LINKS TO PREVIOUS TRIPS


Previous trips can be accessed by clicking the following links:

2013
Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea

2014
Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Denmark

2015
Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, India and England

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

8/23: Kyiv, Vienna & Ljubljana in One Day!

We only had a few hours left in Kyiv before flying onwards to tour our first Balkan nation. After packing our bags, our priority was to walk over to see the massive St. Volodymr Cathedral:
The church was built in the late 19th century to commemorate the 900th anniversary of Christianity in Kyiv. The highlights for us were certainly seeing the frescoes depicting the spiritual history of the capital city of Ukraine.
My trusty Canon camera went kaput (or should I say gave up the ghost as we were in the Cathedral after all?!) after the photo above with the shutter refusing to close. I was so bummed as the camera had been my trusty and faithful companion for our last two 'Big Adventures' as we like to call our overseas trips. To say I felt bereft isn't much of an understatement. Steven luckily had his ipad with him so he kindly took over the photographer's role while we were at the cathedral. I had an older backup Canon camera back at the hotel but the zoom lens on it wasn't very powerful.

To put a positive spin on things, at least I could take pleasure in the lovely Cathedral. Here, then, are some views of the Cathedral:





Before leaving the country, I had hoped to buy one of the beautiful Easter Eggs that Ukraine is so well known for so we walked along Kyiv's main street, Khreshchatyk, for a good while. The street, which suffered great devastation in WW11, was totally rebuilt and received major facelifts in 1998 and again in 2001. The street, which stretches for a mile, is up to 330 feet wide so it was a major thoroughfare. It had lots of lovely upscale shops but no quality souvenir stores that we saw. What a shame as I really wanted to spend my Hryvnia, the currency of Ukraine!

All was not for naught, though, when we happened on a celebration in anticipation of Ukraine's independence the following day.
There was a military marching band, hundreds of people waving the national flag and young people all decked out in their national costumes and ready to perform.



We had arranged for the same driver who had picked us up a few days ago to take us back to the airport. We had a pretty short flight to Vienna, a city we visited and loved a couple of years ago, before our onward connection to Ljubljana, Slovenia, a full seven hours later. Most people would hate having such a long layover but I was quite content with it as it meant I would be able to get some much needed 'work' done on the blog as well as dealing with HOA matters back home. All I needed was a plug so I could type up my notes for the next few hours!

I did manage to squeeze in enough time to find and buy an Easter egg at the airport so I was happy about that!

Zachary: I thought of you when we saw this poster at the Vienna luggage carousel as I remember your saying how much you loved the Belvedere Castle when you were visiting the city last year.
Also at the carousel, Vienna's own Gustav Klimt's painting called The Kiss.
Many, many hours later, we arrived safely at our Airbnb room in Ljubljana, the first city we'd be visiting while touring the Balkans for about the next month.

8/22: Kiev: Tragedy and Peace

We took the metro out to the Babyn Yar Memorial where one of the biggest tragedies of WW11 occurred. Several monuments commemorate the horrific event when 100,000 residents of Kyiv, most of them Jews, were slaughtered by the Nazis. Other victims were Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, Ukrainian nationalists and anyone considered a threat to German authority.

The first monument located just steps from the metro station itself was the Children’s Memorial. How very small it was considering the scope of the tragedy, we thought.
In a tranquil wooded park, where the actual massacre took place, there was another, also small, memorial:
In 1976, while Ukraine was still under the yoke of the USSR, the monument, below, consisting of 11 bronze figures was erected in honor of 'Soviet citizens' who were 'victims of fascism.' The central figure was a communist resistance fighter.


Following independence, the Ukrainaian government invited the Israeli government to erect a new monument. The 1991 monument, a ten-foot high bronze menorah, had recently been relocated from one area of the park so it took us while to discover it.
We could only figure that this was a symbol of the cattle cars used to transport Jews during the Holocaust.
Back to the metro station where we had to change stations to go to our next stop. It was incredible to us that any metro ride anywhere in the huge city of Kyiv only cost the equivalent of 16 cents! There were guards at the top and bottom of every escalator; not sure if that was the equivalent of a ‘make work’ program or because they needed to be on the lookout for potential mishaps on the very fast moving escalators. 

We never had to wait more than a minute or two for another train to come. As trains neared a station, announcements were made in, I believe, Russian, the dominant language in Kyiv, and also in Ukrainian and then English too. That was a huge help as you might imagine. What a most impressive metro. 

Then, once off the train, began the long ascent from the bowels of the earth to daylight: I timed it as I couldn’t believe how long a previous ride had seemed to take. This one was 3.5 minutes long!

On the way to our next destination, we passed the Kyiv Monument to the Unknown Soldier from WW11: 
About 20 minutes after leaving the metro station, we finally reached our goal: Kyiv Pecherska Lavra, a monastery complex of 40 buildings representing eight centuries of art and architecture. it's Ukraine's number one tourist attraction and on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites list. It spans 70 acres of riverfront parkland and was begun in 1051 when two monks founded a monastery in natural caves and built a church above it. The Kyiv Caves Monastery is now one of the largest religious and intellectual centers in the Eastern Orthodox world.

Over the centuries, hundreds of thousands of Orthodox faithful have made pilgrimages to honor the relics of the founding monks who were canonized in 1643 and of the later saints who were entombed there. Under the Soviet regime, the churches were closed and museums were built on the Lavra grounds. Several churches hold services while others are just for viewing.

The grounds were, as you might imagine, immense and stupendous.
The first museum we saw there was the World of Icon Museum. The only icon I was able to take a photo of was called Descent of the Holy Spirit, because photos were not allowed and guards followed us from room to room. What a shame as it was such a stunning collection and I think you would have enjoyed seeing more of them AND I would like to have remembered them too!
We went next to the Dormition Cathedral: It was first constructed from 1073-1078 and it was the first stone building of the Lavra complex and its primary church. Over the years, the chuch was damaged, rebuilt and enlarged several times. In 1941 it was totally destroyed, supposedly by Nazi occupiers. Many Kyvians now place the blame on mines laid by Soviet forces retreating from the Germans. The gorgeous reconstruction of a white seven-domed Ukrainian Baroque cathedral reopened in 2001. 
The Great Bell Tower: We could have taken a stairway with 239 steps up to the top level for a great view of the Lavra grounds but the thought of climbing all those steps in the heat held no appeal for either of us!
Inside the Cathedral:



Right beside the Cathedral was the Refectory Church: It was so-called because it was also adjacent to the two story dining hall. 
Each of the Orthodox churches had what I could only describe as icons under plate glass on a pedestal or lectern situated in the middle of the church. Each time an Orthodox believer entered the church or, I noticed later, passed any Orthodox church, (s)he would make the sign of the cross in, of course, Orthodox fashion. Then the person would always proceed to the icon in the center, bend down and kiss the glass, then wipe it with the cloth that was always present, all the while making the sign of the cross several times.
Each church we entered had at least one small kiosk or souvenir stand where long thin candles, icons of every size and shape and price as well as other religious articles were sold. 


A lopsided view of the exterior of Refectory Church:
Another view of Dormition Cathedral:
The museum we went to next in the Lavra complex and which I especially enjoyed was the Museum of Ukrianian Folk Decorative Art:
The Museum's two floors covered the development of folk arts from the 15th to the 21st century.
These reminded us of some of the aboriginal art we saw and bought last year while touring several regions of Australia.
Don’t these carpets bear resemblance to Navajo rugs?
One of the highlights of the museum was the collection of old carpets woven in different parts of Ukraine:

Loved these ballet dance glass pieces:

As we walked up to the upper floor, we were surprised to discover we were the only tourists in the entire museum.

Some of the 28 sets of Ukrainian folk clothes from the 19th and 20th centuries from different ethnographic regions of the country:

Painted Easter Eggs: The Museum has over 4,000 eggs in its collection, many of them over 100 years old.
Eggs from the late 19th and early 20th century; some even dated back to the 1840s.


The first documentary evidence of the use of carpet items dates back to the 9th through 12th centuries. They played an important role in princes’ palaces. They decorated and provided the palaces with heat insulation as well as playing an important role in burial ceremonies. The 17th and 18th centuries were important times for the development of Ukrainian carpet weaving. Carpets weere made from fleece (sheep wool) and hemp or flax threads.
Shelves for icons:


That had been an interesting museum but we were looking forward to going outside and seeing more of the Lavra complex. Some more views of the Upper Lavra:



I had to use the toilet or WC (water closet) as they are normally called overseas in pretty well every country. Not only was it a good ten minute walk away but it was a squat toilet too. It was the first of the trip and I betcha it’s not going to be the last one either! I even had to pay for the privilege. I thought they should be paying me and not the other way around, mind you!

We then had to descend a steep cobblestoned slope toward the Caves or Lower Lavra, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the All Perchersky Saints. 
As we entered, we could hear a service or mass (?) being celebrated upstairs. We followed the sounds of the beautiful voices.

I could only understand the fairly frequent Alleluias being recited and joined in at the appropriate times even when the word was strung out to be at least six syllables long!


The caves consisted of two underground labryinths of tunnels. Excavated in these soft sandstone catacombs are small burial niches containing the remains of monks and saints that have been naturally mummified due to the chemical composition of the soil and and the cool, constant temperature.

We entered the first set of caves, called naturally enough the Near Caves, from the Elevation of the Holy Cross Church which dated back to 1700. The caves were 750 ft long and had a large number of frescoes interspersed among the crypts. There were also three, very tiny, underground churches or what I would call chapels. Occasionally, there were candles lit in small alcoves recessed in the walls to help guide the pilgrims and us. All of them carried thin, lit beesewax candles that illiminated their way because of the extremely limited lighting down below. Now why didn't we think of that! 

I was only able to take this one photo in the first set of caves. To show respect, I was required to wear one of the wraparound long skirts that were provided to women who were not properly attired.
Then onto the Far Caves that were another ten minute walk further on. This set of caves extends for 920 ft and contained 45 burial niches and three more churches. 

The pilgrims or faithful all bent down, kissed the glass or wood encasing the shrouded bodies and then always touch their foreheads to the glass. There were a large number of icons in glass in the very narrow passages; those were always touched, too, after an Orthodox sign of the cross. 
The underground passages went deep into the ground and were not for the claustrophobic. The paths were so narrow that we had to walk single file. They were again dimly lit so the faithful or smarter ones (!) bought candles to light their way. Steven used the light from his ipad which helped somewhat.

We had spent close to three very enjoyable hours at the Lavra Monastery complex but were ready to explore other areas of Kyiv by 2:45. Just a five minute walk away was the National Museum Memorial to Holodomor Victims:
Holodomor is a Ukrainian term that means killing by starvation. It did not occur as a result of natural diseases such as drought or crop failure but rather a deliberate policy of the USSR Communist regime aimed at physically eliminating the Ukrainians. It occured because after WW1, Ukraine developed a European-focused modern culture and an educational system based on the idea of Ukraine as an independent economic country.

From the late 1920s, Communist authorities consolidated their power and launched an offensive against the Ukrainian cultural uprising. There was a strong Ukrainain oriented educated elite as well as an economically independent peasantry with a strong national consciousness. The Soviet regime perceived the Ukraine quest as an existential threat to the Soviet Union and opted for a horrifying tactic - death by starvation.
The Soviets started compulsory grain procurements whereby the State took almost all the wheat but at much reduced prices. At the same time, the regime started registration of the wealthy peasants. The policy resulted in the confiscation of property and, for many, forceful evictions of peasants to Siberia. There, they were left to the mercy of fate and most perished because of frostbite, starvation and illness. 

For those who remained in Ukraine, forced collectivization of farming was begun. The fields of 1932-1933 were left unsown because there were no farm workers available. Famine ensued and an estimated thirty percent of the population died in just one year. The Soviets, however, officially said there had been no famine and that, therefore, millions of people had simply never existed. Entire villages in Ukraine ceased to exist because all the people died.

Stalin authorized the use of gulags and the shooting of people within 15 days of being arrested. 37,997 people were liquidated in this way. 
There were 1,000 documented cases of cannibalism. Children in particular were kidnapped, killed and sold as human meat. It is unknown how many children perished during Holodomor and how many were never born. Children, whose parents had been killed, were sent to orphanages, given new family names and told their parents had been enemies of the state. There was a huge rise in the number of gangs comprised of children and teens who did anything they could to survive.

Stalin's goal had been the organized destruction of Ukrainian people, i.e. against one part of the Soviet nation. What a horrific staistic - the Bolsheviks killed in one year more people than the Nazis did in five years. Between 4-10 million people died from starvation. Some say only 3 million died but, regardless of the number, millions died. 
How shocking to learn that more Ukrainians died in just one year, in 1933, than in the previous 50 years. Women were so physically unfit that they became infertile and were unable to give birth. In 1941, one school reported having only three first graders as a result of the 1933 famine.
When Ukraine became independent, the government sought redress from the UN for the Holodolmor or forced famine. Their own Parliament in 2006 recognized the Holodomor had been an act of genocide against its citizens. Raphael Lemkin, a Ukrainian, had coined the term genocide in 1944 from two Latin words: genos meaning race and cider meaning to kill. In 2010, the UN court declared that a genocide had taken place. The European Parliament said it was a crime against humanity and a political famine but not genocide.

The museum was opened in 2008 on the 75th anniversary of the beginning of Holodomor. 

At the entrance to the memorial were two Angels of Sorrow which represented the guardians of the souls of those who starved.

Near the angels were 24 millstones set in a circle: They represented the source of food and life as well as a 24 hour clock which signified the 24,000 human lives ground to death daily during the Holodomor.

In the center of the millstones was a haunting statue of a young girl clutching a handful of wheat. The statue is known as the Bitter Memory of Childhood and is dedicated to the most vulnerable victims of starvation - children. Picking up the wheat leftover on the collective farm fields was considered a crime and often punishable by up to ten years in prison or even death.

As a result of the Holodomor, Ukrainian society became and has largely remained traumatized like other post-genocidal groups of people. Tens of millions of Ukrainians survived Holodomor but went through unbearable suffering and could not recover from their experiences. Their resistance was broken and they feared that famine could return any day. This remained for decades, resulting in a loss of iniative and, at a sub-conscious level, the trauma of the famine was passed on from generation to generation of Ukrainians.

I felt so ignorant as I had known nothing about this horrific period of Ukrainian history and what had been perpetrated against them by the Soviets before visiting the memorial to the famine's victims. Coming on the heels of our visit to Chornobyl just yesterday, it was unfathomable to calculate the actions yet again of the Soviet government against another segment of its own citizens.

We certainly needed something lighter after this so we returned to the beautiful St. Sophia's Cathedral which was located near our hotel. We were too late to enter it a few days ago so we wanted to make sure we saw it now.
The cathedral and monastery were built over a period of nine centuries. During its long history, it was repeatedly gutted by fire and rebuilt so that the bulk of what we saw came from restorations and additions over the centuries.

In 1990, the entire complex was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Except on rare occasions, the cathedral is not used for church services but functions as a museum.
I trust you can take my word for how lovely the interior of the cathedral was because no photos were allowed inside and I was only surreptitiously able to take the above photo showing you some of the dome.

We walked around the grounds after that and admired the Bell Tower; again, we didn't climb up.

It had been another long day but, amongst the tragedies of both Babyn Yar and Holodomor, we had the peace and serenity of both the Lavra Cave complex and St. Sophia Cathedral.