Have not been posting too much on this blog -- and I should. Must make it part of my routine. Busy with the Christmas book and other projects and -- packing! Off to Ukraine tomorrow! So excited. I love being there. Am leading a tour with Canadian and Australian folks.
I wrote this article for The Ukrainian Weekly back in May 2007 -- it still applies.
See youse later in the summer! Have a good one.
The things we do...
Being There – So at Home in Ukraine
by Orysia Paszczak Tracz
Have you ever come to a place you’ve never been before and felt right at home? That’s how I felt when I first arrived in Ukraine in 1993; over the years, that feeling hasn’t changed.
Other cities, other countries have beauty, interesting architecture and historic places. But being in Ukraine, whether in Kyiv, Lviv or any small town or village, is so much more fascinating to me. Even though I am far removed from the place – my parents left as young adults – I am so drawn to it. After all, it is my ancestral homeland, where my roots are found. I suppose if I did not know much about the place, maybe it would be like any other tourist spot – old and interesting, and so what?
But, because it is the source of my roots, it is so very special. I am so at home in Ukraine! Yes, I know, to the people there I am a foreigner, a curiosity; I might even be regarded as one of those (expletive at times deleted) diasporans. And yet, often I am taken as being from another city or the next province. They think I am a native, but just not from right there. Thanks to my parents, I mastered the language, and only rarely does someone notice that it is not quite what is spoken there now. But that’s whole other story.
I love walking around, whether in the city, town or village – or the open countryside. I feel such comfort and a deep soul-nourishing satisfaction. It is home in a very deep sense, something that cannot be explained in any logical way.
The streets of Lviv, Kyiv, Kolomyia, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk have become so familiar to me that I rarely need to refer to the city maps. I just head off in the direction I “know” I’m supposed to go. It’s spooky, but I’m rarely wrong. Of course, there have been times where I have been completely, terribly, most embarrassingly wrong, with my poor feet paying the price. On the other hand, quite a few times I have been asked for directions, and have known what to say.
Once at the Zoloti Vorota (Golden Gates) in Kyiv on a Sunday morning, a man with a young son asked me how to get to a particular street. I thought it was down this way but, just in case, took out my guidebook to check, explaining that I was from Canada. Well, he was from Zaporizhia. We enjoyed a laugh, talked for a bit, and then they went on their way – in the direction I had originally indicated.
To be in Ukraine’s shrines or on the actual sites of ancient history is quite moving.
The first time I entered St. Sophia Sobor in Kyiv, I sensed this strange physical and spiritual emotion, and was moved to tears. I did not expect this. Suddenly I felt all that antiquity and history and the souls from those times surrounding me. Seeing the reconstructed St. Michael the Golden-domed Sobor is an emotion of another kind. The beauty and majesty of the magnificent cathedral is one thing, but knowing how ancient it is and what had been done to it, and how it rose as a phoenix makes it so much more glorious.
Walking along Virmenska (Armenian) Street and the other oldest streets of Lviv is also fascinating. From the external buttresses on the buildings, you just know how very old they are. I find photographing courtyards, gates, doors, and windows and windowsills in Lviv to be especially satisfying.
One special spot for me is the old Kyiv Hill, where Volodymyrska Street begins, at the top of Andriyivskyi Uzviz, and where the remains of the Desiatynna Tserkva (Church of the Tithes, built between 989 and 1015) are visible. This is Kniaz Volodymyr’s town, from which Kyiv expanded into Kniaz Yaroslav’s town (the areas of St. Sophia and Zoloti Vorota). Kniahynia Olha’s residence, a palace inthe-round, was located on this hill. The earthen rampart (val) that surrounded that first town is still there. The various historical locations are clearly labeled.
Past the National Historical Museum on this hill is one of the ravines leading down to the Podil, the old lower town along the banks of the Dnipro River. This was the commercial port part of the medieval city. It still has two very closely parallel streets named Nyzhnii Val and Verkhnii Val (the low and the high ramparts). Khoryv and Shchekavytska streets are there, too, and, in another area, Lybidska Street is near the stream that still manages to flow within the city. Talk about Ridna Shkola coming alive, as one of my sons exclaimed.
In a few places, the original pink-hued stonework of medieval Kyiv is purposely exposed, for example in the pavement on Volodymyrska Street near Velyka Zhytomyrska. The same stones and bricks made from this local material are visible in the walls of St. Sophia in Pecherska Lavra, the rebuilt Uspenskyi Sobor, and other ancient buildings.
The names of the streets, city districts, hills and parks are testimony to the antiquity of Ukrainian cities, towns and villages. For example, below the ravine of old Kyiv Hill, the areas are called Honchari (potters), Kozhumiaky (tanners – remember the story of Kyrylo Kozhumiaka?) and Dihtiari (tarburners and sellers). Yaroslaviv Val (Yaroslav’s Ramparts) is the street where the actual ramparts were raised around his expanding city. Volodymyrsky Uzviz is the street along which – according to the chronicles – people walked from the upper town to the Dnipro River to be baptized in 988. Virmenska Street is where the Armenians settled and lived in Lviv from its earliest times. The village of Pechenizhyn definitely has something to do with the Pechenihy tribe of Volodymyr’s times. The stories behind the toponyms are endless and, if you know even a shred of Ukrainian history, so much more interesting.
One place I must visit this summer is the site of the excavations by Vikentiy Khvoika – the Paleolithic site on Frunze Street in the Podil. That’s about as far back as our human history goes. Talk about Ukrainian antiquity, eh?
I am at home in Ukrainian churches, no matter which denomination. The atmosphere, the reverence, the iconography, the people, the singing – it is mine, it is familiar, it is what I grew up with. (The only church that was foreign to me, I later learned, belonged to the Moscow Patriarchate. Back in 1993 we came to a church in Chernivtsi during a service. What was very strange and uncomfortable to me was the way the women were scurrying around, hunched over, heads down, kerchiefs over their foreheads. It was as if they were afraid to stand up straight, and face the priest, the altar and the icons directly.)
And so, I will be back this August. Since 1993, I have been fortunate to lead a folk art and culture tour to Ukraine each year, during my vacation (oh, that day job interferes). I enjoy showing off my other “home” to those who join me. In the last few years I have stayed for a bit after the group leaves to wander the streets of Lviv and Kyiv. And, as usual, I will be luxuriating in the sheer pleasure of being there.