Babi Yar, Cathedrals, Dneiper River, Europe, Gardens, Hope, Opera House, Parks, Trees, Ukraine
This post was originally published in May 1918, under the title “Adoptee Feels at Home in Ukraine.” It brings to mind the hospitality and beauty of the country now under seige. I re-publish it with nostalgia, compassion and hope for an end to the war.
I’ve just returned from an unforgettable journey: 11 days sailing up the Dneiper River in the mid-section of Ukraine. The largest European country, Ukraine is a beautiful, fertile land known as “the breadbasket of Europe.” This was a memorable trip filled with beauty and history, much of that history quite sobering. “Ukraine” means “border,” and the unique position of the eastern country of Europe has shaped its destiny. The Russian empress Catherine II annexed Ukraine in the 18th century, but, under Nikita Kruschev, in 1954, it became its own country in 1954. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the far eastern edge of Ukraine became increasingly unstable. A large part of this “edge territory” is Russian-speaking. However, it is part of Ukraine. The “Revolution of Dignity” in 2014, a statement of Ukranian pride, resulted in violent deaths in the center of Kiev, the country’s capital.
My travel buddy and I decided on Ukraine while it was still a possible destination. But this is a post about the bright side of Ukraine, not its struggles. There is much to learn, much to admire. In Viking River Cruise style, we sailed mostly at night and explored cities and countryside by day. Our first port was Odessa, built on the site of an ancient Greek colony. Many cultures settled here – Crimean Tartars, Turks, Russians and Germans. Our ship docked, and we spent several days tooling about the city, admiring its elegant Baroque buildings, elaborate facades and balconies, tree lined boulevards. The variety of huge old trees (chestnut, poplar, acacia, linden) rivaled the architecture. Roses of brilliant hues rule the city’s parks and gardens. We spent time going up and down the Potemkin steps, mostly by funicular.
One night I went to the magnificent rococo opera house for a production of “Swan Lake.” Other highlights were the Odessa catacombs and the vast Akkerman Fortress, a 13th century citadel.
We made our way north, visiting Kherson and Zaporozhye. The Island of Khortitsa, former stronghold of the Cossacks, was another highlight, including modern-day Cossacks performing acrobatic feats on horseback. Their athleticism and commanding style was thrilling to observe.
After more village and city visits, we ended up in Kiev, capital of Ukraine. St. Sophia Cathedral was a highlight of this magnificent city. Hard to say whether it is more impressive on the outside, with its thirteen gold domes, or the inside with towering gilded and mosaic rotunda ceilings. The final tour was through Jewish Kiev and included “Babi Yar,” the site of WWII massacres. We also went to Podyl, one of the oldest synogogues in the city. The journey ended on an upbeat note, as Podyl included a school. Children preparing for summer camp were playing outdoors, a fitting symbol of hope for the future.
Join adoptee/author Elaine Pinkerton every other Monday for reflections on adoption and life. Your comments are invited. If you’d like to contribute a guest post related to the adoption theme, please contact her through this website.