Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Christmas Eve in Kiev

The past month has been eventful to say the least and my blogging has suffered terribly.

After a few weeks of teacher changes and loads of overtime, I found myself stuck in German hospital for four days.  And just when I thought I was in the clear I found myself spending a weekend in bed, followed by a Monday visit to the doctor, a prescription that should finally do the trick, and a doctor's note forbidding me from working for the next week.

So as I lay cuddled up in bed, wrapped in blankets and drinking hot tea, I finally want to share the beautiful 24 hours I spent in Kiev on Christmas Eve.

Having not slept the night before leaving Baku, I was out cold the entire plane ride to Kiev.  Truth is, I can sleep anywhere! As we were landing I was bouncing up and down in my seat like an over-excited child.  It was an amazing feeling to be landing in Ukraine again after more than a year away. After a bit of an airport mix-up, we ended up meeting my best Ukrainian friend, Nastia, in the city near our hostel. 

Let's go!

First views of Maidan
Our hostel was the absolute best. It was right on Kreschatik, Kreshatik 8 to be exact, and for 5 euros per person we had a big, clean room, an extremely friendly welcome, hot showers, and the most ideal location.  If you're ever in Kiev for a day or two, I can recommend TIU Kreshatik 

Our first stop after checking in at the hostel was Puzata Hata.  Oh how I missed Ukrainian food! We all loaded up our plates. For Thomas and Markus it was their first time in Ukraine, but as they loaded their plates with soups, salad, meat, and dessert, it was clear that at least the food in Ukraine wouldn't disappoint.  

Our ''welcome to Ukraine'' feast

As we walked Kreschatik we saw a kiosk advertising excursions to the former president's home.  Nastia described what her friends who had taken the excursion had seen - from garages full of fancy cars to a personal zoo - I somehow wish that we could have made the trip out there.  Also dotting the street were Ukrainian flags, tshirts, hair ribbens, wrist bans, bumper stickers and just about everything patriotic you can think of.  Markus and Thomas bought toilet paper with Putin's face on it from this woman on Kreshatik.

Maidan felt like a somber place.  A place which my memory associates with a fun, lively atmosphere, festivals and concerts, and carefree days with friends has become a memorial to Ukraine's current struggle and those who have lost their lives fighting for freedom.  As we walked past candles and flowers Nastia pointed out to us where she had seen dead bodies laying during her time helping provide food to the protestors on Maidan.  The hill going up from Maidan was lined with pictures of those killed and it seems as if it will never come to an end.  All of the stones on the sidewalk are new, as the old ones were dug up and used as weapons during the fighting on Maidan.  One very beautiful thing we saw was the results of a candlelight vigil which Nastia herself had taken part in.

It must have been so beautiful lit up
We ran into a protest calling for more money for Ukrainian troops fighting in Donetsk.  While walking through a park we suddenly had to move to the side while a huge line of policemen came marching through.  There definitely was an air of tension in parts of the city. 
It was apparent to us the Ukraine is really pulling itself closer to the EU.  In prominent public places the EU flag hung next to the Ukrainian flag.  At the airport, the passport control had one line maked ''Ukrainian and EU Citizens'' and one line marked ''Other Passports''.
Since Markus and Thomas were in Kiev for the first time, we tried to see as many of the must-see sights as possible.  I think we did pretty well in completing that task. In any case, Markus and Thomas both said that they would come back to Kiev again!

Motherland statue

WWII Museum

St. Andrew's - my favorite church in Kiev

Funicular Ride

Bridge lit up at night

We even found a Christmas market in Kiev!! We couldn't believe it! The market was incredibly beautiful and we all enjoyed a cup of mulled wine.
With the hrynia's loss of value everything in Kiev was incredibly inexpensive.  While the reason for this drastic change in the exchange rate is certainly not good, it did lead us to buy basically everything and anything we wanted, enjoy our day to the fullest, and treat Nastia everywhere we went. The decline of the hryvnia's value and the cost of the crisis in general is hitting the Ukrainian people hard.  Talks of raising the metro fare from 2 to 4 hryvnia has students wondering how they will be able to afford to travel to university each day.  Nastia told stories of classmates getting fake pupil cards, as school children ride the metro for free in Kiev.  She also told of university professors giving unfairly low grades, as they hope to fail students out of the stipends they currently recieve from the state.
Despite all of the dynamic changes taking place in Ukraine, one thing that will never change is how must fun the dynamic duo of Nastia and Chelsea has when we get together.  We spent the day talking, laughing, hugging, smiling, and just enjoying the company of a dear friend.  Saying goodbye was really hard at the end of the day, but I was glad that Nastia stayed with us so long. When shortly after midnight we finally got Nastia a taxi and gave our final goodbye hugs my heart was full of happiness even if the tears running down my cheeks looked pretty sad.
I had mixed feelings as we drove to the airport the next morning.  On the one hand I was sad to be leaving Ukraine, having been momentarily thrown back into a place were I have spent so much time and made so many memories.  On the other hand I was simply so incredibly thankful for that short, but oh so sweet, visit to Kiev in a time of uncertain and exciting change in Ukraine.  Until next time, Kiev!

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