I know, with all the sightseeing and eating, it seems like I was a tourist in Kyiv, but I did actually work sometimes. But I have to be honest, quite a few of my duties were fun enough to feel like a vacation. It wasn't a holiday, but a special day nonetheless, on Bike to Work Day, when I rode from the Maidan to the embassy to promote safety, fitness, and sustainability with a commuting alternative (top). It involved a little more effort, but still a lot of fun, to join the embassy team for the Nova Poshta Half-Marathon (middle). Well, kind of, considering I only ran the 10K option. Sometimes, work can feel like a grueling rat race, but it was a rewarding and enjoyable sprint to help facilitate a speech by former Secretary of State John Kerry at a side event of the YES (Yalta European Strategy) Annual Meeting (bottom).Kherson. The city is located on the Dnieper River, on the mouth to the Black Sea, just 75 miles from the Crimean peninsula, which has been annexed by Russia for more than five years (left). As a port, Kherson is a prime spot for sailors, as shown by its Monument to the First Shipmen (right). Our final election-monitoring stop, where we watched poll workers count votes, was at a maritime university.
Chernivtsi, a cute little college town (top left). The trip also took me to Kamianets-Podilskyi, which I accidentally visited due to some car trouble on a previous personal trip. But this time, I stayed in hotel right across from the town hall (top right). I also got a second look at the city's famous castle (bottom).
Khotyn, which is perched above the Dniester River (top left). In many ways, the 13th-century citadel is more structurally intact, especially its outer walls (top right). But for some reason, it is less well-known to tourists, perhaps because fewer of the areas, including the bell tower, are accessible to visitors (bottom left). It was enough for me to wander around the vacant fortress, soaking in the atmosphere and history (bottom right).
But by far, my favorite assignment was assisting with an American Music Abroad tour. For a few days, I basically got to be a groupie as I accompanied Seth Glier, Ryan Hommel, and Joe Nerney to a series of jam sessions and public shows (top). Since returning to the States, I have been hoping for an opportunity to see them play again because I really enjoyed their message and their music (bottom left). Ukrainians certainly shared that sentiment, and all three musicians epitomized graciousness when greeting numerous non-English-speaking fans after their shows (bottom right).
I joined the band's tour in Melitopol, a transport and education hub, which is home to three universities (top). Nowadays, the city is known more for industry than arts, but it clearly has a history of public engagement with performance. The Soviet-era venue where the group played that first night was straight out of a time machine (bottom left). A quote from Lenin -- "Art belongs to the people" -- was even inscribed above the stage (bottom right).
During some down time, I got to explore the everyday side of Melitopol. A short run took me past orchards in full bloom (top left) and promenades with bright landscaping (top right). I ended at the market near my hotel (bottom left). After checking out all the stalls' options, I settled on a snack of cheburek, eastern Europe's version of the empanada (bottom right).Berdyansk, at another brutalist-inspired performing-arts hall (left). The city is a small summer resort as it sits on the Sea of Azov (right). Of late, it has lost some of its draw due to a "hybrid war" nearby. It lies directly north of the Kerch Strait, site of a dispute that resulted in the detention of Ukrainian sailors. The region where an actual war is ongoing -- the Donbass, which is also the title of an excellent film about the conflict -- is off-limits to embassy personnel, except for approved official business. I never got to see the situation at the front line, but I am grateful for the experiences I had, such as the music tour, that revealed the nature of the war's reverberations.