways are the many games you can play, such as "How many more f-ing people are they gonna cram into this f-ing train?" or here's my favorite: "What in the world did that guy have for breakfast?"
    And after you think you've just seen them cram the last possible person on board, they bring in five or nine more. Then you play, "What's that smell?"
    "What do you think, Derrick?" I'd say. He'd counter with, "I don't know, maybe somebody's goat ate out of the catbox?"
    You know, you're close," I'd say, "But what you're actually smelling is a lab after it rolled in a month-old whale carcass laying on the beach."
    The smell is just a whole lot of people, several of them passing wind to make room for more people, and some guy who didn't bother to bathe for the past three weeks. I gave Derrick the prize to "What's that Smell?" only because he was next to the door, and I wanted to get out promptly once we reached the top.
    We reached the top of the hill on the Funicular, and walked into a type of city center, part of the ancient Upper City. There were some local artists, painting pictures of churches and other buildings. And this is a popular site. You can buy from the local artists, or buy paintings on the street from vendors offering the real thing or cheap knockoffs of real paintings (that are made to look like real paintings by reproducing the texture of the paint as well as the color).
    As far as the real reason why St. Mikhayil's Monastery was rebuilt with such success is that since so many artists have painted it over the years, they were able to rebuild it practically to spec because of the many paintings of it in Ukraine and around the world. Since reconstructionists had little to work with, the work of these artists over the years literally saved this pivotal, beautiful piece of Kiev's past.
    Many of the churches and cathedrals in Ukraine and other Soviet states were saved because the people turned them into museums. Sometimes these churches or monasteries were converted into government buildings in order to save them. It must have taken a lot to save them from Stalin. Whatever it was, each case must have been a miracle. As I mentioned before, St. Mikhayil's Monastery was not so lucky.
    Another thing we saw after stepping off the Funicular was a musician playing classical guitar. The others didn't really pay him as much attention, but I was drawn to his playing. It was classical, and he was often wrapping his left thumb around the fretboard to make more notes. His hand was flying up and down the fretboard, and he was playing a piece probably originally meant for the harpsicord or piano. Playing this fast with your hand wrapped hard around the fretboard isn't easy, because the extra friction usually slows your hand down. His years and years of practice and experimenting with music were showing, because if he was in the right place he would stop traffic. This was no street urchin, and he was probably supplementing his other gigs. His guitar case was open, and he was selling CDs.
    Had he lived in the U.S., this musical veteran would certainly have a gig in Branson, Nashville, Vegas, Atlantic City, or even New York. He could probably have made a living in the U.S. just teaching guitar and never needing to play a gig.
    There is such a little gap seperating greatness from being applauded for greatness. It's seen as a wide chasm, but it's just not true. It's seen as luck, to get from one to the other, and it's just not true. What is true that I see no difference between the street musicians and the musicians who take the stage in front of millions. Most of the world doesn't see it this way, and they show it with their pocketbooks.
    But I've heard about Bono and U2 sneaking out to the Mexican Barrio after hearing about a big musical celebration being held there (most of the people never knew who they were or why they were there). I know of Peter Gabriel seeking out Sitar players from the streets of India, or seeking out the Blind Boys of Alabama before they became a household name across the U.S. And I sat in Nashville on Christmas eve and saw a dishwasher take the mic and sing a song he'd written, leaving an entire room of songwriters speechless.
    The street musician has had a good day if enough money has been made to pay for another day, another set of strings, another couple of meals or rent. That musician has a great day if a person smiles, clearly enjoys the music he or she is making, or some other connection like this is made. However, a stage musician would consider themself a failure if only one person in a crowd connected with them. In fact, they might be considered a heckler.
    A traveler can enjoy every level of music from a front porch or apartment jam session to a legendary concert held in a large open area such as Washington, D.C.'s Mall or New York's Central Park. While I did feel shut down at times as the music lover on this trip, I am already looking for new ways to make my musical experience happen on my next trip.

Losing 100-Thousand Tribes

    When I think about the history of an area, such as the history and the legends passed down in an area such as the U.S., it's hard to imagine or even comprehend how much we as a people have lost by wiping out Native Americans and their cultures. It is said we have lost 500-Thousand distinct cultures in the Western Hemisphere. I'm sure that number is low.
    The same consideration must be considered in the lands of Ukraine. Towns and cities have been leveled throughout history, even less than 100 years ago. Mark Twain writes in depth about the lands devastated and flattened by war when he visits Ukraine in a couple of chapters of The Innocents Abroad.
    After reading of his accounts of the destruction , and reading about the war and battles that leveled the seaside towns and cities along the area now known as Crimea, you have to wonder about the cultures even those battles wiped out. Many other towns and villages had been ransacked and ruined, and it becomes increasingly clear why human societies are always all so chaotic. You can even shrink it down to the smallest pack of humans, the family, or the couple, and start to understand why this world is so chaotic.
    It's easy to feel like the world or the universe is against you, but it isn't. As Douglas Addams writes, that's perfectly normal human paranoia. The universe doesn't really care about you.
    Therefore, there is no reason why glory or ruin happens in one particular area or another, except from sheer luck or because the place just happens to lie in a well-traveled path or waterway, or there is some natural resource there to fight over. Only the movies bring a fake war out to the middle of Australia.
    Many coastal cities have been sacked and changed hands and names so many times it's impossible for High School History and Geography teachers to keep up their classroom maps. So why, in the end, does one village get sacked while numberous others stay safe or at least untouched?
    Perhaps some of the answer lies close to home, in little towns and villages that somehow stay out of the limelight. Take Laos, for example. Laos has become smaller, then bigger, and yet keeps its people. And how much do you really know about it?
    You may not know much about these out-of-the-way places, and you may not know how to find them, but it is often in these places you will find people watching you, partly out of curiosity, partly out of a primal, wilder instinct of being aware of when to flee and when to fend off invaders. And it is in these places where time does not change as fast as in other places.
    These "ends of the world" are some of the last places where you can still learn how to hitch up a wagon, sew patchwork quilts by hand, or grow anything in any type of terrain or soil. While some might resent the people of these areas for not "keeping up with the times," a few others seek out these places, learn the songs, crafts, folklore, or older ways before the knowledge gets lost again.
    I've heard Robert Frost's poem quoted over and over, and then hear the speaker make the mistake of not really understanding what it's about. They speak it, then they don't live it. And it is this person, the traveler going through the rough undergrowth, on a rougher journey, who finds not necessarily the better, commonly traveled path but the more rewarding path.
    As time has passed, and Nicole, Derrick, DiAnna, and I have had time to process this trip, I think we have made one step closer towards beginning to appreciate the road less traveled. The road to anywhere brings you sights, but the road less traveled brings you to friends.
    Next time you are on a planned trip, and the leader gets you "lost," quiet your mind and watch how people react. Most people freak. Others try to make a plan. And the people I focus on are the people who simply enjoy this moment as some time off from the real world.
    For me, getting lost is like getting spit out of a raging river. You've spent all your life fighting or going with the current, and now that you're spit out on the shore, your first natural instinct is to jump back in there. However, I would suggest sitting back and enjoying that moment first.

St. Michayil's Monastery
Photo Courtesy Nicole Weber

Couple hanging out on balcony in Kiev
Photo Courtesy Nicole Weber

The next promising generation of Ukrainians
Photo by Sam Sinke

Nicole sets up her camera for night shooting
Photo by Sam Sinke

Kiev Manhole Cover, known to be very, very BAD.

    Looking in one direction, you will see a breathtaking piece of architecture, and in the other you will sigh as you see people hanging out, reading, and generally enjoying the beauty of the day.
    Watching a few different generations, seeing what one group of people have done, what the present generation is doing, and seeing the promise of the next generation, very inquisitive, hopeful, and with more resources than ever before, is quite a life-changing experience. This newest generation will have all of that history, and won't be handcuffed to it. How great it is to have a fresh outlook, a life completely free of Russia's stranglehold masked by what they called "brotherhood." How great a life this new generation will invent, if they continue to spend a few moments with their hands in the dirt, a few moments with their hands at a keyboard, a few moments with their hands at a chisel or paintbrush, a few moments arguing peacefully about their country's next moves, and a few moments holding their friends and relatives close. The last one, that common reassurance, has always been and will always be, Ukraine's greatest commodity.

    So, you may ask, if I have so many nice things to say, is there anything Kiev, or Ukraine needs to fix?
    I will simply say yes. Kiev needs to replace all of the manhole covers and make sure they are all a snug fit. They are dangerous, and somebody is going to get killed if they don't replace them. I'm not the first one to write about this problem.

Next: On to Russia!
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