Last weekend I took a short trip to Kiev … or Kyiv … however you spell it. I was attending a conference, so as is customary at such events, I spent most of my time at a hotel. This particular hotel was well outside city limits and as a result, I didn’t see too much of the city until the last day, when I took a tour. I did have a few interesting experiences, though!
I think the best part was a dinner where I sat with a handsome French guy who lived and worked in Riga, having fallen in love with a Latvian girl, an Italian guy in a wheelchair with a giant white beard, and a young, rather exuberant Ukrainian guy wearing large, neon yellow glasses. Our conversation mainly focused on modern literature. French guy: Celine is my favorite author, although he was a misogynist and rabid anti-Semite, but he writes so lyrically. Italian guy: Mishima was a neo-facist nut, but I love his writing, it’s so strange. Me: Murakami’s “Kafka On The Shore” changed my life, you guys are nuts. We all agreed, however, that Elena Ferrante (whoever she really is) was brilliant and “The Neapolitan Tales” should be read by everyone alive. We also talked about politics, travel, food, and a number of other intriguing topics.
On a slightly more serious note – it was, in fact, a great conversation. These guys were smart, well-read, highly-educated, and had opinions they did not hesitate to express. I think for them, it was a pretty normal discussion, but for me, it was a natural high. It’s been a long, long time since I had an erudite conversation with someone, to be honest. I’ve had some meaningful, personal conversations, and some really funny conversations, and even some educational conversations, but I cannot remember the last time I talked about modern fiction or art of any kind, with anyone. So – I enjoyed myself more than I probably should have, and will treasure the memory of that evening’s conversation as something I really should find a way to have more of, because it’s important to me. I’m grateful for being reminded of that.
On the last day, I took a tour of Kiev … Kyiv … whatever. The tour guide was excellent, though she may have cast a bit of a pall over the crowd in starting the tour by pointing out Babi Yar as we passed the turn-off. For those of you who don’t know, Babi Yar is a ravine in Kiev … Kyiv … and a site of massacres carried out by German forces and local collaborators during their campaign against the Soviet Union. The most notorious and the best documented of these massacres took place from 29–30 September 1941, wherein 33,771 Jews were killed. Nearly 34,000 people, in 2 days. According to a Wikipedia article, “The massacre was the largest mass killing for which the Nazi regime and its collaborators were responsible during its campaign against the Soviet Union and is considered to be “the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust” to that particular date, surpassed only by Aktion Erntefest of November 1943 in occupied Poland with 42,000–43,000 victims and the 1941 Odessa massacre of more than 50,000 Jews in October 1941, committed by Romanian troops.”
This information, which was shared by the tour guide, did not put me in a happy mood. Nonetheless I was impressed that she acknowledged the place, and the deed, when she could have so easily let it pass by.
We continued on to Kiev … Kyiv … where we went to several churches and old fortresses, looking at 11th century wall ruins and the like. At one church, the Kiev … Kyiv … Eastern Orthodox Patriarch was in the church for the service, which really excited our tour guide. I watched the service, which seemed to consist mainly of dressing the Patriarch in beautiful blue and gold robes and a crown. A choir was singing in the balcony. It was a bit surreal, but perhaps a little less so to me, being accustomed to Eastern Orthodox pageantry. It didn’t really feel right to be snapping away inside the church, so I haven’t got much to show, but here are a few images I captured:
We went to a number of squares, including Maidan. A reminder of what Maidan Square is, again from Wikipedia: “The Ukrainian revolution of 2014 (also known as the Euromaidan Revolution or Revolution of Dignity; Ukrainian: Революція гідності, Revoliutsiya hidnosti) took place in Ukraine in February 2014, when a series of violent events involving protesters, riot police, and unknown shooters in the capital, Kiev, culminated in the ousting of Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych (who had won the 2010 Ukrainian presidential election. This was immediately followed by a series of changes in Ukraine’s sociopolitical system, including the formation of a new interim government, the restoration of the previous constitution, and a call to hold impromptu presidential elections within months.” There are a lot of conflicting reports, but it appears around 75 people, including police, were killed. There are also a lot of conflicting reports on the identity and source of the snipers who shot so many demonstrators, ranging from the CIA to the Russians. According to our tour guide, “we all know who did it but no one will say it.” Apparently she didn’t want to say it, either. This picture of me is not at Maidan Square, but another one, called Khmelnytsky – it was a very misty, cold day.
The architecture in Kiev … Kyiv … was very nice. Many boulevards had walkways down the median, with benches and landscaping, and overall the city was very green. However, the mist became so heavy that my photos are just terrible, so here are a few pulled off the web, just to give you a feel for it:
I’ve been to a lot of cities that just called my name. Kyoto was one: I ended up living there. Budapest was another; I didn’t live there, but I could have, and who knows, maybe I will one day. Kiev … Kyiv … didn’t even whisper. Maybe it was the grey clouds hanging over everything, maybe it was the sad and tragic history, maybe I was just in a bad mood. But all I can say now is, I visited, it was mildly interesting, and I don’t think I will yearn to go back for more. Though, if the right opportunity arose … you never know!