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On the cover
7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidans three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the countrys stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.


Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.


Ukraine Travel

Saying Hello to Shevchenko

Kitten and I like to get about a bit as you know, but having no car means we always have to go by train. Of course, we like taking the train, but it does demand a certain amount of forward planning, removing any chance of spontaneity. Most of the time we dont mind not having a car, but sometimes, at weekends when we suddenly decide we want to go somewhere, it can cause problems. Then a friend told me about a hotel in Kaniv, on a beautiful section of the Dnipro with lots to see and do. And you could get there by boat!

Turns out, however, you can only get the boat to Kaniv if you have a boat. It seems a ferry used to run there during the summer months, but it was cancelled for some reason back at the turn of the century. So Kitten and I end up on the marshrutka to Kaniv. Not exactly how wed planned it, but the only way to get there without a car.

Bumpy Back Roads
The little bus heads out of Kyiv, taking the Obukhov highway through Koncha Zaspa. And then it takes a right turn and were on winding twisty roads full of potholes. The first town is Ukrainka (The Ukrainian (female)), which Id never heard of before, which is surprising considering its so close to Kyiv. But then, once were in the town its not so surprising as it is a dilapidated industrial place. It reeks of poverty, which is quite shocking to see so close to the nations capital. Then again, theres poverty in the nations capital thats quite shocking to see.
Once through this little port of call, were out in the country among fields of corn resting on undulating hills. Its quite idyllic really, and it would be much more pleasant to enjoy if we werent rattling over such huge and consistent potholes in a rickety little bus.
The journey, which takes us through some beautiful scenery and more depressing towns, takes around two-and-a-half hours, and I cant wait til its over cause my ass is numb about an hour in. The whole journey I keep thinking, How much better this would have been if we were on a boat.

Contradictory Kaniv
We enter Kaniv and my aching ass says a big thank you, but little does it realise weve still got another ten minutes to go before getting off the bus. While the town only has a population of around 30,000, it sprawls.
Finally, we disembark and wander across the street to a line of waiting taxis. The driver tells us its about six kilometres to the hotel, but only wants 20hrv so we jump in and a few minutes later were pulling into the hotel car park.
The Knyazha Gora (Princes Hill) Hotel gives a good first impression. Its alpine in style, with a dark wood and white wall exterior. Were greeted very pleasantly in Ukrainian, and quickly shown to our room a Panorama Plus. Rooms at the hotel start at only 450hrv for an economy, but weve opted at the best on offer which costs 950hrv per night which is still very reasonable.
In fact the room is a suite, with a very nice bedroom, sitting room and bathroom. All are a good size, very comfortable, and, most importantly, clean. The only slight negative is the sitting room has no TV, which makes it kind of pointless for sitting in unless youre going to play cards or a board game. But Kitten and I wanna chill for a little while, so we stretch out across the very comfortable bed in the bedroom, and scan through the channels to see what English language offerings there are. There are a few.
But were not here to lounge around, and the view we had of the sandy beach and beautifully blue Dnipro flowing gently by the front of the hotel requires more inspection, so we head back down stairs and outside once again.

An Early Evening Stroll
We cross the street in front of the hotel and step onto a gloriously sandy beech. Glorious? Because its clean completely free of empty beer bottles and other trash youll find on the beaches in Kyiv. 
Theres a speedboat pulled up against the shore, and alongside it sits a strange looking catamaran thing with some sort of fixing on top. There is an older man and a younger boy carrying what looks like a hang-glider wing down to the beach, but at this moment Kitten and I dont put two and two together, and start to stroll along the beach.
Its been a beautifully sunny day, and although its now early evening, theres still plenty of warmth in the sun, and its rays glint off the surface of the river making for a myriad of shiny little diamond lights shining from it. 
We end up walking along the road which takes us to the entrance in which resides the Taras Shevchenko Museum. We decide we should leave that for when weve got more time, and keep walking along the road. 
Just past the car park for the museum we come across a brand new ferry port. Not a big one you understand, but a very modern looking passenger ferry port with dock. Its locked up and theres no one around, but it seems ready to take passengers. Its something well need to find out about.
Finding ourselves hungry, we turn and start to stroll back to the hotel. Were ready for dinner, and hoping the food they have to offer is as good as the accommodation. As were walking we hear a noise something similar to a small plane. We look in the direction of the sound to see the strange catamaran type thing with the hang glider wing attached, and sure enough, the thing is flying over the river a kind of cross between a flying boat and a microlight. Looks dangerous to me, but cool all the same. 

So Much to Do!
Back at the hotel we shower and then head down to the restaurant for dinner. Its a beautiful evening, so we choose to sit out on the terrace where were quickly brought menus.
As well as the terrace, there is a lawn area with little covered cabins for eating in, and beyond this there is a rather classy childrens playground, all of which makes for a very home-away-from-home sort of feel.
The cuisine is a mix of Ukrainian and Georgian, and its very reasonably priced. We sit back with a couple of nice cold beers, enjoy the evening sun, and allow ourselves to be fed some great hachipurri followed by very tasty chicken and pork shashlik served by the exceptionally polite and friendly staff.
As were chilling and stuffing our faces, weve got a copy of the hotel manual that tells of all the things the place offers in the way of leisure activities. There are bicycles for hire; the motorboat we saw earlier can be hired with driver for tours on the river as can the scary catamaran/microlight; they will make picnics if youre going to be hiking or cycling all day; and there is billiards, darts, chess and all manner of board games on offer.
All this, combined with the play area, makes this an excellent place for a family vacation. The kids would certainly never be bored!
After eating too much, Kitten and I decide to pit our chess skills against each other for the very first time. Im not good at the game, having only played a handful of times after learning some tactics from a Nigel Short video I got as a Christmas present many years ago, but I still manage to win the first couple of games. However, after that, Kittens skills (taught to her by her dad) come back to her, and she thoroughly trounces me on the third game, after which I decide Im too tired to play more and its time for bed.

Cycling and Sun
Weve already decided to hire bicycles in the morning, so were up early. I awake to find rather numerous mosquito bites covering my body which Ive obviously acquired during dinner on the terrace the previous evening (the room is triple glazed and has mosquito wire so theres no chance Ive been bitten inside), so I decide we have to find an apteka where we can get some repellent. Weve also realised weve come without toothpaste, so that decides it.
We head downstairs to the restaurant, where we find a buffet-style breakfast on offer with cereals, eggs, sausages, salad vegetables, bread and croissants, and lots of other tasty fare. Once we've stocked our bellies with more than enough to last us a morning of exercise, we head out to select bikes of an appropriate size.
Now, Ive not been on a push-bike for more years than Im going to tell here, and Kitten hasnt been on one since she was a kid, so we need a little practise in the car park before we venture out into the street.
Once out there, Kitten gets freaked by the first passing car and nearly falls off. Shes a little shaken and I have to spend some time soothing her nerves while explaining that the cars will avoid her. To make her feel more at ease, I tell her I will cycle behind, keeping outside her a little so that if anyone gets hit by a passing car, it will be me.
She seems to like this idea, and a little later were whizzing into Kaniv in search of a pharmacy. After a little while we come across a little square with some shops, one of which is indeed an apteka. Toothpaste no longer necessary as the hotel has a stock of little packs of toothpaste and brushes just in case you forget (how good is that?), we get a can of mosquito repellent, and then take a break to drink some water (its a very hot day).
Taking in our surroundings, we notice that this dilapidated square with a scant number of shops and not a single noticeable restaurant has very little going for it. Kitten reckons its the main square of the town, but Im sure it cant possibly be. Kitten stops and asks a man passing by. Sure enough, this is the main square of Kaniv, a fact that highlights once again just how lucky we are to be living in Kyiv and how much poverty sits right on its doorstep.
We spend the rest of the morning cycling along the riverside road. The Dnipro here is wide and dotted with islands. Its very beautiful scenery indeed, and we take it all in as we cycle, stopping every now and then to take photos. Its fun, its exhilarating, its exercise (which we both lack with our lives in Kyiv), and its all in stunning surroundings.
The only problem is, the sun is beating down on us and weve forgotten sunscreen. So after around an hour-and-a-half riding out of town along the river, we turn around and cycle back.

An Interesting Speedboat Tour
After a light bite of lunch, we can both feel the sunburn, and realise whatever it is we decide to do in the afternoon, it has to be done in the shade. The little speedboat weve seen parked on the beach has a canopy covering the seating, so we reckon this could be a good option.
We enquire at reception, and the lady tells us the boat's available and arranges for the driver (captain?) to come in an hour.
An hour later and were speeding up the Dnipro, the canopy shading us from the sun, the rushing air cooling us. Our driver (captain?) is a very pleasant young chap who also doubles up as a guide, telling us about the history of the place. He takes us north first, up to the damn, telling us there used to be 15 cement factories operational in the town, but now only a couple remain. He also shows us where the new Kaniv ferry port is, and explains how the boats are brought down from the higher part of the river.
After that we head south. Now, just south of Kaniv there is a very large nature reserve which covers part of the mainland, and a number of the islands on the river. No one is allowed to set foot on the islands without permission, as they are home to some very rare flora and fauna.
One thing we can notice while still some way off, is that the branches of many of the trees have been stripped bare, and there is a large number of nests. There is a massive population of Baklani (cormorants) here, and as we draw close a huge number of them take to the sky, startled by the noise of the boats engine.
Its quite a spectacular sight, and as we slowly cruise around the island, we see many large nesting sites like this one. Once off the main channel of the river and in amongst the islands, this stretch of the Dnipro is almost like the Amazon, with its diverse and intricate maze of channels.
We again take lots of photos, trying to capture these strange birds in flight, and nesting. As we do so, our man tells us about some of the other rare species on the islands, of which, apparently, there are many. There are golden eagles, various types of owl, red-footed falcons, kestrels, cranes and many more, making it a mecca for bird watchers.
Our boat man also explains that with advance notice, the hotel can arrange the necessary permits, and armed with their packed lunches one can make a day of it, exploring.

Pork Ribs and Bonfires
Back at the hotel, showered and changed, and after a brief nap, were back at the restaurant ready to eat. Were tired out after so much fresh air, and all the exercise in the morning, and were also very hungry.
We peruse the menu once again while supping a couple of beers, and Kitten translates a specials menu as containing pork ribs, and pork ribs. We ask the waiter and he explains that the first one consists of small ribs, and the second one of larger ones. Were not too sure about his description but we order the second option anyway.
When they arrive, it turns out that the larger ribs are actually very large pork chops on the bone. And theres three of them for two of us. It takes us a while, but we get there.
As we finish, a chap whos been sitting at the table next to us comes and introduces himself. His name is Yuri and he is the owner of the hotel. Now, thats what we should have more of in this country owner/managed places. It really makes all the difference.
Yuri asks how were getting on, tells us a little bit about his history with the place, and his plans for the future.
And he has plans. He owns a lot of land around the hotel, and hes wanting to expand. Hes already converting a couple of old cottages behind the hotel into holiday chalets, and he wants to do more. And his focus is on family.
While were chatting, the subject of the ferry ports comes up, and Yuri tells us that the ferry service stopped many years before because the fleet was too old. Since then successive governments promised to buy new boats and start it up again, but nothing ever happened. He says that the ports have been built since Yanukovych came to power, and that the ferries are ordered and should start up again soon.
Not only that, Yuri also explains that Yushchenko started the plans for the Shevchenko Museum but only got about as far as the foundations. But it was completed double quick after Yanukovych came to power. And this boy Yuri is from Lviv, so you just know hes not going to be saying these things unless they're true.
After a little more discussion, he leaves us, just pausing long enough to invite us to join them on the beach for a bonfire in a couple of hours something they do every weekend. Its a family thing, he says.
After another few beers, we wander over to the beach as theyre lighting the bonfire. The rest of the evening is spent sipping beer, chatting with new friends, playing games with the kids, and warming ourselves in the moment and the flames of the fire (its got quite cool since the sun went down).

Saying Hello to Shevchenko
The Sunday morning were fully aware this is our last day and weve still not been to see the bard. So after a quick breakfast we stroll along the road and climb the very long iron staircase up to the hill where he is buried.
I wont go into a lot of detail here about the museum except to say that this great poet and artist enjoys wonderful views from his resting place, and he would be proud of the brand new museum containing much of his art. Suffice to say, this is a must see for any visitor to Ukraine, whether long-term ex-pat or tourist. You just have to pay this place a visit.
There is one comment I'd like to make, which is that after spending some time wandering around inside, I find myself needing to pay a visit. The toilets of this new showcase museum are to be found in the basement, down a long flight of stairs. Here I come across an immaculate state-of-the-art disabled toilet in the basement of a building sitting on top of a hill that can only be accessed by climbing a thousand steps. Genius!
Our weekend is over, and our return journey to Kyiv is made a whole lot more comfortable as Yuri has offered to drive us home in his nice shiny BMW 4X4! How's that for service?

Knyazha Gora Hotel
Rooms from 450 950hrv per night
047-363-1588, 095-283-3833

Kitten and the Bear

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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didnt Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they dont understand the meaning of these words.

    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades childrens favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. Whats On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.


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