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Kyiv Day 1: Language Please?

Kyiv_day1

This is the first time I’ve ever flown into a country that was in a war. Did this terrify me? A little bit. I knew enough to call home and leave an ‘I love you’ message on the answering machine. This will be the second time this year I’m going to Ukraine – why? Cause I can, but mostly because I want to. For me, it’s not enough to read these articles, I want to see how (if) Kyiv has changed since May. So this will be my short notes about what my trip this time round (for a refresher, my facebook notes from May are still up).

Airport: nothing new – long lines for everything. They wouldn’t comp me for the medical supplies I’m bringing with me on behalf of KYK Toronto though…apparently, the two times I called and got an “I don’t know how to do that, go to the airport and ask” wasn’t a good enough reason for them.

Flight: well, someone around me kept on farting – badly. And the kid in the same isle (thank God not beside me) kept on crying/squealing about his laptop the entire time! Awesome parenting there people…just awesome. That kid was the perfect poster child for why drugging your kids for a long overnight flight is a good idea!

Waiting for the flight out of Zurich – their security is very thorough, so thorough that the line stretched out into the waiting area and I stood there looking at the 3 security guards working (only three!) and they were very slow about it! The flight to Kyiv was uneventful, I basically slept.

Arrived, got picked up by a driver (fancy, I know!) and got to the apartment that my friends are allowing me to use while they are in Canada. Funny thing happened in the car on the drive to the airport: the lady that is holding on to the keys (which I need) doesn’t speak Ukrainian. Only Russian or a little bit of English, she says she understands Ukrainian and maybe she does (I find it easier to talk in person rather than on the phone) but my driver was not impressed since I asked him to tell her where we are and how long it was going to take. The conversation went like this (from driver to lady): ‘What do you mean you don’t speak Ukrainian? You’re living in Kyiv and you don’t speak Ukrainian?’ Lady: ‘Well, everyone here knows Russian and I understand a little bit of it.’ Driver: ‘So, this is the new Kyiv, everyone should be speaking in Ukrainian now and not Russian.’ I guess it’s the dawn of a new era here in the city.

The apartment is quaint – hot since it’s hot in Kyiv but not as hot as I once remember it being (the sweat dripping down your back and the desperate need for something – even gassed water – to drink). I had to let go of my cell phone for an hour for them to unblock it and get me onto a Ukrainian network: I thought I was going to have a panic attack. Never thought that I would be so bonded with my cell phone (which I drop, all the time).

My friend from New York also flew in and we went into town to meet up with my cousin and her friend for dinner. We walked around Maidan as this is the first time she’s been in Kyiv since the Revolution. I noted last time that it still had an underlying smell of burnt tires when walking around. That’s gone now. But it’s still quiet, even with the cars on Khryschatyk driving by. There’s still an eerie quiet that descends on the Maidan now – even children know better than to break it. Some of the memorials are still up and there’s still people coming to pay their respects. Even if they take all of it down, I think it’s still going to a quiet Maidan from now on. Too much has been lost for it to be any different.

We went out to dinner in the Passage. Only problem: our waiter didn’t speak Ukrainian. At the table were: an American-Ukrainian, a Canadian-Ukrainian, a Polish-Ukrainian and a Kyiv-Ukrainian. Good luck to you with a tip buddy! He mixes up my order and instead of carbonerra pasta I get some sort of fish. I’m like: WTF? We’re all staring at this fish dish and at him and wondering if he’s smart enough to apologize profusely. He’s not. He looks at my cousin and says ‘well, that’s how you ordered it in Russian’. My cousin responds with: ‘I didn’t order anything in Russian, I don’t speak Russian.’ The Kyivite than goes on to say: ‘you live in Kyiv, and don’t know how to speak Ukrainian? Why?’ This isn’t the same Kyiv anymore either – the Revolution and the war have made it difficult for anyone not to know Ukrainian now. Either learn or get told off for it.

We walked out of the restaurant and down to Khryschatyk. They’re full on practicing for Sunday! All of the military units on display and the trucks and tanks. The conversation turns to the question of appropriateness: is this appropriate? Should this military parade happen? Shouldn’t they be out in the east fighting? I guess it’s not a simple decision: yes you can cancel the parade but then how will you be able to show off your military to the world? It does boost morale (just watching the practice run made me proud of what the country has achieved) but does it harm the war front? I don’t know, and I’m sure the organizers are confused over the entire thing as well. FYI: only the volunteer battalions got applauses from the spectators.

It’s funny though, in a time of war people’s rationale comes into question in the most obscure way. I was standing there watching these units march by and glancing around me at the young men standing around looking at the practice parade. Only thought that went through my mind: why aren’t you out there fighting for this city, for these people and for this country? Why are you getting drunk on Khryschatyk and watching a military parade go by? I jump back to May and a sign that I noticed: ‘And what’s YOUR future?’

What do you think?

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