Thursday, September 27, 2007

Everyone to the Elections! Part 4: In God We Trust

Religion is closely connected with the election campaign in Ukraine both symbolically and strategically. At political rallies, participants have held icons and invoked prayers. Some parties have held religious rallies - tonight the minor party All-Ukrainian Hromada held a vigil at the Virgin Mary statue across the street, with a prayer ceremony led by elaborately dressed clergy. Major parties have used religious imagery, too. Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense is sponsoring a park dedication tomorrow for the late Pope John Paul II, a popular figure locally. The poster shows a large image of the pope, with the party's logo prominently displayed. Yuliya Tymoshenko has called on Ukrainians to "pray for Ukraine" on September 28. The Party of Regions has circulated a leaflet in L'viv challenging voters to be sure that their vote is appropriate in front of God.

Political parties have also been using religion in more subtle ways. As we entered church last week, we were given a flier. The young people distributing the leaflet were specifically targeting those who were attending mass. The text invokes religion to encourage people to vote for Our Ukraine - People's Self-Defense. It warns that a Yanukovych victory will lead to the impeachment of Yushchenko, "[b]ut God will be over Ukraine." It also flows like a prayer, calling upon "brothers and sisters" to help the president.

As the election approaches, the topic has also infiltrated homilies at our church. We attended a different mass last Sunday, and Erik was having more trouble than usual understanding. Ewa, another Fulbright scholar who speaks Polish, was also there and we chatted after mass. It turns out that this mass was in Polish! But, Erik understood the homily reasonably well, confirming its content with Ewa. The priest talked about the choices that people make - some are important and some are less important. Those choices related to salvation are more important than earthly choices such as the elections. Moreover, one must be careful with the election advertisements and promises and to try and understand what (and who) is behind them. Overall, the homily was a rather pessimistic take on the election process. But, it likely matched the feeling of many Ukrainians who feel left out by machinations in the capital city.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Everyone to the Elections! Part 3: Bloc of Yuliya Tymoshenko

Yuliya Tymoshenko sounds like a politician on the verge of a victory. Erik attended her press conference and rally today and her rhetoric and demeanor showed confidence, optimism, and a willingness to continue jabbing at her rivals. She is one of the most intriguing politicians in Ukraine, in part because she plays the political game so well. Her first major professional position was in the oil business, and she rose to the position of president of the United Energy Systems of Ukraine. She became active in politics, working closely with Pavlo Lazarenko (who is now sitting in a U.S. prison for money laundering). This connection, and her accumulation of wealth in the oil and gas business (dealing with the Russian corporation Gazprom) has prompted her opponents to question Tymoshenko's integrity. In politics, she became leader of the Fatherland Party, and now runs under the banner of the Bloc of YuliyaTymoshenko. Her tendency to dress in all white, or traditional Ukrainian garb as well as her traditional braid (see the picture to the left) also makes her stand out. Yuliya has branded herself as a populist defender of Ukrainian traditions, and this has been a successful approach.

Erik gained access to Yuliya's press conference that was held in L'viv prior to today's rally. She answered a wide range of questions, focusing her comments on her intent to form a "coalition of democratic forces" after the election. She was careful not to directly criticize the president or his party (although during the rally unflattering photos of Yushchenko shaking hands with Yanukovych and Moroz were displayed on the big screen). She was even baited to criticize "musicians" who are also politicians. Yuliya noted that she liked Slava Vakarchuk (see the post about Our Ukraine for more on him), but was careful not to indicate whether or not she liked only his music or also his move into the political arena. She also showed some wit; when asked what she would do on election eve (after campaigning officially ends), she answered that she would sleep, although her team would probably not sleep at all. The final question of the press conference was a bit embarrassing, especially because the crowd is likely to believe that the journalist posing the question was an American. In English, the Dutch reporter noted that he had asked Yuliya a few years ago about Bill Clinton, and she indicated that she would not like to have him as a husband. Did she still think this? Tymoshenko laughed it off, and said that no, she would not like Bill Clinton as a husband.

This question, and other issues related to Tymoshenko point to one clear unique element of her candidacy: she is a strong, assertive woman running for a prominent post in a country with more traditional views of a woman's place. Certainly, no journalist has asked Yanukovych if he would like Hillary Clinton as his wife. Moreover, a few years ago, Tymoshenko had to prove that her braid was real (Erik saw this press conference on TV when he was here before). While she is held to a different standard because she is a woman, she also uses her image to her advantage. One of her own t-shirt slogans (on shirts given to college students) was: "let the beer be cold and let [Yuliya] be hot." (While the t-shirt did not say Yuliya, it had the party symbol, drawing that connection).

She also gets attention because she is a populist firebrand (Erik has seen some references on the web to her as "Hugo Chavez in a skirt." This is an exaggeration to be sure, but it gives a reference point for how she is viewed by some). She showed her skills in oratory at the rally. Although she was introduced rather oddly after a duet by middle-aged singers who also rapped about a dog, Yuliya took command of the stage. Tymoshenko again showed her confidence by focusing her speech on potential coalitions after the elections. She rejected the idea of a "grand coalition" including the Party of Regions, portraying that party solely as a force of the dark past. She gleefully noted that Oleksandr Moroz would be out of parliament (highly likely as his Socialist Party is polling quite low), and that the Communist Party was dying off. Yuliya appealed to voters to abandon small parties (a pointed challenge to supporters of Svoboda, a minor Ukrainian nationalist party popular in L'viv) because wasting votes would help Yanukovych by increasing his seat totals. Instead, they should vote for her and support a real democratic future for Ukraine. She also noted her proposed referendum that would allow Ukrainian citizens to choose between a full presidential or parliamentary system (currently Ukraine has a hybrid between the two).

Tymoshenko's Bloc is likely to finish second in the election, but she has been campaigning hard, especially in the center, and may do even better than expected. Since no party is likely to have a majority, she will have to find a partner. Based on her rhetoric, she can only partner with Our Ukraine - People's Self-Defense. Depending on how things turn out, this could strengthen Yushchenko's bargaining position as he has been willing to deal both with Yuliya and with Yanukovych. We will know much more next Monday morning!

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Often Dream of Trains...

The blissful visit to Slavsko was sandwiched between hectic trips there and back. We have traveled by train in much of Eastern Europe, but usually first or second class. We learned this weekend firsthand how the masses travel, and it made Greyhound look like luxury.

Friday's mode of transportation was the elektrichka, an electric-powered commuter train. This train traveled from L'viv all the way to the city of Uzhgorod, to the southwest. Our stop was about three hours away from L'viv, although many on the train were traveling farther.
When we arrived at the train station, it was clear that the elektrichka would be packed. Hundreds of people - mostly young people - lined the train platform. The route goes through skiing country in the winter. In the fall, people hike and camp in the mountains. When the train arrived - uncharacteristically late for Ukrainian trains - the masses shoved and pushed their way on the train. People occupied any seat they wanted, despite the fact that tickets were assigned, and took all of the luggage space available. Erik shoved his way on the train to get seats and Lea, Carter, Thomas, and Jani waited a bit for things to clear. Erik kicked out two college-aged travelers who were squatting in our assigned seats, and Jani did the same with hers. Everyone was packed tightly together; there is no consideration of legroom on an elektrichka. Three seats on each side faced three others, knocking knees. On the trains, children do not have seats, they sit on a lap. So, Carter was on Lea's lap, and Thomas was across the aisle on Jani's lap. The seats are extremely narrow, too small for the average (oversized) American. People walked up and down the aisle constantly, to go get food, go smoke, and beg for money. The seats were pitched at a quite uncomfortable angle, giving everyone back aches. The train was also hot, and the stench of human odors and cigarette smoke lingered in the cabin. We were happy to be released in Slavsko!

We paid more for tickets on the return ($5 each instead of $2.50 each). For this, we got platzkart. For an extremely graphic description of this type of travel, check out this R-rated website. But our travel was not nearly this bad - mostly because we only had to do it for 2 1/2 hours.

The train was hot. The train stunk like 60 smokers who had not showered in a week, packed into a steamy metal box. Of course, it smelled like this because that is exactly what it was! People sleep in berths 3 high in these trains, with no doors at all. In each section, there are 3 berths across from each other with a small table in between, then across the aisle are 3 more berths, lengthwise. It is customary during the day for the occupants of all 3 berths to sit on the lowest, then when it is time to sleep for everyone to go to their berths. This is how it is supposed to work, but in reality, is not how it works most of the time. Fortunately for everyone, it seemed that the top berths on this train were not sold, meaning it was slightly less crowded and that no one had to sleep just inches from the ceiling. But it could just be that we saw no one up in the third berths. After all, we were getting off of the train at 8:51 p.m.

We arrived at our "seats," the bottom and middle berths. But, a woman was sitting there. We sat down and tried to get her to move by continuing to move toward her, but she just let us squash her. Across from her, a woman lay on the bottom berth, and along the window berths sat an older couple with a sleeping baby in between them. We sat there until a stop about 30 minutes later, at which time we realized there was no one in the compartment behind us (except the two men sitting on the berth by the window drinking, who were repeatedly visited by a really drunk man). So, we moved there and sat across from one another, allowing Carter space to lie down. At the next stop, though, a man and his approximately 8-year-old daughter got on, and Erik moved to sit on one bottom berth with us. He asked where we were going, and when we said L'viv, he let us sit there even though they had purchased both lower berths in that area. They got sheets (apparently new train reforms will make it less likely that you will get used sheets in platzkart) and he set up the bed for his daughter. He also set out their evening feast on the table between us: a chocolate bar, 2 beers, a large bottle of sparkling water, gum, a package of tissues that his daughter repeatedly used to wipe her hands, and a large clear plastic bag containing several tomatoes and hard boiled eggs. They made several phone calls on the cell phone to pass the time, and Lea watched an older couple at the next window area make the beds and settle in for the night.

Traveling this way was a cultural experience, one not often used by foreigners (an old wives' tale during the Soviet period was that foreigners were not allowed to buy these tickets). However, 2 1/2 hours was enough of it, overnight would have been intolerable. We got on a tram to take us home, and Carter had a bath and we had showers. It was nice to curl up in the bed here and listen to the fireworks outside.

A Day in Slavsko

Jani invited us to take a trip with her and Thomas to one of their favorite stomping grounds, the village of Slavsko in the Carpathian mountains. We gladly agreed and made preparations for the train ride to the village on Friday. Friday's mode of transportation was the elektrichka, an electric-powered commuter train. This train travels from L'viv all the way to the city of Uzhgorod, to the southwest. Our stop was about three hours away from town. After a long, hot journey on a packed train (more about this later), we arrived in Slavsko. We were greeted at the side of the rails by one of the bed and breakfast's proprietors. As you may recall, we stayed in a family's modest home in another village a couple of weeks ago - the accommodations this time were quite different. Jani found a family that had built up their house to accommodate visitors. The house was large - with at least 7 rooms for visitors, a half-bathroom on the second floor and a full bath on the first floor, two kitchens (one for use by guests), a dining room and a large ski storage room. Maria, the other proprietor, was a downhill ski champion in Soviet days, so making a living around skiing was a great fit for her interests.

We began the ascent to the B&B in an old Soviet-era jeep. Everyone in town who owns a car seems to have a jeep because the roads are nearly impassible. Saying "nearly impassible" does not fully capture how these paths were just strips of dirt, large ruts, and large stones masquerading as roads. Water flowed down the mountain through the ruts, even on a dry days, revealing that the roads doubled as creek beds when there was rain or melting snow, causing further erosion. On top of this, the ride from the train station was mostly vertical. We were tossed up and down, to and fro, in the old, Soviet-made jeep. You can see a relatively flat and well-maintained piece of the road that we traversed on our hike to the left. We made it to the top, dropped off our things, and had a bite to eat (you can buy breakfast and dinner as part of the package. We decided to get both and then pack a lunch for our hike).

That evening, we met the neighbor down the hill, a tough old woman who farmed in that village forever. She told us a funny tale about Cossacks - akin to a Ukrainian Lysistrata - and about her feelings on politics. Not surprisingly, she preferred the old Soviet days when she could get credit and money for her milk and cheese from the government. Things are more difficult now because she also has to find buyers. It seems that she really just barters with her milk and cheese for needed services rather than selling it. She also talked with Erik about the elections. Even though she is disgusted with today's politics, she plans to vote. In fact, Erik's suggestion that she might not vote was summarily dismissed. But, she still doesn't know for whom since "none of them [politicians] care about simple Ukrainian people." Carter was thrilled to watch her cow and calf up close and hear them moo. He was also interested in her neighbor's chickens. The photo on the left shows Carter in hiking mode.

After a nice night of sleep, we awoke for a busy day. Erik got up around six and went for a walk into town. The fog was quite heavy in the mountains and the air was chilly. He climbed down the rough road, crossed the train tracks, then meandered through the sleepy town. A few municipal workers were up cleaning the streets and emptying trash bins, and a few men were huddled around trucks talking and drinking. The little town has many construction projects in process - Erik saw several partially finished buildings. It was unclear whether they were abandoned due to lack of funds, or the owners were taking a break from construction. It was clear that the town's focus is on tourism and skiing. Aside from grocery stores, the only other businesses in town seemed to sell or rent skis and snowboards. The picture on the left shows Lea near one of the residences on the mountainside.

The picture on the top of this post gives some sense of the idyllic setting we were in.
It was beautiful, peaceful, and a wonderful time just exploring nature. After breakfast, we began our trek. The fog had not yet lifted - apparently it doesn't burn off until 10:30 or 11 am because the mountains block the sun. We took a leisurely pace, stopping frequently to gather and eat fresh blackberries hiding in the woods, marvel at the intricate webs of several orb weavers that were staking out moths and other delightful treats along the road, and poke at the mud (as you can see on the left). We stopped for lunch and a snack, as well as a game of dinosaurs - Thomas has taken to Carter's game of attacking Erik in the guise of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (on the right). Although one expected a bucolic celebration from a Bruegel painting to break out at any time, we saw very few people during the course of the day - a woman taking her cows to another field to eat, 3 women going to a field with hoes, and a couple of logging trucks slowly making their way up or down the road, mostly driving at an extreme angle with one set of tires on the side of the road and one in the road. After several hours of hiking, and a brief nap for Carter in the cool, fresh mountain air, we headed back to the B&B for dinner and to pack up for the trip back to L'viv.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Everyone to the Elections! Part 2: Party of Regions

We continue to hope that other major politicians will come to town prior to the election, due in a little over a week. Many likely visitors, such as Yuliya Tymoshenko, seem to be focusing their attention on central regions of the country which may be more "up for grabs" than Western Ukraine. One politician who will almost certainly not be visiting us is Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych's party, the Party of Regions, is based in Ukraine's East and appeals to several constituencies. His base of support is among voters who supported the previous regime of President Leonid Kuchma, are skeptical of the West and its institutions (like NATO and the EU), and who fear "Ukrainianization" and the less prominent status of the Russian language. Among the elites, the Party of Regions has strong backing by wealthy industrialists, notably Rinat Akhmetov. Yanukovych is best known outside of Ukraine as the former felon (imprisoned as a criminal during the Soviet period, not as a political dissident) whose minions committed fraud to secure his victory in the 2004 presidential election. This event was followed by the Orange Revolution and new elections which overturned the fraudulent results.

Yanukovych and his team have conducted a skillful campaign. They have taken away the main policy points of their rivals by co-opting issues and approaches. As noted in a previous blog, Our Ukraine - People's Self-Defense has promoted the rule of law and the elimination of parliamentary immunity as a major issue. Yanukovych called an extra parliamentary session to pass legislation taking away immunity. Tymoshenko has supported a referendum on the constitution. Yanukovych has proposed a much less esoteric referendum on NATO membership and status of Russian. These two issues mobilize his base, much like issues of abortion and gay marriage mobilized the social conservative segment of the US Republican Party in the last presidential election. In addition, Party of Regions advertisements emphasize stability and prosperity with images of happy families, or "regular folks" airing their dissatisfaction with Orange politicians.

The strategy of portraying Yanukovych as a strong leader, restoring order to chaotic post-Orange Revolution politics, protecting the Russian language, and promoting cordial relations with the West while maintaining ties with Russia, may turn out to be a successful approach.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Carter and the Lions

Carter and his good friend Thomas played together at the Lion Parade. These photos are courtesy of Thomas' mom, Jani.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hats Off!

We have noticed a strange phenomenon in our nearly six weeks in L'viv. We have witnessed small children, unrestrained and alone, romping around in the back seats of moving cars (with drivers of questionable quality). Carter has played in nice, new playgrounds, but also many more that are large sandy areas with ample amounts of broken glass, jagged bricks, and cigarette butts. We have also seen countless parents breathing smoke from their cigarettes on their children. To be fair, you can see these things in the US as well (although at least the first one is illegal).

However, we are never approached by strangers and scolded for our bad parenting. Except here. We are regularly approached by women of a particular age and reprimanded for one of two things: 1) Carter sucks his thumb; or 2) Carter is not wearing a hat. While we should be criticized for a touque-less Carter in freezing weather, what about when it is 70? This happens often to us and to Carter's friend Thomas. Many believe that children must be dressed warmly in layers, cannot have open windows nearby (even on the sweltering tram) for fear that a breeze will induce a fatal infection, and by all means, children must wear a hat. As a warm-blooded kid, Carter really has no interest in wearing a hat. Our coldest days thus far have been in the 50s, and he has worn his summer hat on a couple of these occasions. But looking around, one would think we were in Siberia during winter (having been in Siberia in the winter, we know what cold really is!). We have already seen many kids looking like Randy in "A Christmas Story" ("I can't put my arms down!") and it is not even cold yet! We have illustrated the variation in attire on the left and right. To the left, you see Carter in a long-sleeved shirt, appropriately dressed for a nice, cool, sunny fall day. Over his left shoulder, you see another child dressed for winter. This same child is enhanced on the right - note the multiple layers and hat pulled down over his ears.

This past Sunday at the park, a woman was struggling to get a little boy's pants, long underwear, and underwear down in time for him to pee on a tree. She was not fast enough, and he hit her arm.
On another occasion, an older woman left a child younger than Carter on a swing without any restraint in front all by herself and walked over to a bench and sat down. Now, Carter has only had one real injury here thus far, and that was falling off that very swing while closely supervised (there is a sharp metal bar on the ground just below the swing). He was fine, other than scraping his chin and being quite scared, but this little girl could not even have been two. After she was done swinging, her caretaker let her down and she played near us. After a couple of minutes, the old lady came over in a tizzy. The girl's jacket had come unzipped - over her shirt and cardigan - and she had to fix it before the poor child froze to death (in 60 degree weather). As the weather gets colder, we will have to convince Carter to wear a hat, or suffer the wrath of all Ukrainian grandmothers.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Everyone to the Elections! Part 1: Our Ukraine/People's Self-Defense

Erik has several research objectives while in Ukraine; one of them is to observe and evaluate the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place in two weeks. Twenty political parties will contest 450 seats in the lower house of parliament. The elections have several "prizes" for the winners. Among the prizes are:

Control of Government: If any party gains the majority of seats in parliament, that party can form the government. The likelihood of a single-party majority government is low at the moment, but that could change. Instead, it is more likely that a coalition will be formed. Potential coalition configurations are the talk of election pundits, with various scenarios being bandied about. After constitutional changes in early 2006, this prize has become more coveted since the prime minister is more powerful than before.

Momentum for the 2009 Presidential Race: Several prominent Ukrainian politicians are eyeing the office of president and will use this election to elevate their status as the most credible contender.

Probably the best known Ukrainian politician outside of Ukraine is the current president, Viktor Yushchenko. He famously helped lead the Orange Revolution after being poisoned with dioxin, and became president in 2004. After that victory, Ukrainian politics fell off international radar screens. To update those of you not following the ups and downs of Ukraine, Yushchenko squandered much of the post-revolutionary "honeymoon" through his failure to meet some of the promises he made (solving a particularly gruesome murder that involved government officials as planners and/or perpetrators), various scandals (related to his Minister of Justice's falsified resume, his son's ostentatious lifestyle, and other issues), squabbling with his co-revolutionary leader Yuliya Tymoshenko and ultimately firing her from the post of prime minister, poorly managing the natural gas crisis with Russia, and failing to notice how his main rival, Viktor Yanukovych, was rehabilitating and modifying his image in preparation for the 2006 parliamentary election.

In the 2006 election, Yanukovych's party won the most seats, and after a post-election battle over government formation, Yanukovych became prime minister.
Yushchenko and Yanukovych have continued battling one another since that election, with Yanukovych pushing the envelope on prime ministerial powers. These political fights led Yushchenko to issue a decree (actually four of them) setting a date for early parliamentary elections. The constitutionality of this decision was questioned, but ultimately all of the sides agreed to hold a new election this fall.

The president's party, Our Ukraine, joined forces with ten other parties to form the Our Ukraine - People's Self-Defense Bloc. The latter group is the party of Yuriy Lutsenko, another prominent Orange revolutionary and (former) Interior Minister. Their main campaign pitch has been to clean up Ukrainian politics (their slogan is - "One Law for All"). However, Yanukovych's Party of Regions recently stole their thunder by having a parliamentary session that eliminated parliamentary immunity (one of the covers for improper behavior by elected officials). Although the session was deemed illegitimate by Yushchenko's side, the parliamentary decision allowed Yanukovych to take away some of this issue's power.

The party planned a big rally down the street from us in L'viv over a week ago. But, as the day approached, it got even bigger. Initially, the main speaker was going to be Lutsenko. On Friday, while strolling on the main square, we were given a flier announcing that the president would speak. On Saturday morning, we saw new posters placed overnight about a concert by Okean Elzi (a popular Ukrainian rock band fronted by a young activist, politician, and son of Ivan Franko National University's rector).

Erik went early to the rally to get a good spot. He settled in the crowd near the Shevchenko monument, just behind a military honor guard blocking a large path to the stage. Erik figured that he might get to see President Yushchenko close up in this spot. The rally began just after 7 p.m., and an enthusiastic crowd of thousands greeted the top candidates from the Our Ukraine-People's Self Defense Bloc. Some of the top candidates on the party's list spoke briefly, focusing on the main talking point: the fight against corruption.
A few storm clouds gathered overhead, but as the rally continued, a rainbow appeared (see the photo on the left). Erik pointed this out to an elderly gentleman standing next to him who said that this was a good sign. Lutsenko took the microphone and with a booming, scratchy baritone, worked up the crowd. He took direct swipes at Yanukovych and the parliamentary speaker, Oleksandr Moroz, and hit all of the party's main plans to strengthen the rule of law in Ukraine. The crowd ate up his speech, interrupting with applause on a couple of occasions and laughing loudly at his anti-Yanukovych barbs.

The president was delayed, and this put off the rally's pacing. Lutsenko took the mic again as the president approached and the crowd began chanting "Yushchenko! Yushchenko!" While the chants reminded Erik of the Orange Revolution (he was in Kyiv in late 2004 in the middle of the mass demonstration), they were not as enthusiastic. Yushchenko took the stage and began to speak. The crowd fell silent, showing respect for their president and his words (this reverence became clear when, at the end of the rally, a man next to Erik was reprimanded by the crowd for yelling "give Lutsenko the mic!" He was scolded with the words "the president is speaking!").

Yushchenko embarked on a long, fairly unfocused, policy speech that covered several issues. He talked about corruption, but also Ukraine's efforts to get into NATO and the EU, Ukrainian universities' efforts to comply with the Bologna Process, why the proportional representation electoral system is better than the mixed electoral system (a part of the speech Erik found quite interesting), poverty and the social and economic problems in Ukraine, and the need for change. Radical change, Yushchenko said, was necessary for Ukraine to be successful. Ukraine can only move forward, not backward. Toward the end of his speech, he promised to work with the other major reform-oriented party, the Bloc of Yuliya Tymoshenko (Lutsenko made this promise too). While this signals to voters that he does not plan to make a deal with Yanukovych, as has been rumored, it also provides voters an incentive to vote for Yuliya (who is arguably more popular here at the moment than Yushchenko).

The president and his party's candidates ended the rally by singing the national anthem of Ukraine, grasping hands above their heads and exiting to the applause of the crowd. The concert began immediately afterward with the opening act, Oleksandr Ponomaryov (pictured below), as the older people exited the square and the younger participants moved toward the stage.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

All About Carter

Some of this blog's discriminating readership wants to hear about the political climate in Ukraine, the socioeconomic problems facing L'viv, and other issues of this nature. Most readers primarily look forward to updated, cute photos of Carter. Since tomorrow's entry will be dedicated to the former (as the president is scheduled to speak outside of our apartment tonight), today's blog is dedicated to the latter.

Some of you have asked how Carter is doing and how his time is spent. Fortunately, he has adjusted to this move better than his parents. Carter spends a great deal of time with his English-speaking friend Thomas (at right). Their adventures nearly always include Carter's favorite L'viv activity, contributing to the obesity problem of Ukrainian fowl. There are pigeons to feed, swans to feed, and ducks to feed. Unfortunately, that seems to cover the entire range of L'viv's bird species except for "little tiny birds" spotted at the bus station, likely sparrows. The boys also enjoy reading books, playing in playgrounds, and their latest activity, collecting conkers.

Now, many of you might ask, as did Carter's parents, what are conkers? They are known in the US as horse chestnuts, and for those to the south of the location of the Great Toledo War, buckeyes. Carter's maternal grandfather will be quite displeased to hear Carter refer to them by their British name, but his paternal grandparents will most certainly be pleased to hear that he is not uttering the word "buckeye."

L'viv is the "City of Lions." Lion sculptures and decorations are scattered about everywhere. In August, L'viv unveiled the "Lions on Parade" in Market Square. Many cities around the world have commissioned artists to decorate animal sculptures - in Lawrence there were Jayhawks on Parade, in Chicago there were cows - L'viv's has its lions decorated by various local sponsors and artists. You can see Carter here with one of the permanent lions just feet from the parade. Carter attended the opening of the parade in August, but due to the crowds, he could not see them well and did not seem interested. Our return to the lion habitat resulted in great glee, and many shouts of "more lions." Carter picked out a refrigerator magnet with his favorite lion, decorated by the L'viv Brewery, but his choice was not influenced in any way by his father.

Friday, September 14, 2007


L'viv is abuzz with activity these days. The big book fair (called Knigomania! or Bookmania!) has come to town. It is a national event that draws small vendors and major book publishers, as well as celebrities. Ukraine's first lady visited the book fair and her arrival was covered by the national news. Erik also thinks he may have seen the famous Soviet-era Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov, but he is not really sure about that celebrity sighting (and he did not have his camera to snap a photo and check later). The fair even had book mascots - two people dressed as large yellow books (another missed photo op). It was a chaotic event with ravenous book-buyers pushing each other out of the way, at least at some stalls. Around 90% of the books fell into one of the following categories: textbooks, literature in translation, or classics. But, some stalls featured interesting, esoteric materials: magic and the occult, cheap romance novels complete with bodice-ripping covers, and everything from translations of the Da Vinci Code to the Kama Sutra. A couple of stalls featured Russian language books. While the booksellers were not harassed, they had to respond to light jabs like: "why are all your books in Russian? Don't you agree that the Ukrainian language is more beautiful?" The fair also sponsored a rock concert this evening that we briefly attended. Erik picked up a couple of books related to his research, and may try to take another look before the fair closes up shop on Sunday.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Erik's School Year Begins

Erik's school year finally started on Tuesday. On Monday, he received a call around 5 p.m. that he should report to the university at 1:30 p.m. the next day ready to teach. He has been anticipating this call and a short turn-around time to prepare because this is simply how things work around here. This approach is contrary to Erik's general practices and nature, but he has adapted reasonably well. In fact, he is far more laid back about things in L'viv than back home in Kansas, taking everything as it comes.

Erik spent some time in the evening preparing for the class, outlining the topics to address and making a short handout. This class is similar to a graduate seminar that he teaches at KU about political institutions. Of course, he is adapting the class to local conditions. The students seem to be very well prepared, with a sound background in the literature that serves as a foundation for the issues he will address in the class, and many display excellent English language skills (a few abandoned the class after they realized it would be in English). The classroom is a very nicely adorned lecture room, but low-tech (with only a chalkboard available). So, no power points or overheads! He will teach this class every Tuesday afternoon for the duration of his stay.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tustan Saga, Part 5: Conclusion

Early Sunday morning, we awoke to find that the clouds over the Carpathians had finally opened up. The rain was soaking the already over-saturated ground making a mucky mess. We decided to scuttle the final day of the festival and work on finding a ride back to L'viv.

Erik and Myron set out in the light rain to find a cell phone signal. Zenik was planning to pick us up in the late afternoon, and we wanted to let him know that we would take the bus. Of course, we did not know when the bus was leaving. With the village's only store and restaurant closed, Myron and Erik approached a family of farmers working in their yard. They explained the options for marshrutkas that would get us to L'viv.

As the morning wore on, more and more people began to stir. Vasyl and Nadia, who shared a tiny couch in the living room, awoke (though Vasyl stayed in bed until later). The children and grandchildren who slept uncomfortably in the barn and van came outside into the cold rain. Everyone pitched in on various projects.

All of the men were called to duty to extricate the van carrying the many visiting relatives from a sticky situation on the bridge. Let us explain here that the house was across a small river from the dirt road. We noticed cars across the bridge upon arrival and wondered how they had crossed. When walking across the wood bridge, logs moved, and rotten wood was visible everywhere. It did not even seem fit for pedestrians, but somehow was actually used for vehicles. The driver of the van had come across the old wooden bridge during the night and was attempting to drive it back to the road. In this effort, the van's wheels displaced a log on the bridge and it was sunk in the gap, with the wheels whining, spinning, and burning rubber. Since the very front of the van was on land and the rest was stuck on the bridge, Myron suggested that we jack up the van and place boards underneath to make it level. Then the driver could gently drive it across. But, logic and planning was not called for here. Instead the assembled men wanted to just push the thing out. Erik pitched in and eventually the van broke free. Everyone then helped "fix" the bridge where the van had damaged it, setting the logs back in their places and returning the handrail to its position. It is a great wonder that the whole thing has not collapsed yet.

A makeshift grill, dug out of the ground, with an umbrella overhead, was constructed to prepare breakfast. Some of the men took the lead, skewering sausages and grilling fresh brook trout. When the food was done, the table was set with meat, bread, tomatoes, cheese, and drinks. Everyone was called upon to drink. We passed on the early morning cognac shots, but had vodka with breakfast. Several toasts later, we gathered our things to leave for L'viv.

The relatives with the van offered to take us to a stop. This was an extremely nice offer as the bus would not leave Urich until 2:00 p.m. to get to the main road. Along the main road, buses came relatively often but the trick was to get there. Instead of just dropping us along the road, they took us all the way to their town, a spot about 35 kilometers from L'viv with regular marshrutka trips. We loaded on the marshrutka and paid 12 grivnya for all of us (around $2.40).

For those of you who missed our earlier discussion of the marshrutka, it is a form of mass transportation used all over Ukraine and many parts of the former Soviet Union. In L'viv, the marshrutkas are managed by private companies, but they function like municipal bus services with standard routes, and also provide inter-city transport across the region. You may get off the marshrutka anywhere by asking the driver; they usually stop when someone asks to get off, or someone on the street wants on. Marshrutkas range from large vans to small buses (something akin to short school buses in the US) with 12-20 seats (although the number of seats is irrelevant). We have not been on a new or well-maintained marshrutka yet; they seem to all be in various stages of disrepair. The private companies have the incentive to keep them just at code and fill them as much as possible to make money.

The marshrutka quickly filled. And a filled marshrutka means that every available space is taken - all of the seats and every spot where a person could possibly stand (watching a marshrutka empty out is like seeing a clown car at the circus). Erik had a backpack and duffel bag stacked on his lap; Lea had a diaper bag and Carter on hers. We were squeezed into a corner tightly. But, we were headed in the right direction. The marshrutka let us off at the main bus station where we picked up another marshrutka to take us to the center of town. Myron headed off to his cousin's apartment and we piled in the last bus. It filled to over-capacity as well. Unfortunately, we did not know the street that we were driving down well, and missed the optimal stop. We couldn't ask the driver because we were pinned in our seats and could not get to him. So, the next time it stopped, we extricated ourselves from the crush of humanity, and walked the final few blocks home, arriving around 3:30 p.m.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tustan Saga, Part 4: Conversations

Our wonderful hosts always had something interesting to say. Vasyl was particularly happy to have a captive audience willing to hear him expound upon politics. On occasion, Nadia would interrupt him with skeptical harrumphs, challenge him on some of his statements, and admonish him not to talk about politics with company.

Among his revelations, fueled by his upbringing in the Soviet Union, false memories, and a large amount of vodka, were:

1) The US is responsible for all of the world's problems since the end of World War II. US-led combat in Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan (?), and elsewhere has been the source of woes for all. He was reminded of the USSR's war in Afghanistan, but instructed us that Americans were the root cause of this too.

2) He was highly critical of the US military, claiming that "US soldiers have no patriotism." Instead, he stated with authority that they serve only for the ample paychecks they receive. "It is all about the money." This is in sharp contrast to the Soviet military where patriotism was high.

3) In 1926, Lenin told Roosevelt that politics is equivalent to prostitution (he was reluctant to reveal this with women in the room).

4) As a big party man, he had access to lots of documents. He knew, for instance, that Nikita Khrushchev was fined $1.2 million by the United Nations for his shoe-pounding incident.

5) He told several interesting anecdotes related to economics. As a student, he had a brilliant professor who shocked the students by announcing that "markets are chaos." He asked the professor about this comment, and was instructed to look at the price of a particular item in several stores. Of course, it was the Soviet period so the prices were identical from store to store. In a market economy, the prices are different - this is anarchy and chaos. [Of course, from the perspective of a planned economy, this is correct. But, planned economy prices have little to do with scarcity or the value of a good.] Regarding today's economy: "it is not chaos, but simply a crime."

6) Stalin, in his view, did many bad things. But, today's politicians are even worse.

We are not relating these stories to lampoon Vasyl. Rather, these anecdotes provide some insight into the mindset of many elderly people in the former Soviet Union. The collapse of the USSR brought chaos where there was order, attempted to discredit a past that they helped build and maintain, widened the gap between rich and poor, and reduced the status of a once great superpower. It is important for us to realize that there is still a large number of people who believed in the Soviet Union and its propaganda, including the anti-American propaganda.

His family's experience with Soviet power was quite mixed. While he was an honorable cog in the mechanisms of the Soviet economy, his wife's family experienced the arbitrary and cruel power of the state. The false histories and interpretations of the world help support memories of a Soviet Union that never was, but he wants to believe existed.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Tustan Saga, Part 3: Our Hosts

Upon our arrival to Urich, we sought out the festival director. Not only was he a close friend of Myron's, but he was to have arranged overnight accommodations for us in a local house. Unfortunately, those plans fell through, but he had reserved a hotel room. Since the hotel was not within walking distance of the festival, and Zenik was returning to L'viv, we sought alternatives. Zenik found an elderly couple willing to take us in for the night.

Vasyl and Nadia spend their summers in the village, tending to their 30+ beehives. We approached their home, crossing a rickety wooden bridge over a small, gurgling river. We were met inside by a smiling grandparently duo who treated us like family. In fact, our unannounced visit displaced some family members who also planned to stay with them for the night, but more about that later. You can see Vasyl to the right. Unfortunately, the camera batteries died before Erik could take photos of the whole family and the house (and his replacement batteries were duds).

Their homestead consisted of a four-room house, a large shed, and an outhouse. Entering the house, we were immediately greeted with the sweet, floral scent of honey. Evidence of the beekeeper's trade was everywhere: honey on the stove, jars of honey on the counter, honeycombs stacked against a wall, and a couple of bees flitting about. The kitchen doubled as the entryway, and was dominated by a large, wood stove on which several pots were simmering. A small table and a hutch full of dishes completed the room. The house has no running water, so no sink, and of course, no dishwasher. Nadia washed dishes in pots of water that were scattered about the floor; similar pots and bowls were outside catching rainwater for indoor use.

Nadia quickly escorted us to the second room - the living room - where she had just finished lunch with Vasyl. We were invited to share a toast - actually four vodka toasts - along with some sausage, bread, and entire cups of honey. The conversation was in Ukrainian, with a little Russian sprinkled in for Erik's benefit. Our introductory celebration lasted for about 45 minutes, after which we stored our bags in the bedroom, and headed to the festival.

A word about the fourth room. We did not see this room until our second day, and it was a sight to behold. This room was a workshop for honey preparation. Hives, wax, jars, and various implements were all around. You could practically taste the rich, sticky liquid by just walking in the room. Their honey is indeed delicious, and quite unlike the sugary stuff that Americans squeeze out of plastic bears. It is a dark, amber substance that is a bit cloudy with small pieces of wax, and has a deep flavor that spreads across your tongue as you spoon it in your mouth. We took home a liter of it!

Over the course of several conversations, we learned a bit of Vasyl and Nadia's history. Vasyl's ruminations on various subjects are worthy of their own entry, and he will receive that treatment in the next posting. But, here is a summary.

Vasyl was born in Poland, though he does not remember the name of village. At the age of thirteen, during WWII, he witnessed his parents gunned down by Bandera's men. "I have seen such horror," he said, "If the Germans had killed them, I would have understood. It was war. But these men were 'ours.' That I cannot understand." Orphaned, he ended up in the Soviet Union. He eventually worked for the KGB in a prison, served in the Soviet tank corps, and became a "big party man, a big boss" responsible for distribution of products to over twenty regional stores. He is a honorable man, and proud of his service to the Soviet Union.

Nadia's family is from Urich. Her grandfather was a very successful farmer who was labeled a kulak during Stalin's collectivization program. Their land, buildings, livestock, and almost everything else was confiscated for the collective farm (the house we stayed in was left to the family). Her grandfather was sent to Siberia. Her father became the lead photographer for the region, and was also an artist. He helped local theater companies design sets, painted portraits, and was an all-around artist. She is the main beekeeper in the house, and was constantly tending to the bees and the hives at all hours.

They have four children and seven grandchildren, some of whom visited during our 36-hour stay. When we returned in the evening from the festival, the other guests were finishing dinner. They departed for a party and we sat down for an evening of conversation, food, and drink. Lots of drink.

We had countless toasts with Vasyl, draining the end of one vodka bottle, then consuming another. Nadia continually brought more food: tomatoes with mayonnaise, sausage, bread, boiled chicken, and encouraged us to eat. We continued to eat past the point of being hungry to honor her hospitality. On occasion, we were able to convince her to sit down with us and share a drink. She preferred wine and joined in a couple of toasts.

As Vasyl reached for another vodka bottle to open, we convinced him that it was time to sleep (it was around midnight). All four of us were led to the bedroom where we stayed in the single beds and on the floor. Our hosts shared the small couch in the living room. When their family returned later that night, they ended up staying in the shed and in their van. In total, 18 people shared the space overnight.

During our unannounced stay, we were treated to meals, drinks, and hospitality unimaginable to Americans. They would not take anything in return for hosting us. But we were able to slip them a little extra compensation for the honey.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tustan Saga, Part 2: The Site and Festival

On Saturday morning, we loaded into a silver Lada for our journey to the village of Urich on the site of the national park encompassing Tustan. Myron's archaeologist friend Zenik insisted on taking us to the site, and we were happy to have a ride. The trip took us down pothole-filled country roads to the south of L'viv, through the town of Striy, and on to Urich. After about 90 minutes of travel, we approached the town.

Urich is a picturesque village of about 500 residents in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains that runs along a river; quaint country houses dot the landscape in a linear fashion. We drove through some wet, muddy roads that were not too challenging due to the recent sun, to the local museum. We were seeking the director of the festival who is a close friend of Myron's. He was at the festival site, where we headed after resolving some accommodation issues. At left, you can see Lea and Carter making their way up a muddy path to the festival.

While Tustan's existence has been well known for centuries, due in part to folklore connecting it to Ukraine's Robin Hood, the full extent of the site was not well understood until the latter part of the twentieth century. Myron told us much of this history as he escorted us to the top of the natural stone formations that constituted the fortification's skeleton. As we ascended along treacherous, angular, slippery paths, Myron pointed out pagan sun mandalas hewn into the stone, grooves that had been carved into the rock to secure the wood fortifications, and the spots where customs and guard posts once stood. The festival director's father - an archaeologist who made significant discoveries at the site - found five distinct phases of the fort. The first evidence of fortification can be traced back to the 9th century. At its peak, it had a garrison of about 100 soldiers. The site was important as it was on a salt route that existed before Alpine salt deposits replaced it as a key source. Apparently the fort was not destroyed, just abandoned when it was no longer needed.

When we first learned of the Tustan festival, we expected it to resemble an American Renaissance Festival. However, we did not encounter Ukrainian versions of overzealous drama club members liberally sprinkling their speech with "wench" and "huzzah" under the cover of questionable cockney accents. While there were characters in costume: we passed the king and queen on horseback, watched battle re-enactments, and enjoyed a musician playing a traditional Ukrainian bandura, the festival did not fully embrace the culture of medieval Ukraine.

The festival site was compact, with a couple of games (i.e., climb to the top of a May pole), an
area of stone carving, a stage, a campsite, a small wooden guardpost, and a trebuchet. Vendors offered food and souvenirs, but only one was in costume selling items related to the theme (he was a metalworker selling swords and other items for reenactors). We settled in for some entertainment as a trio of women started to sing haunting melodies (this opening act seems to be a requirement at cultural festivals - see our earlier post). They were followed by a hodge podge of acts: Celtic dancers, an odd musical performance by unfunny jesters, and a rap-rock band. In between performances, we snacked on shish-kebab, potato pancakes, and other traditional Ukrainian foods.

Demonstrations of battle rounded out the day's entertainment. The young Ukrainian combatants were quite serious about their craft, with full-metal armor and metal weapons. They engaged in one-on-one combat (on the right) and in a massive battle (see the top photo). As it got dark, the trebuchet was called into action. We headed off to our accommodations, wet, tired, and ready to rest. Our wonderful hosts, however, were ready to show their incredible hospitality.

Tustan Saga, Part 1: Introduction

This weekend, we trekked to the south of L'viv to attend the Tu Stan! Festival. Myron Stachiw, the director of the Fulbright program in Ukraine, told Erik about this event when he participated in the Fulbright interviews a few weeks ago in Kyiv. Myron generously invited us to travel with him and we were happy to accept his kind offer. The trip evoked so many observations and memories that we have divided this entry into several parts that we will post separately.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Here Comes the Sun!

Quite unexpectedly, we had a nice, cool, sunny, and dry day. The weather report predicted rain every day until next Wednesday. But, we have found that online Ukrainian weather sources predict the weather about as well as American groundhogs foretell the end of winter. (Before our Pittsburgh-area comrades defend Punxsutawney Phil's abilities, we are obligated to note that there are disputes about Phil's accuracy. The US government's National Climatic Data Center indicates that it finds "no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years of this analysis," a publication in a mathematics journal indicates 70% accuracy, and a fansite claims 100% accuracy!)

Setting aside the issue of groundhog meteorologists, it was a lovely day.
Lea and Carter had a wonderful time visiting Thomas and Jani at their apartment. The boys played music (Carter was especially fond of Thomas' xylophone), pushed trains along their tracks, and visited a park to feed ducks and enjoy the outdoors.

Erik met with a faculty member from the journalism school at IFNU. She works with a graduate of the REES MA program and studies election communication (i.e., campaign advertising) among other things. They had a nice, long discussion about the positives and negatives of working abroad, university politics, and the upcoming elections.

We ended the day with a walk down the street for ice cream.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

It's Raining, It's Pouring...

Monsoon season continues in L'viv, with light and heavy rain all yesterday and much of today. We have focused on rainy-day activities, like painting. Carter made a nice pterodactyl (according to his own description) and many other works of art.

We ventured out between raindrops yesterday to visit with Thomas and Jani at the British Council office at the university. The British Council supports the study of English language (and the UK) abroad, among other things. The office at IFNU is quite nice, with a library of English-language books for all ages, CDs, DVDs, and several computers with access to the Internet and various proprietary databases. We spent time in the kids' room reading many books with Britishisms like mum, wellies, and nappies. Thomas is quite familiar with these terms, but they are alien to Carter. Lea has joked with Jani that they are the only moms with native English-speaking toddlers in L'viv, yet they speak different languages!

Of course, the rain stopped during Carter's nap today. Once he awoke, we dashed outside to get some air, feed some very hungry birds (evidently, no one fed them today due to the rain and their formations were reminiscent of Hitchcock), and grab a bite to eat. We picked up some takeout from the Cake Place as a rainy day treat, then headed home in the light rain.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Another Rainy Day

It is another cold, rainy day in L'viv. We have only experienced two of these washouts since our arrival, so we cannot complain. Erik spent the day working on his book, Lea did several chores and made special, delicious Estonian mac and cheese, and Carter learned to paint. We picked up some watercolor paints last week and saved them for just such a day. Carter also watched his favorite show, Peep and the Big Wide World, on the web - today's episode was also about rain!

Monday, September 3, 2007

School Days

Today marked day three of the Day of Knowledge, extended due to September 1 falling on a Saturday this year. Erik found out that the opening convocation for first-year students at IFNU would start around 10 a.m., so we all made our way to the university. The plan was for Lea and Carter to play in the park and, if a public celebration was accessible, for all three of us to observe. As we approached the university, it became clear that there would indeed be a public ceremony - students were lining up across from the university's main building according to their departments. Students do not just enroll in a general education program at the university. Rather, they join a department in their first year. Unlike their American counterparts who can take years to choose a major, Ukrainian students begin their university studies in their major.

About 30 minutes before the ceremony began, the students were given instructions about moving to their departmental sections in an orderly fashion. The reminders continued until the students heard that the procession would begin in 90 seconds. The university rector (president), vice-rectors, mayor of L'viv, head of the regional assembly, and other notables marched across the street, and to a dais in front of the statue to Ivan Franko which was surrounded by blue and yellow flags. A student choir stood on the steps, along with senior members of the faculty and onlookers. The rector made a few remarks, followed by Vice Rector Kyrylych (who visited Kansas and our home a couple of years ago), and many others. The students played a prominent role in the event: students brought in the banner of the university, as well as a globe and other symbols of education; they performed in the choir; and senior students were called to the front as part of the assembly. But, students are students the world over, and many of the attendees talked on cellphones, flirted with one another, drank beer, and otherwise attended the ceremony only by virtue of physically being there. It was a nice, concise opening to the school year.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


We once again attended mass at the Roman Catholic Church near the apartment. We arrived early enough to get a central seating spot so that we could actually see what was going on. The mass focused on schoolchildren who are starting the academic year. Children served as lectors, recited prayers, and sang songs accompanied by a guitar (guitar music is not unusual for us, but we suspect that it may be a rare part of services in this church). Toward the end of mass, several young people spoke through tears about the 2004 massacre of schoolchildren in Russia. The school building was taken on September 1. Erik could not quite figure out if one girl who spoke was a survivor or lost friends/family. But, it was a deeply emotional moment with many in the church in tears.

After mass, we decided to go on a little journey to the Park of Culture via a sushi restaurant that has an advertisement on a small billboard outside our window. The food was fine, and
satisfied Carter's desire for sesame noodles, but as in all Japanese restaurants (it seems), a bit overpriced. En route to the park we also helped a lost American find her way to the center of town. We are not experts on L'viv, but we have served as emergency guides to English-speaking tourists turned around in the winding streets of the city.

Lea and Carter had visited the Park of Culture before and noted the large Soviet war memorial at one end of the park (up many large staircases). Erik enjoys visiting old Soviet monuments, so was intrigued - especially since this heritage has largely been cleansed from L'viv. The entrance to the park was a traditional gaudy Soviet-style archway (Erik has seen these white colonnades in many parts of the former USSR) opening to a grand walkway. We ascended to the World War II memorial at the top (see the photo above and to the left). The memorial is in disrepair and notes that it is dedicated to the defeat of fascism. It shows representatives of the Ukrainian people (for example, a woman in traditional garb) happily welcoming their liberators (with bread, not flowers). On our way to the tramvai stop, we noticed a stone memorial facing the park. The Ukrainian emblem is engraved in it, along with the dedication: "To those who fought for the freedom of Ukraine" (see photo at the bottom of the post). It faces the entrance to the park and is a fitting bookend to the Soviet monument on the other side.

As we returned to the apartment after strolling about for a few hours, we saw a rally for the Svoboda Party on the main square. We watched and listened from our window for a while. Then, Erik went out to see the rally up close. A couple thousand people were on the main square, enthusiastically listening to national songs and speeches. The rally had some provocative signs promoting nuclear status for Ukraine and denouncing Russification. The speakers emphasized the strength of Ukrainians and the national idea. The rally turned into a procession to a memorial of political repressions (with connections to Stepan Bandera). A few hundred supporters, young and old, stepped in tune with the band playing patriotic songs and marched away, later returning to the Virgin Mary statue across from our apartment ending the rally with music and chants.

Cartersaurus Rex

Carter has taken to imitating dinosaurs for reasons only a toddler can understand. Here is Carter as a Tyrannosaurus Rex attacking his father. This is not the best version of Carter's dino-antics, but he does not like to perform for the camera. Still, it gives you a flavor of his sense of humor.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Day of Knowledge

September 1st is the traditional start of the school year for all students in Ukraine. Since it falls on a Saturday, celebrations in honor of this occasion are sprinkled throughout the weekend until Monday. Ivan Franko National University will have its main opening convocation on Monday. But, today several elementary and secondary schools held festive events.

We happened upon one during our morning walk to the park. From a distance, we heard prayers as though an outdoor mass were being held. Perhaps another Spas? As the volume grew louder and we came closer, we saw a large gathering of parents and children outside a school. The children were adorable - dressed in burgundy uniforms (dresses for girls, blazers for boys) with traditional Ukrainian costumes underneath. In front of the school, a priest was indeed invoking prayers to bless the opening of the academic year. The children formed a ring around him, holding flowers. Behind them were parents and onlookers, taking photos and videos of the occasion. Next to the priest was a small table with a Ukrainian flag and two bells, one draped in blue and the other in yellow (the colors of Ukraine). As we continued to walk to the park, we passed by many people in formal attire, and young women who appeared to be teachers wearing traditional shirts and modern skirts and carrying signs, apparently heading toward similar celebrations. We reflected a bit on how serious and attentive everyone seemed to be, in contrast to the university convocation at Kansas which is poorly attended (and not on the first day of classes). It is nice to see the opening of the school year treated as an important occasion, worthy of proper attire and a grand introduction.