On February 24, we planned to post about El Salvador and Victor’s surfing attempt at Las Flores beach. Then, Russia invaded Ukraine, and blogging about travel became irrelevant.
I was born in Ukraine, in the tiny village of Ponornytsya in Chernihiv Province, because the hospital of Korop, a slightly larger village where my mother’s family lived, had a cockroach infestation. I spent my summers in my paternal grandparents’ village of Shchors (currently renamed back into Snovsk, as it was before 1935). I vividly remember the wooden houses with ornamental window shutters and expansive porches, a beautiful railway station building, and backyards full of sunflowers. I faintly recollect wondering why some neighbors spoke “funny Russian”, which I now recognize as “surzhyk”, a rural mix of Ukrainian and Russian words. Shchors for many years had a mix of Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Jewish families living side by side in peace, except for occasional bickering about some children (mostly my cousin and I) stealing apples from neighboring orchards.
My favorite memory from Shchors’ summers was picking sunflower seeds directly out of flowerheads and eating them on our grandparents’ porch while arguing with my cousin about whose sunflower had the tastier seeds. At the end of the summer, his parents came to pick him up first, so I took his prized toy soldiers and buried them in the backyard. I don’t remember what childhood grievances I was retaliating against, but he never found those soldiers again.
For the first time since the end of World War II, real soldiers are now being buried in Ukraine. If I google “Snovsk” now, all I get is a 14-second video of a Russian tank burning on a road. Neither Korop nor Snovsk has been bombed yet, but my father’s friends tell him there is no water or food left, and there is no means of escape.
Victor also has roots in Ukraine. His maternal grandfather was born and grew up in Donetsk, which since 2014 has become a disputed territory between Ukraine and Russia. Victor visited Donetsk four times in 2002, taking a day-long journey on a train from Belarus to compete in performances with his college comedy team. In 2000, Victor visited Ukraine and spent a summer with his family at the Black Sea, living in Karolino-Buhaz and Odesa. In January 2001, Victor met members of his favorite comedy team “Kvartal 95” and their very talented frontman, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in Sochi at an international comedy festival. 18 years later, Zelenskyy became president of Ukraine, and three years later, the most known man in the world.
Victor and I have discussed visiting Ukraine for years now. We wanted to take at least two weeks, possibly more to explore the whole country.
Our future approximate itinerary (because Victor has sketches of itineraries to almost every country he ever fancied) is as follows:
Kyiv: We want to stroll Khreschatyk Street and Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), visit Saint Sophia Cathedral and Pechersk Lavra, impressive Christian sights, learn about Ukrainian history in numerous museums, and eat borscht and varenyky at Puzata Hata.
Odesa: I would haggle at Odesa’s famous market “privoz”, while Victor discovers beautiful French architecture, and in the evening, an opera performance at Odesa Opera and Ballet Theatre.
Lviv: We want to drink coffee and craft beer in the cultural capital of Ukraine and take a long walk around the Old Town.
Pochaiv: A day trip to the most stunning monastery, where Victor’s grandaunt had lived as a nun for over fifty years before her passing several years ago.
Kamianets-Podilskyi: A few days exploring a well-preserved Old Town and a medieval fortress, a UNESCO heritage site.
Crimea: A chance to relax, sunbathe, and swim in the Black Sea (Crimea is Ukraine!)
In addition, I want to visit both Snovsk and Korop and even stop by Ponornytsya to see the hospital where I was born. I'd love to spend a few days in a sanatorium, a health spa located in a picturesque area with pristine natural habitat, a popular type of vacation among Ukrainians.
I want to believe that one day we will visit beautiful and thriving Ukraine. Ukraine with its golden fields of wheat, bright yellow sunflowers, and an endless blue sky is now a dream that we share with millions of refugees and civilians trapped in burning cities and towns.
If you are able, please pick a charity involved in humanitarian relief, recovery, and peace-building efforts in Ukraine and donate to make the dream of a peaceful Ukraine a reality.