Amazing and poignant

This live sand-animation performance, by Kseniya Simonova on the television show Ukraine’s Got Talent, recounts the terrible suffering of Ukraine during World War II. Ukraine suffered horribly, beyond what most of us can imagine.

From Koffee Article:

The video tells the story of life during World War II or The Great Patriotic War, as it’s known in the Ukraine. It is no doubt the reason for the emotional reactions of some of the audience. The Ukraine was one of the most devastated countries of WWII, with 1 in 4 Ukrainians killed and nearly 20% of all people killed in the war being from the Ukraine!

The final frame of the animation shows the ghost of a fallen sailor and text that reads: “You are always nearby”.

This is a beautiful work of art. And you can see in the faces of some in the crowd that it surfaces painful and poignant national memories.

[H/T The Anchoress]

Some more recollections from Ukraine

Some more, somewhat random thoughts on our recent trip to Ukraine (to read all my Ukraine posts, click here):

– I irritated the Ukrainian customs officers quite a bit at the Kiev airport. Not because I was trying to; more because I was clueless. But they waved me through anyway, with a roll of the eyes, two quick flicks of the wrist and a sound kind of like “Pfft pfft”. I’m sure they were thinking ” *sigh*, Amerikanski“.

– The experiences and sufferings of the Crimean Tatars in World War II, and in particular the event they refer to as the Deportation, are incomprehensible to most of us. To the Tatars, the deportation is the key to how they see themselves; it’s a big part of what makes them Tatars. I hope to write on that soon.

– I wondered how the DJ at the Matisse restaurant knew were were Amerikanskis. Jill made the wise observation that we were the “fat and loud” group – a dead giveaway.

– Europeans absolutely, positively do not believe in ice.

– In Ukraine, when you buy groceries, you have to pay for the grocery bags. When you buy french fries, you have to pay for the ketchup.

Plov tastes good.

– I’ve been told that the dollar is weak when compared to the Euro. Ukraine, thankfully, has the Grievna as it’s currency. . . Amsterdam, unfortunately, does not. A normal meal in Amsterdam cost us the equivalent of about $110 US dollars, prompting my one and only episode of trip-stress.

– I really liked Grievnas.

– Ukrainian currency features pictures of writers and poets.

– I was, evidently, the only person in all of Ukraine wearing white Nikes. Another dead giveaway.

– In discussing cultural differences with Aliye, she made the interesting point that we seemed more “open” with our kids. In their culture, adults will not usually play with their kids. Aliye was intrigued by how, in her words, “we seemed like equals with our kids”.

– Did I mention how I, in a swirling snowstorm, stared down the entire former Soviet military apparatus to regain a lost bag at the Simferopol airport? More on that in a later post.

– Ukrainians are more reserved than we are. When we were on the bus in the Kiev airport that shuttled us to our plane, our family was laughing and joking. I remember the sideways looks that many of the other passengers were casting at us. They were just quietly riding, no doubt thinking ” *sigh*, Amerikanskis

– I joked with the kids that we should pretend to be from Canada while we were in Europe, to avoid confrontations with anyone who was not happy with American foreign policy. So now and then we would drop an “eh” or a “what’s that all aboot?”, so as not to blow our cover.

– No one ever confronted us about American foreign policy, even though it was pretty obvious the whole time that we were Americans.

– I said “Spasiba Bolshoi” many times on the trip. It means “Thank you very much”. People were wonderful to us.

– I also learned how to say “Excuse me”. It is “Ees Venitye”. The way I remembered it was because it rhymes with “Pleased ta meetcha”.

– I want to go back.

East and West

During our time in Ukraine we had dinner one night with Jason and Anya and their sweet little baby Lilly. Jason is an American and Anya is Ukrainian; they met while she was an exchange student in the U.S. They are a wonderful Christian couple.

Jason, Anya and Lilly

Anya speaks excellent English and I asked her where and when she had learned to speak it. She told me that her father was stationed in Germany when she was six and that she learned English at day-care while there.

I also spent time as a child in Germany; my dad was stationed there with the Civil Service for three years when I was between 9 and 12 years of age. Always interested when people mention that they too spent time over there, I asked Anya where they lived. She gave me the name of a city I had never heard of and I asked her if it was anywhere near Ramstein, where we lived. She wasn’t sure.

It was then that I realized something . . . it should have been obvious to me, but it wasn’t: The reason I didn’t recognize the place where Anya had lived is because Anya’s dad was a member of the Soviet military, and she lived as a child in East Germany. Our nations were opposed to each other in those days and our parents were on opposite sides, serving governments that had thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at each other.

I’m so thankful that our nations aren’t hostile toward each other any more, and I pray it stays that way. It’s so good to be able to go behind what was once the Iron Curtain and to have fellowship with dear brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Ukraine.

Thanks be to God!

С Новым Годом!

. . . transliterated Snovim Godom! (Happy New Year!)

On 12/31, we traveled back to Yalta to ring in the New Year. Loys and Virgil booked a few rooms for themselves, our family, and Jason, Anya and Lilly so that we could share this holiday together.

Heading to Yalta

The hotel we stayed at was nice (Loys and Virgil were so generous toward us on this trip!). In the lobby, as we waited for our room keys, we witnessed yet more of Father Frost and the Snow Maiden. This was New Year’s eve, so excitement in the hotel was high.

More Father Frost and Snow Maiden

We checked into our rooms and got settled, and then headed downstairs for a meal at an in-hotel Italian restaurant. The food was very good, and service was good and slow – Ukrainians enjoy taking time at their meals, especially when eating out (which they don’t do as often as we do) so meals lasting two or three hours are not uncommon. It gave us time to talk. The food was very good and we had a great meal.

At the restaurant

A side note: In Ukraine, the marriage industry is quite active. We met an older Canadian man and invited him to sit with us. He was at the other end of the table talking with Jason so I didn’t get to hear much of the conversation, but he mentioned that one of the reasons he was touring Ukraine was to meet up with a girl in one of the villages that he had been writing to. While he never said it, I’m assuming that he was working out a potential marriage to the girl. There’s something about that that troubles me.

Following dinner, Blake really wanted to play pool, and pool playing could be had in the basement, so Molly, Blake and I headed down there. I mention this only because I think this picture is very, very cool.

Blake, concentrating

After playing pool, we went back to the lobby elevators to head back to our room. In the lobby, a string trio was performing. They were good. I mean, really good. They were playing some classical piece and ripping off long runs of 32nd notes; it was amazing.

String Trio

After listening for awhile, we headed back up to the room we had designated as the “party room”. This was the room Loys and Virgil got for our family, on the fourteenth floor with a great view, where all three families were congregating. We played some Phase 10 and MadGab (great fun!) as we waited for midnight. As the last minutes of 2007 ticked by, we all went out on the balcony in anticipation of the fireworks.

We didn’t have a “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” show for a definitive reference on time, but we used one of our watches as “the” time and counted down the last ten seconds in Russian (hope I got these about right):

Decyet . . .

Devyet . . .

Vocem . . .

Seim . . .

Shaste . . .

Pyatt . . .

Chetiria . . .

Tree (good rolled “r” on this one 🙂



Snovim Godom!!!!

It was something! People on balconies all over the hotel were shouting “Snovim Godom!” and “Da! Da! Da!” (Yes! Yes! Yes!) as the fireworks got going in the city. This was a unique fireworks-viewing for us; we were basically above or at eye-level to most of the explosions. There wasn’t one central fireworks deployment area, but rather dozens of them, some quite close to the hotel (in the parking lot, for instance). After each rocket was set off, we could hear the aftermath: car alarms all over the place were going crazy as cars were jolted with the vibration and the noise.

It was awesome.

Below are some pics we took of the fireworks.

We went back inside after things died down and played some more games, finally going to bed around 2am. From talking to some Ukrainians later, it seems we were pikers when it comes to Snovim Godom partying; many of them celebrate until 4 or 5am.

The next morning at 10:00am we went down to the lobby to enjoy a Ukrainian buffet breakfast, which included such (to us) unconventional choices as broccoli and mashed potatoes. Following breakfast we checked out and drove the hour and a half back to Simferopol.

It was a great way to spend New Years.

Snovim Godom!

Back home

We are back from Ukraine today! We were without the internet from 1/1 till our return today, hence the lack of posts. But we had many great adventures in wonderful Crimea and I’ll be posting on them as I find time and get over my jetlag.

God is good.


Sunday dawned clear and bright, as we slept in. The services at the English-speaking church Loys and Virgil attend don’t start until 1:00pm, so this was a nice change from our normal 7:30am start to Sunday morning back home!

Jason and Anya came to pick half of us up (Virgil drove the other half) and we made it to church about ten minutes before the service started. People were very welcoming. The church is a great mix of nationalities, with a lot of Malaysian people along with some Nigerians and a few Americans. Most of them are students, so the church has a very young feel to it.

Some of the people who came to church

Church banner – in Ukrainian. “Jesus – Bread of Life”

Church banner – in Russian. “Jesus – Lamb of God”

The service was . . . wonderful. The worship time was awesome, led by a praise band made up of primarily Asian students. They had a piano, bass, guitar, and some bongos, and another girl in the audience wielding the tamborine. We knew most of the songs (this was primarily contemporary worship), and sang on all of them. While the acoustics, music, powerpoint, etc would be considered a little rough by our polished American church standards, it’s been a long time since I was in a worship time as good as this one was. Everyone in the room was singing, and this congregation of perhaps 60 or 70 people rivaled in volume congregations many times larger that I’ve been in in the States.

One of the worship leaders

After the singing, the pastor delivered a message based upon the book of Judges and the endless cycle of Israel’s leaving God, suffering, repenting, and coming back to God. Molly wrote down the following quote, which I thought was very good:

“Victory is not overcoming my sin,

or the devil, or the world.

True, lasting victory is only found

when Jesus overcomes me”

It was a great service. The congregants were joyful and welcoming, the worship was blessed and had full participation, the message was to the point and impacting. We finished with a chorus of Blessed Assurance and church was over. At this point many of the students who had attended went to, I presume, catch a Marshutka back to where they live. Churches here don’t need big parking lots.

As I left the church the thought occured to me that this was a taste of heaven. I was worshipping the Father with brothers and sisters of multiple nationalities; all colors of the rainbow, all in one accord. I’m so used to being in worship services with people just like me. This was wonderful.

Following church, we went next door to the house that Anya and Jason are house-sitting, and they allowed me to call home over the free Vonage phone there. That was very nice, and I had a good conversation with my parents.

Then began the adventure of finding lunch. We drove downtown and stopped in at an italian place that had delicious smells wafting from it. We were in there for close to ten minutes before we realized they had just closed for the day (heh – they closed when a group of clueless Amerikanskis stopped in – coincidence? 🙂 We then walked back out into the square and travelled through a tunnel – complete with beer bottles and some vomit from the night before – and found ourselves in a Celtic restaurant, with kilt-wearing waiters. We made our way to some tables upstairs, but the menu was multi-page and poor Anya was hard-pressed to translate it for all of us so that we could decide what to get. At this point Loys suggested a place she knew of that had English menus. So we exited the Celtic place and began making our way to this third restaurant.

On the way, we came upon Father Frost and the Snow-maiden. Father Frost was announcing Happy New Year (“Snovim Godom!”) to the crowds to the beat of techno music. We stopped for a second to watch and it was at this point that I caught the eye of a Babushka who came over and began talking with me in, I presume, slightly tipsy Russian. I smiled and said “Ya Amerikanyetz”, to let her know I don’t speak Russian. At that, and with a big grin, she began dancing with me. We cut a rug for awhile right there on the square – now and then I would try to pull away as I repeated “Ya Amerikanyetz”, but that only increased her persistence in dancing with me. She was teaching me some form of a Russian polka, and had me in an iron grip, when Jill finally ran up and helped pry me away, and we made our escape!

Father Frost

The Snow Maiden. Andrew’s convinced we need to incorporate Snow Maidens into our own Christmas traditions in the U.S. 🙂

Dancing with the Babushka

The next place we made it to, the one with the English menus, was fresh out of English menus and, as the waitress told Anya, was in the process of turning itself into a beer joint with not much in the way of food. But Anya persisted and the waitress agreed that they could cook us some chicken and beef platters, and we had a fine meal, with a generous amount of rolls, mashed potatoes, a salad for Andrew, etc. It was quite good.

Anya and Lilly

By the time we left the restaurant, it was dark outside. It’s a strange thing to go to church and after-church lunch, and to walk out of the restaurant into the dark of night. Of course, our church didn’t start until 1:00pm, and we didn’t find a restaurant until 4:00pm, and were two hours there. And we’re in a place where the sun sets at 4:30 every afternoon in the winter.

We made our way back to the cars, and Jason and Anya dropped us off at Virgil and Loys’ apartment. We spent another cozy night eating popcorn and watching movies (The Incredibles and Narnia tonight). It was another good day.

Today we are heading back to Yalta to ring in the New Year.

Snovim Godom!

Бiг Теистi!

The title of this post is explained below

Yesterday (Saturday, 12/29) was quite a day! I’m still amazed at how much we’ve been able to do here in Ukraine in just a short time.

Loys and Virgil hired two drivers, Rafat and Adir, to take us on a trip to Yalta. It was a nice drive through the mountains and the falling snow made for some pretty scenery. Yalta is about an hour and a half from Simferopol, and half of us rode in Adir’s car while the other half rode in Rafat’s car. Neither man speaks English. They are both, by the way, capital fellows and they handled the three-sheets-to-the-wind Ukrainian traffic with calm and expertise.

In a somewhat (I say “somewhat” 🙂 humorous example of culture shock, the car that Andrew, Molly, Bethany and Nata were riding in (Rafat’s car) was tuned to a Ukrainian station that plays some American music. Evidently one of 50 Cent’s spicier raps (or, as Andrew put it, the most filthy thing he’d ever heard on the radio) got some airplay as they drove down. Rafat, of course, doesn’t understand the language and so was not tuned in to the subject matter.

We arrived at Livadia palace, which is the site of the famous Yalta conference that took place in February of 1945. This was a conference between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin which had to do with, among other things, getting Russian help in the war in the Pacific and deciding how to partition Germany after the war.

Livadia Palace

It was interesting to be standing on such a historical site, and to be able to see the negotiating table where these agreements were hammered out.

Negotiating Table

Also, as we’ve gotten more comfortable with Cyrillic, we worked on sounding out the transliterated names on the plates. The picture below shows Winston Churchill’s nameplate, and the rough phonetic transliteration of the Cyrillic is as follows: “Ooeenston Chercheell”.

Winston Churchill

The palace was beautiful but also a little sad. It had originally been built by Tsar Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia. Pictures of him and his family were everywhere. They were all executed by the Bolsheviks in the revolution of 1917.

Outside Livadia Palace, by the fountain

After visiting Livadia, we set our course for that great destroyer of world cultures, McDonalds. Yes, they have one in Yalta. For an American, it is an interesting experience to be served at a Russian-speaking McDonalds. But Nata translated well for us, and the girl behind the counter (Natalia) did a good job filling the order.

The menu was, of course, in Ukrainian Cyrillic (which differs slightly from Russian Cyrillic but is pretty close). I’ve gotten in the habit these past few days of reading as many Cyrillic words as possible, because it’s common to find a word I understand – all languages share certain words, of course. But the McDonalds menu in Yalta was so amusing, because it is a straight transliteration of all the main McDonalds food items. For instance:

“Heppi Mil”

We also saw menu entries for other familiar items, such as the Бiг Mak (can you guess what that is? 🙂 and, the item I finally ordered: The Big Tasty!

Big Tasty!

It was big and, yeah, pretty tasty.

I mis-ordered Blake’s ice cream cone, using Nata as our translator (I think I just confused her so we ended up getting an ice cream cup with chocolate syrup). So we sent Bethany back up to try again, after getting some instruction from Nata, and she ordered a “Marojna Rajok” (ice cream cone). Of course, this being Bethany, she got it done perfectly.

The McDonalds is built on a harbor looking out on the Black Sea; it’s a really nice view. The McDonalds is also a stone’s throw from a huge statue of Lenin. Talk about a physical reminder of the great worldview clash of the 20th century!

Group in front of Lenin’s statue

Following this, we drove up into the mountains to visit a beautiful Eastern Orthodox church near Foros that was built on a peak back in 1892. It is a working church, but also a tourist attraction. We passed several people who appeared to have walked all the way up the mountain to visit the church. One such lady walked in, crossed herself, and kissed a picture of Jesus in the center of the church, then went to pray along the walls where there are candles lit to saints. The church is very ornate and small, with no pulpit or chairs; Nata explained that on Sunday the attenders kneel (I believe – kneel or sit) in a circle and the priest will bless them with incense or water.

We made our way to the back of the church which had a magnificent view of the mountains. I have to admit that we got a little carried away. Rafat, one of our drivers, came to the backyard of the church and began hurling snowballs at us. So . . . yes, I admit it . . .

We had a snowball fight in the backyard of one of the stateliest and most formal churches in Eastern Europe.

It didn’t last very long. 🙂

We headed back to Simferopol after this for pizza and movies in Loys’ and Virgil’s apartment. Laptops are wonderful things for watching DVDs (especially when you have a computer projector! Well done, Virgil!)

It was a great day.

Eastern Orthodox Church, built 1892

Candles lit to saints

Ornate church ceiling


Snowball fight!