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7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope


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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ukraine Travel

Off to Odesa Or Not?

You know the score with Kitten and the Bear. We are together, we travel together, its what we do. Not this time though. Kitten was intent on going to Lviv for the weekend, Bear, however, just wasnt that crazy about the idea. So, while Kitten meows off west, Bear here growls down south to Odesa, on the overnight train....

Waking up in Odesa, the sea breeze permeates the cabin and is an immediate inspiration. Walking out and towards the white-domed wonder of the train station, set under a pale blue sky, is quite something. In the air is the sound of gulls and taxi, taxi. Actually, Im new here so decide on taxi taxi as the best option, just in the first place to find my place and get some bearings (pun intended, I am a bear you see). 
I ask about the fare, which comes back as 40hrv. It tells me my place is pretty close. But, no matter, by then Ive seen the Lada Niva Ill be riding in, so its a sale. The owner of this, continuing the white-theme, 4x4 is a proud one, informing me that his is the best-kept Niva in Odesa. Its a big claim, but I decide to take it on trust, and true, by the time the weekend is out, I havent seen a better-maintained Niva. Still, it must be said that 40hrv, when my hotel was just a couple of streets away, was a bit steep. No matter, the first taxi is the learning taxi. I chuck my bags into my digs and decide to go out and explore early- morning Odesa. 
And early-morning Odesa it is: just past 7am and deserted all over town. So, with empty streets its immensely pleasant to stroll along flicking through my guidebook and finding out various Odesa titbits as I make for Primorskiy Boulevard, the central sea-view promenade in the eastern side of the city. I pass Deribasivskaya Street en route and call into McDonalds for a coffee. Im sure if Kitten were here, shed say it wasnt as tasty as Lvivs. I would point out, as I always do, that liquids cannot be tasty! Im happy here anyway, already effortlessly enjoying the weekend buzz. Theres something about going to the seaside that is particularly invigorating, that fresh ocean salt scent mingling with the crisp spring tones in the early morning dew. I love those first, teasing glimpses of blue starting to expand into a panoramic view.

Big City by the Sea
Walking along Primorskiy Boulevard, I admire the spectacular port scenery and the business of the morning street-cleaners tidying up the city for the day ahead. They are busying away and doing good work, the place is spotless. Moving from the little men to the big man, I stop for a photo of the Duc de Richelieu (one of the founders of modern Odesa) statue. 
Then, theres the glory of the Potemkin Steps, one of the main things to see and do in Odesa and, shamefully, I dont descend them. There are two reasons for this: one is that theres some kind of an exhibition of various Soviet-style images hanging down over the steps a little like drying washing; the other is that frankly, Im becoming a little tired. Train sleep is not real sleep; its enough to get you up, but not to keep you up. Having an engagement at Dacha restaurant at 4pm, I fancy a little nap pre-late lunch. So it is, I head back to the hotel for a little head-down time. Its going to be a beautiful day, I can tell that, and much as Im loathe to sacrifice any of it, better that than walk around like Banquos ghost. 
I wander back to the hotel, once again leafing through my guidebook, seized by a newfound curiosity about this city I have today and tomorrow in. Its history goes all the way back to 1240, with a small Tatar settlement founded by the then Khan of Crimea and originally named after him as Hacibey. A period of Lithuanian control followed, before it passed into the Ottoman Empire, with whom it remained until 1792. The city as we know it today was founded by decree of Catherine the Great in 1794. All this information sends me off nicely to sleep.

Siesta Sets Up the Day
I wake up around half one and switch on the television. Theres a debate with a religious-looking guy and an interviewer. Shes interviewing him in Ukrainian, hes replying in Russian. If you get the sense that many people here are either forcing themselves or being forced to speak the language, its freer here. Id stopped off at Puzata Hata for a quick bite en route back to the hotel, and been spoken to in Russian. Maybe everythings just a little freer by the sea. I had a friend here who told me she went on holiday with several Ukrainian girls to Odesa. They all had boyfriends but, upon boarding the train, all declared they did not have boyfriends for the duration of their Odesa getaway. My chances of meeting such liberated young ladies are slightly limited by the fact that, although the temperature is set to be 30 degrees and Deribasivskaya Street is already jumping, its still pre-season. The Arcadia beach club area doesnt open until June, and the little online examination of the discos has thrown up the best, or maybe just the most familiar sounding to a Kyivite, Forsage, which is far and away from the seaside surf. 
Deribasivskaya Street itself is an intoxicating cavalcade of shops, stalls, buses converted as cafes and throngs of people. They are out with that Ukrainian combination of ice-cream, shades, and amusingly sloganed t-shirts (one guy's said "I recycle women" does he really think thats going to do him any favours? Or perhaps here, thats just what the ladies are looking for, so he knows his audience). In any case, its a pleasure to amble up and down for a few minutes.
But time is pressing a little as my Dacha reservation is at 4pm and its around half two. Having left my guidebook back at the hotel, but consulted the map prior, I decide to try to walk there. It looks like a little walk, nothing major. I head up and along, enjoying the tree-lined Odesa streets as I stroll. 
Then, seeing a taxi, I decide to ascertain how far I am by price-gauge. He wants 100hrv, which on the basis of my earlier Niva fare, means about four streets away. The minimum he can be talked down to is 80hrv, bemoaning the price of the old benzene. Well, if you drive a massive Volvo mate In any case, hes friendly enough, hes just saddled with a gas-guzzler, and he does look like he may also like the ladies, wearing a medallion as he is.

Rovers Return
I continue on foot and soon pass a car Id gladly pay 100hrv just to sit in and touch the steering wheel. Its a magnificent Rover 800 the only one Ive ever seen in Ukraine. A rich dark reddy-maroon, right down to the wheels, its currently being worked on by a proud owner. I attempt to bond with him, my being a fellow Rover owner, but hes busy. Not unfriendly though, as he lets me fire off a few snaps. 
Theres a lot to photograph here, next up is the Vera Kholodnaya statue. Charmingly adorned with a red bouquet, she is to be found before a park, laid out with various tourist-item stalls and paintings. It pains me to walk past tourist stuff, but nows not the right time. Speaking of time, Im starting to get a little concerned about it, and so duck through a charming park replete with reading, relaxing inhabitants and a most becoming bandstand. 
I know that continuing down this street will take me to the famous Opera House, but Im starting to think that Frantsuzky Boulevard may be a little further than Id thought. Or even that Ive walked far from the most direct way. No matter, Im loving the Odesa sun, architecture and atmosphere. Reaching and regarding the Odesa National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet is really something! Opened in 1810, destroyed by fire in 1873, topped up in 2007, the modern hall was constructed in neo-baroque style. Its like a little white Albert Hall of wonder. 
There are quite literally hundreds of weddings taking place in town today. Well, okay, not hundreds, but lots. Having already seen nearly a score of young ladies taken out of circulation (to reference that recycling t-shirt), theres another across from the National and the best yet just beyond it. Now, I like a tattoo, one, two, even a few tasteful ones can be quite the thing. But a big leg tattoo is quite something, especially for a young lady. And the one in front of me now wearing a wedding dress is sporting just that. As is her bridesmaid. Its charming to think that heres a town where girls who get tattoos on their legs still dream of their day in white.

Dacha Time
I arrive at Dacha a few minutes later, having finally given up on walking and found a fabulous taxi a Nissan Gloria no less, today is really full of firsts for a fair price. Dacha is situated just off Frantsuzky, in a long stretch of parkland that cushions the city from the coast, and Im immediately struck near speechless by the place. You walk in through a garden which is like a scene from a botanical dream. Take in if you will, the glorious seating, all white around you. The shower, working, for when it gets just a little too hot is a nice touch. The bed, working, for when it gets just a little too blurry, is great. A colleague of mine has arranged for me to meet a couple of friends of hers here, and so it is I step up to my table to meet Sasha and Katya. They know Dacha well, its somewhat of an Odesa institution, and show me around the inside. 
Now it is, as the name suggests, an actual Dacha, converted in 2004 as a restaurant. Inside, each room retains the theme of its former function. So, the bathroom still has a bath (not sure if that works), the bedroom no bed but a dresser with Chanel No.5 from the 60s (how cool) and a collection of little Soviet jugs. Coming into the front room, you find a Soviet stove, an original Steinway and a stack of classic caviar tins (unopened, best left that way). 
The entire place is adorned with photos harking back to another era, an era which had its faults but was magical in its own way. The staff are numerous and flutter around in gloriously faded floral tops, like theyve just flown out of an Enya video. Its all like being in some kind of magnificent sepia dream. Whats the food like though? Well, weve been unable to resist the multiple vodkas by the door, so fire up a table full of them. Then, its onto Red Caviar, Pickled Mushrooms, Baked Peppers, White Mushroom Soup, Dumplings and Fresh Vegetable Dacha Salad. And that is just me. It really is. In between each course, a vodka of a different extraction freshens the palate as Sasha, Katya and I dine on. 
This is quite simply the best food, in the most magical surroundings, I have ever experienced. The ingredients are mostly locally sourced too, with many unique to Dacha. To go to Odesa without coming here would be like not seeing the sea.

To Beer with Bear Beside the Seaside
The sea is exactly what I do next, bidding farewell to my new (full) friends and patting my belly going the couple of minutes through the park, down the wooden walkway, onto the seafront. The sun is starting to set as I wander along the now emptying beaches and promenades, boasting stunning views. I resolve to return the next day, before that is the business of checking out Forsage, which is a taxi ride out of the centre. 
At Forsage, its interesting watching the Odesa girls party. These are girls who get themselves juiced up on cocktails I tell this later to a chap I know in Kyiv, who said thats like turkeys plucking their own feathers out for Christmas. The club itself is fun, but a bit ho-hum. In any case, you dont come to Odesa to go to a standard disco, you come here for Arcadia. The taxi home is a lot better a seriously tooled up Lada Riva, which includes electric front windows and even a TV. The guy has taken out the seatbelts though  so Odesa!
Come Sunday, I must admit, Im still a bit whacked after Saturdays exertions. So, what to do in Odesa if you feel such a way? Simple, you head down to Lanzheron Beach, park your gear and beach out. Now, I am alone but find my sand-neighbours an absolute pleasure to be around. Not only are they a pretty tasty bunch, but they also watch my bag while I go off for a beer (right by the beachfront, ice cold, 10hrv vive la Odesa!), take a dip (cold but crystalline water), and feed on such reasonably-priced snacks as are walked by.
Approaching sundown, I stop for a few tourist items and make my way to the train station. I return to Kitten in Kyiv with an overwhelming love for Odesa now also occupying my heart.  t

Trip Cost
Return tickets on the sleeper train 384hrv
Huge meal, many vodkas, at Dacha 400hrv (approx)
Mid-range hotel 500hrv
Beers and ice-creams 200hrv
Taxis for weekend 200hrv
Souvenirs 150hrv
Sundries 200hrv

Grand Total: 2034hrv

Graham Phillips

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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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