Chia’s Quick Post From Ukraine (During Russian Invasion)

Hey there everyone,

Just a quick post to discuss some stuff in Ukraine right now. I had originally planned to document all the events of my trip here and write about them when I get back to the States, but the latest news is just too much to hold in.

First impressions when I was here this time around was “man, EVERYTHING on the news is about the war in the eastern Ukraine”. News of the events here in Ukraine is mostly ignored in the US and I’m forced to find alternate news sources to see what’s going on over here. I knew about the war, I knew people were getting killed, I knew Russia was behind this, and I had some inside news from my Ukrainian friends that it was a mess. What I was NOT ready for was to have all this in my face and see the reality of it all. It’s real. This war in Ukraine is very real. The news you see in the US is crap and not even 10% of the reality of the situation here.

Most Ukrainians that give two hoots about their country (which is a good majority of them. There are MANY more Ukrainian flags flying from apartments and cars than there were my first trip here) are quite pissed at their government and the rest of the world’s governments because nobody is doing anything about Russia’s aggression and the young men of Ukraine who are dying to protect their country. Novograd-Volynski is a military town and they’re already seeing their fair share of deaths and young men being sent off to war. This is very real and daily reminders of it occur here.

Yesterday while walking around in Kyiv we had a street vendor take a picture of Larisa and I. While the pictures were printing he was talking about how there were a few thousand Russian troops now INSIDE Ukrainian border. Of course that was a concern…but we didn’t hear too much else about it (however we were busy traveling by bus from Kyiv to Novograd-Volynski so it doesn’t surprise me that we didn’t hear too much). This morning I went over to Larisa’s as we were going to go shopping for meat for her mother’s birthday cookout. On the news it was officially declared that the Russians had invaded Ukraine. As if that news wasn’t bad enough, they have Ukrainian soldiers on TV talking about how they are protecting the country yet the government isn’t protecting them. He’s talking about how they all know they are going to die. He says bye to his sons on TV and that he’ll “be home soon”.

Heartbreaking. Extremely shitty. I’m still in a bit of shock, anger, depression, and twelve other not-so-great emotions as we try to process this mess.

For those that know me, I am safe. I have great friends here and should anything bad come to this part of the country I believe I am in good hands and we will head to safety. Don’t worry about me. Worry…and pray…for Ukraine.

The view from my hotel bench in Novograd-Volynski

Chia in Novograd-Volynski – Wednesday

Time for another recollection of my trip to Ukraine two years ago. I’m still trying to finish sharing my trip with everyone before I head back over in a little over a week. I’ve got some writing to do!

Today’s installment begins on Wednesday morning in Novograd-Volynski. I’ve finally got a full day in town, have met some people, have seen a little bit of my new hometown for a bit and am ready to explore more. I find myself waking up in my hotel room early and realizing I have an hour or two before Vitalik will come get me at my hotel. Sitting outside the hotel on a bench just taking in the sights…I find this to be a nice way to start my day and not worry too much about all the things I have going on in the States (work has been crazy, stuff with the house, and just life in general. This trip had perfect timing for me to help expand my mind while also freeing up my mind). In a mere 15 minutes of sitting on my bench I’ve come to see quite an interesting mix of life in town. A few new cars, more older cars, plenty of people walking around, a good number using bikes as their transportation source, and a random horse and buggy. All this alone kept my mind pleasantly occupied as I took it all in.

The view from my hotel bench in Novograd-Volynski

The view from my hotel bench in Novograd-Volynski

After a while Vitalik showed up and it was time to walk back to Grandma’s house. Another pleasant walk through town, down some paths, seeing a good mix of nature and old town quaintness. Me…I was loving it. It was all still very new to me and I was still discovering new sights as we walked. However, later I was told that Vitalik wanted to take the bus. Oops! It was such a beautiful day…I hope he didn’t mind!

The path to Grandma's house

The path to Grandma’s house

Today happened to be Grandma’s birthday and I was there to witness it. Hurray! It was a day filled with activity…in the kitchen. Larisa, her sisters, her mom…all in the kitchen cooking away so we could all have a big birthday meal later in the evening. I was once again witnessing yet another difference in general life from Ukraine and life I see in the US. Here, EVERYTHING was being prepared by hand. EVERYTHING. Needless to say, there was a flurry of activity in the kitchen with four Ukrainian shuffling around the kitchen…and some random American guy sitting off to the side listening, watching, taking it all in. Every now and then Larisa would fill me in on what they were talking about…or laughing about. Just looking back at this activity right now is making me smile…and once again feel a bit clueless as I was back then. I wasn’t uncomfortable…but more curious and feeling quite alive…like a small child trying to learn as much as possible. Straining to see if I could understand a word (nope…I didn’t recognize anything. Ok, maybe a “yes” and “no” here and there but that’s it) or if I could learn new words. It certainly fueled my craving to learn more!

While the women were cooking away in the kitchen it was suggested Vitalik take me to the river to get us out of the house and we could spend some time together. Walking through the woods, he’d pick something up now and then (grass, an apple, a rock, etc) and tell me what it was in Russian. I was trying to learn as much as I could…and it was fun learning from him. I was still overcome by the beauty of this country. Picture the most beautiful countryside you’ve ever seen and I’m pretty sure this compares to it. The forest, the river, the meadows…everything was just so pure and so green, so lush. With all this around me it was only a matter of time before I was walking around with a mix of perma-grin and childlike wonderment as I tried to take in everything I was coming across.

Eventually it was time to make our way back to the house. Dinner was still being prepared but the bulk of the food prep activity was complete and things were starting to slow down in the house. The sisters were showing more amazement that I walk as much as I do. I smiled, nodded, told Larisa that it’s true, I do walk more than many Americans as they all stay so reliant on their cars (especially in Atlanta…egads!). They were also pleasantly surprised that I was able to read the Russian on the food packages they had around the kitchen. They’d ask me what this word was and that word…I said I didn’t know what they meant (well, some were quite obvious once you enunciated them) but that I could read them. Once again…they said I wasn’t a typical American because I took the time to try to learn their language. I was proud…and also a bit dismayed that Americans have such a poor reputation around the world. Well, at least I was being a good ambassador and hopefully changing that image.Time for dinner! Well…I wish I would have written down everything we had. I know it was good because I DO recall I was absolutely stuffed afterwards as I ate my fair share of yummy birthday food. This was all preceded a Ukrainian prayer of course…I obviously had no idea what was being said but it sounded beautiful.

After dinner and desert it was time to do more celebrating for Grandma. We all gathered outside with some Chinese lanterns and let them fly in honor of Grandma. Amazingly enough, I’ve never seen these before that trip two years ago (though I am sure I should have, somewhere, somehow…but I hadn’t) and I was enjoying this birthday tradition over there.

It was getting later and the evening was starting to slow down a bit. It was finally time to start heading back to the hotel. I told Larisa I could just walk but she said I shouldn’t walk as I clearly wasn’t a Ukrainian and she didn’t want anything to happen to me. I didn’t feel any sort of worry about walking alone but I agreed and we called for a taxi to come pick us up and take Larisa and Vitalik to their apartment and then continue on to drop me off at the hotel. I had to follow the same drill as last time…don’t say anything in the taxi or they’d probably hike the price a bit knowing they had a tourist in town.

Once back in my hotel room I was fairly exhausted yet I still found myself staring at the ceiling trying to sleep. This wasn’t the easiest task as I found my mind swirling with everything I had taken in today (and the previous day as well). The sights, the smells, the sounds of the day all had my mind going in overdrive. Yes, real life is MUCH different here than I am used to seeing. I’m feeling quite grateful that I was able to experience life there as a Ukrainian rather than simply going on a vacation somewhere and going to all the touristy spots and not really learning what life there is really about.

Thoughts For the Day

  • These women are tough. Tough independent women to get things done. They reminded me of my mom and I made sure to let them know I was impressed with them. Definitely my kind of women!
  • Despite the day being very long and tiring, I felt very at home there. It wasn’t a fluke or first-day niceness the day before with people making me feel at home…this was a genuine feeling and it continues to make me feel good two years later.
  • I really really really wish I had my camera with me. I kept it at Larisa’s for safe keeping and in my second full day in Novograd-Volynski I was seeing so much that I wanted to get a picture of. Maybe I’ll grab it tomorrow!
  • After spending two full days in town while watching such wonderful people do whatever it takes to make things happen (i.e., dinner without all the store-bought goods or even the equipment to speed things up, the lack of all-in-one stores, a non-abundance of disposable income, etc) I REALLY didn’t feel like coming back to the States and listening to spoiled little brats complaining how rough they have it because daddy only bought them a black 16 GB iPhone 4S instead of the 64 GB white one. Get a grip kids, get a grip.

Random Note – I’m truly trying to get all my days accounted for before my next adventure over there. I do fear however that some postings may feel rushed while others full of emotion and wonderment. However, as my next trip nears my mind is constantly thinking about my friends over there and I can’t wait to get back. There will be many more stories and pictures to share when I return!