31 January 2007

You can go home again: Visiting Ukraine

Roots trips to explore one's heritage are increasingly popular. If you're thinking about this, here's an interesting story of one writer's visit to Ukraine, mentioning Kiev, Berdyansk, Kharkov and Drobitsky Yar, along with tips and links for more information.

One of the pro's of this writer's journey:
My trip was the culmination of an attempt to recover my mother's past, and with it my own. She prepared for me an introduction, written on a notecard in Russian, with a photo of her family taken before the war.

"Dear countrymen!
"I am turning to you because my son Greg and his wife, Candy, don't speak and don't know the language. It is in case they need help. He wrote a book about Ukraine and about my family. The book is about heroism of our people. Everyone in my family was killed in Kharkov, and it is only because of the help of the kind population in our wonderful place that my sister and I are alive so that the story could be told about us. Greg and Candy already love you the way I do. Thank you all for generosity and for colossal courage. Be happy and healthy."
--Zhanna Arshanskaya Dawson, who would love to be going to see you all.

I handed out the cards everywhere, to flower vendors, hotel clerks, waiters, cabbies, babushkas selling seeds and nuts on the street, and the words had a magical effect. Faces that greeted me with wariness and suspicion dissolved into nods, knowing smiles and, often, tears.


And one of the con's:
You walk at your own risk in Ukraine because most sidewalks double as streets and parking lots. On our first day we were strolling down one of Kiev's broad sidewalks when we jumped at the beep! of a Lada, a boxy little Soviet-era car, coming up behind us.

Do read the entire story.

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