Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Time in Kharkiv!

It is finally starting to feel like Christmas in Kharkiv. We have been watching them assemble a massive Yule Tree as they call them here in Freedom's Square and the holiday markets has are finally open. Since the Orthodox Christmas is celebrated according to the Julian calendar Christmas does not happen in Ukraine until January 7 and even Saint Nicholas Day is not celebrated here until December 19th. 

This is me and the Yule tree with a giant Ded Moroz or Father Frost in the background. In Slavic countries they have Father Frost instead of Santa Claus.
 Here is a view of holiday market in Freedom Square.
 The entrance to the market.
 The Yule Tree.
 This is the Yule Tree light up at night and a picture of Ded Moroz's house.

 One last picture of Lenin in the snow for good measure!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I made one last research trip to Donetsk, about four hours away by high speed train, before I left Ukraine for the holidays. It was my goal to conduct interviews in all of my target cities in the East this semester and then next semester I will conduct interviews in the West and South of the country. Donetsk is one of the most polluted cities in the former Soviet Union and located in the Donbas region of Ukraine. Donbas stands for Donets basin and is the most industrialized region of Ukraine. Thus, I was also trying to limit the exposure to my lungs so a wintry trip there when everything was frozen was a good choice. Well I arrived on a very wintry snowy day and didn't really get to see much because visibility was low due to snow  and I had back to back meetings scheduled throughout the day.
This is the Cathedral Transfiguration of Jesus was founded in 1883 but like many churches it was destroyed in 1933 by the Soviets. It was rebuilt from scratch and finished in 2006.
 The Donetsk Opera House.
 The requisite statue of Lenin in front of the Donetsk Regional Administration Building.
During one of the interviews, my contacts showed me this game which is played with Ukrainian school children to educate them about human trafficking. It is called Crossing  Europe.
I also had a brief visit to the Rotary Club in Donetsk where I met a fellow Jayhawk and gave a speech. Sadly, I couldn't stay very long because I had to run to catch my train back to Kharkiv!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Kyiv Tent City

I headed back to Kyiv this week because Matt's 90 days in Ukraine had run out and he had to fly back to the United States earlier than me so I went with him to Kyiv. We took the morning train the day before his flight so we had the afternoon to walk around before he flew out the next day. We stayed a bit down Khreschatyk, the main street in Kyiv, and got to see a new side of the city which was nice. We also got to see the tent city where all the people protesting former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's imprisonment live. She was charged with abuse of power, accused of working against the country’s interests by signing a deal to buy Russian natural gas while in office in 2009 at prices that prosecutors say were inflated and sentenced to seven years in prison which she is serving in a women's prison in Kharkiv. 

The impressive tent city located down Khreschatyk from Independence Square and what is more impressive is that these people stood out there every day talking about political repression in Ukraine no matter what the weather was like outside. When we were there it was freezing, and around 15 degrees and there were a bunch of people talking to passersby about the repression. I overhead one protester yelling to woman and her child who were trying to brush her off that she should think about the future of Ukraine for her child.

Approaching the tent city.
 The sign says no political repression.
 This sign says the same thing but has her picture.
Calling for a Yulia revolution in Ukraine.
 Anti-Yanukovich signs where you can be the one punching him or have him kiss your hand!
 This one says Freedom for Political Prisoners. 
This is the view of the tent city from across the street. As you can see it is huge and takes up an entire city block.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Human Trafficking Training in Poltava

As part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence I was invited to Poltava to help out at a training on human trafficking with 11th graders at a local school. For some reason whenever I travel to Poltava the weather is always horrible and weather.com always gives me an unreliable forecast so I am always under-dressed. Today was no different with the down-pouring rain and almost below freezing temperatures. Still I was glad to only be attending the training this time and not sightseeing.

This is the school where the training took place.
An informational poster in Ukrainian about the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. 
For some reason every time I am in Poltava I get interviewed by some kind of news making organization. This time it was TV crew and I had to speak in Russian on camera about human trafficking and my research.
Teaching about human trafficking, the statistics and realities in Ukraine and how to avoid becoming a victim. 
An activity which demonstrated what a victim of trafficking feels like...trapped and helpless to get out.
Another activity simulating the trial of human trafficker with a judge, prosecutor, witnesses and a defendant. 
The jury voting if the defendant is guilty and what sentence he should get.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Rotaract Poker Night

The Kharkiv Rotaract Club organized a poker party and art auction fundraiser where we will  raised money for a local children's home in Kharkiv. I was invited to come along and it was a very interesting event and good opportunity to use my Russian and meet young Rotarians from Kharkiv. There was also guests from other Rotaract  and Rotary clubs from around Ukraine and even one from Minsk, Belarus.

This is a photo of the Rotarians from Slovyansk presenting a Rotary vase to the Kharkiv Rotaract Club president. 
 This is the art auction of pieces made by the children at the home
The poker cake, a present from the Rotary Club Kharkiv City brought out by their secretary.
No, sadly those are not real dollar bills!
The very tasty dinner where the proceeds benefited the local children's home.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Circus Circus!

Every so often my department at Kharkiv National University organizes events for the foreign students and this month we all went to the circus. While most Americans think of the circus as a summer time event most places in the former Soviet Union have permanent venues and arenas for circus shows that happen year round. Here is the arena which says цирк the Russian word for circus.
 This inside of the arena which was not very full.
Our seats were the cheap seats in the last row of the arena but they cost like $5 and we were able to move up after intermission. They even had real popcorn which was tasty and I am clearly very excited about it!
The biggest animals they had were small Shetland ponies...I was hoping for a elephant but maybe next time!
This was a family of male acrobats...not sure where the women were but they were pretty good.
This was a weird magician with four identical assistants.
 The whole cast of the circus at the finale.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holodomor Remembrance Day

There are always exciting things going on in Freedom Square which is a block away from our apartment. Usually I walk by and there is something going on that I don't really understand so I just take pictures and then go home and read the newspaper. Today was no different when I walked by and there were all these candles and a news crew there video taping the speeches. 

It turns out that today was Holodomor Remembrance Day. If you remember from an earlier post, the holodomor was a man made famine in 1932-1933 where more than 4 million Ukrainians we systematically starved in order to force the farmers to collectivization their land. People in other parts of the Soviet Union started to death as well but the worst part of it was in Ukraine with Kharkiv topping the most affected list. Of course this is debated by historians and I have seen people almost come to blows when discussing this theme so take my opinion on the event as it is. The holodomor is an even sadder event when you consider that Ukraine is the bread basket of Europe so having millions of people starve to death in such a fertile area of the world is tantamount to genocide (a label which is hotly contested as well). During Soviet times this event was brushed under the rug and it wasn't until 2006 after the Orange Revolution that people started officially memorializing this event in Ukraine. Needless to say I was happy that I could glimpse the memorial ceremony to this horrible atrocity and listen to people remember it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Rotary Visitor

I am the first Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar that the clubs in Kharkiv have ever hosted. This means that everyone has been wonderful and welcoming to me since I arrived. There is one more scholar in my district 2230 (which makes up Poland, Ukraine and Belarus) who is based in Poland. He had a hard time contacting clubs in Poland so he decided to come to Ukraine and meet with clubs here since they are so great! I was able to set up meetings for him at the all three clubs in Kharkiv and attended the meetings in order to translate his speech and answer questions from the Rotarians at these meetings. It was nice to bring a guest to the meetings and we had many people asking us questions about life and politics in the US!

This is us meeting with the Rotary Club Kharkov City.
And our meeting with the Rotary Club Kharkov Mriya.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Research in Kyiv

During my visit to Kyiv I also did a number of interviews for my research with non-governmental organizations and attended a workshop sponsored by La Strada, one of the big counter trafficking organizations in Ukraine. The workshop was on the practical aspects of working with the changes to the new Ukrainian law on human trafficking. It was conducted in Ukrainian and let me just say that all those people who tell you Ukrainian and Russian are practically the same language are WRONG! I probably understood 50 percent of the workshop but it was still a good chance to learn about how the changes to the law would affect service providers in Ukraine and network with people. Let's just say after the workshop I am very excited to start my Ukrainian lessons next semester. Here are some pictures from the workshop.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Rotary Club-Kyiv International

While we were in Kyiv, I stopped by the Rotary Club-Kyiv International and gave my speech for the first time in English. Since the club is made up of mostly expats and foreigners from Scandinavia, Germany and Canada, hence the international in the title, their club language is English. It was very interesting to hear the impressions of other foreigners on life in Ukraine and hear all about their philanthropic ventures. The meeting was also in a Radisson which was fun for me to visit because I worked in a Radisson Hotel during high school and much of college so I enjoyed seeing how things were done in Ukraine.

 This is me and the club president Jesper Lindholt, he is originally from Denmark.  
Giving my presentation!  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Kyiv Tourism: Part III

Here is the epic conclusion to my fun touristy things in Kyiv post! We had a lot of fun and didn't even get to see half of the things on my list! Hopefully was are going back in February for more research and sightseeing!

Matt and I on the balcony of our apartment in Independence Square.
Walking to the Kiev Pechersk Lavra founded in 1051, it is one of the most sacred places in all of Orthodoxy.
A nice man wanted to take our picture...most of the people going to the Lavra are pilgrims going to pray in the caves beneath the lavra which were dug into the mountain side by monks who were persecuted from practicing above ground.
The controversial monument to the Ukrainian famine or holodomor on the way to the Lavra. It is controversial because many people argue that the Soviets did not systematically starve Ukraine, the breadbasket of the Soviet Union in order to collectivize the farmers. They say a lot of people starved from 1932-33 in the entire Soviet Union and that it was not aimed at just one ethnic group. Considering I took of a photo and wrote about the monument I am assuming you can guess what side of that argument I agree with!
Inside the upper part of the Lavra.  As I said it was built on a hill so there are two parts and walking on cobblestones coupled with a steep incline can make walking difficult!
After coming out of the caves where over a hundred people are buried and their bodies have been preserved
The Rodina Mat or Mother Motherland (yes, that is the real name not my mistaken translation) World War II Memorial. Despite the fact that it's a woman I still think it's hideous! The museum underneath her tells about life in Ukraine during the war and was very interesting even though it it has a clear Soviet bias!
And that concludes the tourism part of our trip to Kyiv! Stay tuned for more fun posts on my research and Rotary presentations! This last picture of a monument in Independence Square says its on 409 KM to Kharkiv...so we will definitely becoming back for more fun and adventures!