Sunday, October 20, 2019

The heroic, freedom-loving peoples of ... Ukraine (113Cong.Rec.)

Okay, religion and politics in Ukraine are no joke, but believe me, the country has a serious sense of humor. For one, Ukrainians know how to potty. Scatological humor is heralded at the Toilet History Museum, which holds a Guinness World Record for the largest collection of WC-related artifacts (top left), including one of the first self-sanitizing crappers (top right). The day I visited, on an American holiday, quite a few a school groups were on field trips, so I joined one for a tour (bottom). If you're not so much into plumbing, you can peruse more prestigious collections at Kyiv's many other museums instead; but if you still want to stay a bit quirky, you can try the Jellyfish Museum
Being tongue in cheek doesn't end at the toilet stall in Ukraine. Silly signage tells you how to use the bathroom by not stealing paper or the commode (top). Other signs show you to sit, not squat, on the top of the seat. On the other hand, you aren't allowed to sit on Metro escalators, even though the rides can be very long (bottom left). At Arsenalna, the deepest subway station in the world, it takes 5 minutes to get to the top. The hilly terrain of Kyiv begets multiple modes of ascension, including the funicular, which makes the short but steep traverse from the artsy district of Podil to downtown (bottom right).
The arts are front and center throughout the capital. Nearly every weekend in summer, an interactive tour highlighting Kyiv's creative style, particularly its architecture, passed right by my apartment (top). For a while, filming of a popular TV show took place two doors down from my place (middle left). Quite a few times, I stumbled upon commercial shoots, including one for a car brand that used the National Opera as a backdrop (middle right). The city is full of theaters, for operetta, drama, orchestra, dance, popular musicsports, and even puppetry. All of these were at my doorstep, but the theater I primarily frequented was Kinopanorama because of its English-language movie offerings (bottom). 
I did venture farther afield for some special occasions. I saw two ballet performances, of Romeo & Juliet set to Radiohead music and The Great Gatsby. Many shows seemed to meld Ukrainian tradition with modern American music. At Ukrainian House, the international convention center, the Philharmonic (top left) was the backing band for a Frank Sinatra aficionado (top right). But certainly, a penchant for classical music dominates. A free summer concert series in Shevchenko Park featured Tchaikovsky symphonies performed by a university ensemble (bottom left) and baroque works played on a harpsichord (bottom right).
It seemed like I wandered into melodies all the time. During a random weekend walk, Sage and I stopped to watch a military band practice (top). Regularly, aspiring student musicians would rehearse on benches lining the sidewalks near the same Shevchenko statue (bottom left). Braver souls would break out the big guns to busk during busy street festivals (bottom right).  
 
I wouldn't be surprised if the street performers made decent hauls, considering how philanthropic Ukrainians are. During another weekend walk, Sage and I had to weave through an army of volunteers re-painting the benches and trash cans in the Fomin Botanical Garden (top left). Sage even inspired some charity, from a dogless girl who wanted to stroll with him through the park (top right). Although not dogless myself, the young lady inspired me to spend a day at a local shelter, where some friends and I got the canine residents out and about from their cages for a little while (bottom left). It was a hot day, so we had to relax in the shade after releasing some energy (bottom right).
In the cooler months, I focused my volunteering on another effort, arranged by a work colleague. We pre-built gingerbread houses for needy kids to finish decorating for Christmas (top left). Due to a schedule conflict, I didn't get to deliver our mobile-home kits (top right). Luckily, I was able to join the second trip to the orphanage. We delivered some donated toys (middle left) and we organized some art projects (middle right), but really, we just played with the kids (bottom). You'll likely be relieved to know that, despite their friendliness, I didn't come home from Ukraine with any kind of ankle biter, furry or otherwise.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Legacies of the Soviet Union can still be seen in Ukrainian politics (157Cong.Rec.E1644)

The Ukrainian government has been in the news a lot lately. So I want to be clear that this isn't an attempt at distraction. I simply want to share some more sights from my last days in Kyiv, which happen to involve some connections to the country's political, as opposed to religious, ideology. I am not immune to the possible inferences about my first featured stop, but I stress again, I do not intend any implications by showing the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, an homage to anonymity that looks remarkably similar to the Washington Monument (top left). A short walk away is another landmark that looks much like the Gateway Arch (top right). But while the St. Louis rainbow was a monument to westward expansion, the Friendship of Nations Arch memorializes Russian unification (bottom).
 
Below the arch is a statue of many, many men, a common theme among Ukrainian monuments. But those manly memorials got nothing on the Motherland Monument, which towers over the treetops a ways down the same ridge (top left). Like Lady Liberty, a symbol of the united U.S. effort to abolish slavery and a welcome beacon to arriving immigrants, she dwarfs the many depictions of single soldiers to represent the entire Soviet Union's victory over Germany (top right). After donning some scary safety gear, you can climb all the way up to her shield, but I was satisfied by the vista from her pedestal (middle). Beneath her feet is a museum about World War II, which features both a Hall of Glory in memory of war troops (bottom left) and a Hall of Memory in honor of war victims (bottom right).
Across town is a monument honoring WWII victims specifically from Kyiv. At Babi Yar, Nazi soldiers murdered 33,000 Jewish residents in a single week (left). Although the casualty numbers are much lower, a more recent attack on civilians remains perhaps more resonant with Ukrainians. Federal police killed more than 100 protesters -- or the "Heavenly Hundred" -- during the Revolution of Dignity in Independence Square (right).
 
The Euromaidan uprising of 2014, by citizens fed up with corruption, forced Viktor Yanukovych out and brought Petro Poroshenko in to power. After he actively supported the protesters, who voted him into office in the next elections, Poroshenko was dubbed the Chocolate President because of his family's candy business. I toured the Roshen Chocolate Factory (top), where I got to see the chocolates molded (middle left), sorted (middle right), and wrapped (bottom left). The conclusion of the tour involved me creating packaging for my own set of brand-name -- PoROSHENko, get it? -- chocolates (bottom right).
Sure, Poroshenko is a household name in Ukraine, but if I had to guess, the most well-known Ukrainian is Taras Shevchenko, a prominent poet and political activist. The country's top university, akin to Harvard, is named after him, as is the park adjacent to the school's distinctive red administration building, where I frequently walked Sage (top left). Shevchenko was exiled for expounding pro-revolutionary thoughts. Now, in his namesake park, Ukrainians freely spat about politics over chess boards (top right). Being downtown, the park was often full of people, so for some peace and quiet, I would drive Sage to Golosovskii Park (bottom left), where we could walk on riverside pedestrian paths or wander off-road into the trees (bottom right).
 
Although Russians try to claim him, Ukrainians have a second favorite son in Mikhail Bulgakov, who was born in Kyiv. His family home has been turned into a museum, where a tour takes you through the stages of his career. His early goals were scientific, as he prepared to become a medical doctor (top left). But when his aspirations turned satiric, he went into the closet (as did we), to start writing veiled denunciations of the Soviet state (top right). The Master and Margarita, perhaps his most famous novel, likely shrouds in fantasy his own real experiences as a writer. In the book, the "Master" writer voluntarily enters a psychiatric ward after his work is criticized; in real life, Bulgakov shielded himself by sequestering himself in a hidden writing studio (bottom right).

Monday, September 23, 2019

Cathedral of Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate (S.Hrg.114)

Some of you know how it is: You're in the middle of planning your departure, and you realize you haven't actually visited all the places your post is known for. And for people like me, that means you haven't blogged about them either. So just to clarify, I am no longer in Kyiv, but so, so many reasons still make it worth visiting even without me there. For starters, it's still a relatively undiscovered but extremely cheap destination with Soviet roots but European style; Ukrainians are friendly and helpful, and at least in the capital, most speak basic English to help tourists.

Public transport is inexpensive and mostly easy to use, but frankly, most of the main attractions are within walking distance from one another. A good way to organize a walking tour is to visit all the cathedrals, which are the pride of most Kyivites. St. Sophia's, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is likely the most famous (top). Its central location and square mean it is frequently home to community events (bottom left), including the annual winter festival, which I visited during my first Christmas holidays in the capital (bottom right).
 
I didn't actually go into the cathedral and its grounds until spring a year and a half later, when I was within a month of my departure. And I'll tell you, I think I saved the best for last. Its interior is impeccably preserved, with impressively colorful icons (top left). One has been replicated in pysanki, or hand-painted eggs, within the museum-like wings of the church (top right). Almost immediately below the artwork is the grave of Yaroslav the Wise, credited with the spread of Christianity through Kievan Rus (middle left). As the social, political, and religious capital of the region at the time, Kyiv was heavily fortified (middle right). If you climb the cathedral's bell tower, you can see how the churches that anchored the city have been overtaken by apartment buildings (bottom left). Even the short distance to the nearest cathedral has an interlude of government edifices (bottom right).
Right down the boulevard, past a monument to Cossack revolutionary leader Bohdan Khmelnytsky, sits St. Michael's, a still-operating cathedral and monastery (top left). The sky-blue church was reconstructed in the 1990s, centuries after it was founded under the name of the patron saint of Kyiv (top right). In a park nearby stands a unassuming memorial to the Tens Church Foundations, named in honor of tithe, the typical percentage of income donated to the churches in the area, including St. Michael's and St. Sophia's (bottom).
The modern base of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church rests in ancient St. Volodymyr's, named after the founder of Kievan Rus, who converted from paganism to Christianity in a bid to bag his fourth wife, a Byzantine princess named Anna (left). On the day I toured the cathedral, the leader of the Kyiv Patriarchate was going to make an appearance, so congregants packed inside to get a glimpse of His Holiness (right).
 
Outside, women donned headscarves as they waited for the patriarch to arrive (top left), then they followed him inside for services (top right). Others remained in a circle around the church, awaiting a blessing ceremony that is part of the Second Transfiguration (bottom left). The main objects presented to the priest were apples, so women could eat them sans fear that their unborn children would grow up rejecting fruit. Lacking any such worries, I bought a fan of dried flowers as a vessel for the holy-water sprinkling (bottom right).
 
Most Orthodox cathedrals' golden domes can be seen from miles away. Supposedly, the Golden Gate also was elaborately decorated with such glint (top left). Nowadays, ruins of the original city gate are contained within boring old brick (top right). Volodymyr's son built a church inside the battlement in celebration of his successful defense of the city in the 12th century (bottom left). Although not as tall as most of the cathedrals, the gate's position on a hill provides 360-degree views of the capital (bottom right).
The most prominent cathedral of Kyiv's skyline is Pechersk Lavra, located along the same ridge as the Motherland Monument, which also overlooks the Dnieper River (top left). The cathedral's main bell tower can be seen even from across the river (top right). The cathedral is eye-catching (bottom left), but most visitors are drawn to the caves underneath, which house the most archaic monastery in Ukraine (bottom right).
 
On the day I visited, sidewalks within the complex were covered with honey-fair stalls (top). People and actual bees swarmed to the booths for free samples of various comb concoctions (bottom left). The honeys, sometimes being peddled by fake bees, vary in flavor based on the region -- more specifically, the main plants the busy insects use to fuel their industriousness (bottom right). I took home a jar of sticky sweetness derived from wheat-loving bees.