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Posts Tagged ‘American living in Ukraine’

Ukrainians gathered in the open-air museum of Pirogovo on July 6 to celebrate Ivana Kupala, an ancient summer holiday. Guests jumped over the fires, sang and danced to folk tunes. Young gils made flower wreaths and floated them in the water hoping to find a soulmate. (Olga Novak)

Ivana Kupala celebration in Pyrogovo

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In this post I will be taking a temporary detour Along the Back Roads of Ukraine to write about what I discovered on the roads in my own back yard.

This past week I enjoyed experiencing another of part of Ukrainian “Exceptionalism.” I witnessed how one man’s passion to help his fellow man personifies why life is good when real people care and accomplish a worthwhile project without having the government to have a hand in it.

It took an unusual chain of events with a strange twist for me to be in the audience on this particular evening.  I had received an email announcing an event that was to take place later in the week.  Since I don’t read or understand the two languages used in Ukraine well, the message found its way into the trash bin.

Thanks to Denys Osetrov, who was wearing a shirt with the words jazz and jazz news written all over it is how I learned the contents of the email I deleted.  We were standing in front of the reception desk talking about his shirt and how it would make an excellent teaching tool for my English classes when he suddenly asked if I liked jazz because there was going to be a jazz concert later in the week and did I get the email inviting everyone to attend?.

I went back to my computer and logged in to check my messages and to retrieve the email from my trash bin. I noticed that the author of the email was on Skype. I sent him a message and he asked me if I was going to the Jazz Concert?  I told him I heard about his concert, but I had jettisoned his email into my trash bin because it was written in a foreign language. He politely apologized because he hadn’t sent it to me in English.

I have known Misha Dyrda for nearly two years. We work together for an IT company in Kiev called EPAM (www.epam.com) whose slogan is: Delivering Excellence in Software Engineering. From time to time we have engaged in many interesting topics.  One of the ironies in the twisted chain of events that day was I discovered a special passion of his, Delivering Excellence by Volunteering to help raise money to buy medical equipment for kids and adults with special needs who have Cerebral Palsy by negotiating with musicians and club owners to perform and use their facilities for free.

EPAM Employees

Last night my wife and I had the pleasure to be in the audience listening to the sounds of jazz with many of my fellow EPAM co-workers enjoying the fruits of Misha’s labor of love when he presented his first concert he had arranged to raise money for CP and special needs that brought in nearly 7000 UAH for this wonderful cause!

To be continued

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My first visit to Ukraine in the fall of ’03 was a whirl wind of activity to see and experience as much as possible in 30 days.  One of the major activities was going shopping for food.  In America the environmental conscience prides themselves on all the farmer markets that are open in the summer time to sell fresh organic produce from peoples’ gardens.

Well, the farmer market concept I discovered operating in Kyiv was one doozey free enterprising outdoor marketplace that makes those weekend wonders back home in America seem pathetic in comparison. Here the outdoor markets are open year around.

Vegetable Market in Kiev

There are hundreds of these markets operating throughout the capital city of Kyiv. The first one I visited was quite large where you could buy literally almost anything, except what you really needed. You quickly become a master of improvisation to make do with what is available.  If they don’t have it, it is your problem not theirs. Ah, who doesn’t love a good mystery or challenge?  Little things I took for granted were missing here.  However, if you find the right person they probable can make anything you want at a reasonable price.  This is a land where you still can have something that is broken fixed or repaired and I mean anything from the very simple to the most complex.

I am getting ahead of myself.  I was anxious to see how the locals shopped and variety of foods that was available.  We had to walk approximately 10 minute to get to the market.  I had my trusty backpack on to carry the groceries we would be buying home.   when we arrived the market was filled with thousands of people.  I was astounded to see all the fruit and vegetables on sale. Certainly there wasn’t a shortage of food, as there was a shortage in variety.  All the produce that’s sold anywhere in the city is controlled by one supplier.  Not a bad business to control.

Being a foreigner from across the pond is wasn’t difficult to see that health standard or regulation didn’t exit.  I didn’t mind because I grew up on a farm so I wasn’t shocked by what I was seeing.  Many Americans would be quite disturbed how things are done over here.  They probably would become squeamish seeing flies all over the fresh meat, as the sellers attempt to brush them away with a small tree cutting under a hot sunny sky.  Then there were pesky little yellow jackets that have a fondness for ripe fruit were buzzing around everywhere. Americans would be running for cover, but the calm Ukrainian shoppers goes about their business without concern.

Selling fish at the market

The Ukrainians haven’t a problem with living green. It was a way of life before globalization. The majority of population is not concerned about consequences of mass produced food or about political correctness of the western world.  They are more concerned about more heady matters, like improving their day to day lives and enjoying the quantity and variety of food and goods the new market economy has provided.

However, Ukrainians are losing their organic lifestyle quite rapidly because naturally produced food is being replaced by large global agriculture conglomerates whose farming methods are far from being green.

When I first arrive to Ukraine farmers markets were filled with organic field tomatoes, vegetables, poultry, meat, and fresh fruit.  In spite of lacking sanitary safeguards it was wonderful to eat food that actually had taste for a change. You don’t hear of people dying or becoming ill from the food they eat here.  More than likely they have developed a tough constitution and have adapted quite well to their environment throughout the years.

Now when you buy vegetables at the outdoor markets from individual gardens that are grown in rural villages and pay twice as much for the pleasure, you don’t know if they are organic or they have been purchased at the local wholesale food market and resold as organic.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables from private gardens

If that isn’t sobering enough, how about falsified products produced by greedy local businessmen who bribed officials that are responsible for insuring all products meet safety and health standards. When a TV channel recently done an investigation of local butter it found that 50% of all samples of butter on sale at major supermarket chains were falsified and really wasn’t butter.

Living in Ukraine may be a lot like playing the deadly game of chance, Russian roulette or eating a Forest Gump chocolate, you don’t ever know what you are going to get.

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Throughout Ukraine there are many different fields of dreams with thousand of players.  A vast majority of these players go through life without much fanfare.  The players I speak are folk artisans that come from every nook and cranny of Ukraine.  They are an interesting breed.  Often time they appear to lack any enthusiasm whatsoever when selling their hand made products.

Nonetheless, there are artisans that are very talkative and like the idea of having their products for sale in America.  One such folk artist is from the village of Petrykivka which is in the heartland of Ukraine.  Lyubov Artyomenko carries on the tradition of Petrykivka Folk Art that was started around 1772 (four years before the United States gained its independence), in the Cossack settlement of Petrykivka (Peter).

Petrykivka Folk Artist Lyubov Artyomenko at Spring Fair 2010

She explained how the style was first developed by the women of the village. After they had whitewashed the outside of their homes, the women would paint bold beautiful colorful floral designs on the outside walls.  It became a contest to see which woman could come up with the most beautiful patterns.  Later these same styles were being used on all kinds of items like household goods (spoons, trays, chests, plates). http://ezinearticles.com/?Decorating-With-Ukrainian-Folk-Art-Collectibles—Petrykivka-Style&id=3980001

Lyubov said all Petrykivka Folk Art is about nature – mostly flowers, berries and birds.  However, the birds she paints are different from other folk artists.  Her birds are like seeing a painted dream. She uses her fingers to paint flowers and berries. In order to paint the very delicate and detailed feathers and bodies of her birds she uses special kitty fur brushes  made from the hair under the front legs of her cat (no her cat doesn’t suffer during this procedure because her cat’s hair grows back, rendering her Petrykivka Folk Art sustainable and ultra Green!).

You can see her works on sale at http://yolkstar.com/all-home-decor/petrykivka-art.  Her extraordinary Petrykivka home accents will give any kitchen a bright beautiful and bold organic natural lifestyle look.

Lyubov told us an interesting story about the symbolism of the painted Petrykivka mortar and pestle she had on sale.  It represents a happy family life and the two have to be kept together because they symbolize the nature of husband and wife. These two pieces are now a keepsake of ours.

The Fantasy Birds from Petrykivka at Pyrogovo Spring Artisans Fair 2010

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Seven years have passed since I first visited Pyrogovo.  So much has changed in my life and at Pyrogovo.  The lady I came to Kyiv to meet in 2003, we have been walking hand in hand as man and wife, living in Kyiv and enjoying our life’s second adventure for the past 6 years.

Pyrogove wind mills

Over the Victory Day Weekend 2010 we visited Pyrogovo twice.  To me the museum felt like it had lost its majestic spirit that left me spellbound and in awe of what a treasure Ukrainians possessed in Pyrogovo.  I am enthralled every time I see a windmill.  They too seemed lost.  Perhaps it was the robbery and fire back in 2006 that caused the place to seem melancholy and all the historic buildings I first stop to admire were all closed.

Just to enter and leave the museum was quite chaotic because of the volume of cars and parking problems that weren’t there in 2003.   Nonetheless, thousands of people came to attend the traditional Folk Artisans Spring Fair and many came to enjoy picnicking with family and friends.

Pyrogove Art Fair Spring 2010

On this particular weekend we came seeking new Ukrainian artisans’ products to buy and promote their talents on our E-Commerce website and discover unique items to sell during Christmas Markets in Denver and Philadelphia in America.  We left with some wonderful treasures and possibilities to explore for the future.

Tapestry artisan Yevgen Pilyugin was one of our new acquaintances. He produces unique rugs inspired by Ukrainian landscapes, from his own imagination, or his customers’ designs. He told us he had created a rug for an Arabian sheikh who ordered it for his birthday and received excellent feedback. His rugs also decorate the Residences of Ukrainian Presidents, and one hangs in the Pope’s residence in the Vatican.

Yevgen Pilyugin Tapestry

I was so impression with him and his work that I asked this uncommon man if I could have the honor to shake his hand.

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My reason to visit Ukraine was personal back in the late fall of 2003.  It was fitting that I ended my trip by visiting the outdoor museum of Pyrogovo in Kyiv to get a glimpse into Ukraine’s past and a vision into my future.

It was a cool overcast day. The night before a light dusting of snow fell and the roofs of the museum buildings glistened with their soft coats of white.  There was a sense of sadness this particular morning because I would soon be flying back to my home in Montana, leaving the lady I had corresponded with on a daily basis for 4 years behind. We felt comfortable with each other and we both knew the 4 years getting to know each other was well spent. However, the lady was having doubts whether I would ever return.

We walked hand in hand and stopped frequently to take pictures.  It was very peaceful as we strolled through the different historic buildings and she told me about the different trappings of eras gone by. It made me think about my parents, who had farmed using horses and similar tools before they could afforded to modernize.

18th century Ukrainian folk house

The houses and other buildings reminded me of how life on the prairie may have been for the early settlers, who came from all over Europe, to put down roots in the new world.

As we walked I reminisced about taking my parents on their first vacation after 40 years of marriage back to the Midwest where they were born and raised. It was on this trip back in the late 1970’s I saw my first house made of sod.  The house was build in the 19th Century and was still being lived in by a relative back in Western Nebraska.

My grandfather's house on the prairie in South Dakota, USA

There was something about the atmosphere of Pyrogovo that attached itself to my heart, mind, and soul.  It was as though I was Don Quixote coming to joust with the windmills that dotted the beautiful pastoral landscape to win the hand of the maiden he came to see.

Don Quixote on his way to joust with the windmills

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After we had unloaded all the hives from the old Soviet truck it was time to walk back home to have breakfast with our wives. Everyone was interested in knowing what my impressions were. My wife was kept very busy translating both ways as I recounted my experiences.  In a few short hours that morning I was privileged to be a part of a roundup that very few Ukrainians have experienced, let alone foreigners.  The final adventure would have to wait until noon the next day in order for the bees to have time to rest and adjust.

The morning of the Great Honey Harvest was filled with great expectations and bright sunny skies. It reminded me when I was a boy waiting for Christmas morning to arrive.  Today was just as special because I was being allowed to be a part of the honey harvest!

My friend showed me step by step what he wanted me to do.  I only understood bits and pieces what he was saying, nonetheless it was enough because I was aware of the danger.  I knew that the bees were not going to give up their honey without a struggle.

I was given protective clothing to cover my head, neck, arms and hands.  My moment in time had arrived to see if I would pass the final initiation of becoming an official Ukrainian Bee Cowboy.

Randy in his protective gear without gloves holding a frame of honey

The first hive was opened and the first frame of honey was removed.  It was my job to take it to the two men in a protective room to be processed a short distance away.  A blanket was hung in the doorway that allowed me to hand the honey frames to them and received the processed ones back to be returned to the hive.

I watched as the honeycombs were scrapped to expose the honey and then placed into the extractor with a handle.  I was given the honor of turning the crank for the first 6 panels to allow me to experience the process for myself.

One by one the frames of honey were removed and I continue to deliver them to a waiting pair of hands behind the blanket and an empty frame was handed back to be returned to the hive.

As we continued the bees begin to resent what was happening in spite of the beekeepers repeated use of smoke to calm them down.  After we finished removing the honey from the first hive we put the lid back on and moved on the second hive.  In the meantime the colony of bees in the first hive sent out scouts to find their missing honey.  They didn’t go far from their hive at first.  All continued to go well without any problems.  It wasn’t until we were half way through raiding the third hive that the war began.  I was now the target of their anger.  My friend had his smoke canister to protect him.

Honey being removed from the hive to be processed

I had the evidence on my gloves and it was becoming more difficult every time I took a new panel to be processed.  My protective gear was being tested and the bees were not to be deterred. They swarmed around my face trying to get at me under the netting.  My protective gloves were covered with bees.  I stood calmly without moving for a time as the buzzing of the bees grew louder and louder.  It was amazing how I could stand there so calmly and not be frightened. I hadn’t ever experienced the likes of this before.

My friend seeing what was happening motioned with his hands for me to leave the area.  He was concerned about my safety and didn’t want me to get stung. He too was under attack, but he had gone through this many times before.

As I left the area I was moving my hands wildly to keep them from following.  Many turned back to the hive. However, there were a few that weren’t through with me and followed me everywhere I went.  They were very persistent and wanted the honey I stole on my gloves.

Honey frame

Honey frame with bees

I remained outside far from the action for some time before returning.  I was replaced by one of the men behind the blanket. When I returned a few bees were still following me and I was met by more angry bees that were still defending their homeland.  After the third hive was finally harvested it was decided to stop for the day and let the bees settle down.  Today the bees stalled the inevitable, but tomorrow would be another day for the real bee wranglers without their foreign understudy.

As we drove out of the little city with jars of honey from my adventure we left with memories of Olena’s parents who took us in and made us feel like family.  To the other Bee Cowboys I have nothing but respect for them.  They allowed me the opportunity to share the magic of being a beekeeper and they accepted a complete stranger, an American traveler to come along for the ride!

Yes, I did leave with a few battle scars.  A couple of bees did pierce my protective armor and left their mark on my neck just below my right ear.

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