Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Soviet concrete

It is a complete anachronism to drive in a (relatively) modern bus along a (pothole-filled) highway past farms and fields being ploughed by horse and tilled by hand. This morning we drove from Ternopil (a very proud, very Ukrainian city) to Chernivtsi, where we are staying in an old Soviet piece of concrete. Technically it is a Intourist hotel, part of the old Soviet Ministry of tourism, but it is a fine example of what an over-enthusiastic cement-mixer can do in the hands of a communist architect. The rooms are in exactly the same state as they were when it was built in the 1950's, complete with bright red Soviet phone and the original light fixtures. The atrium is a little like a cruise ship, and the room instructions are in a variety of ex-Soviet languages (including, of course, a little Spanish for the visiting Cubans...).

Ternopil's highlight was the museum, which has a complete skeleton (the original, not a plaster replica) of a woolly mammoth found in the region. There were numerous paleolithic and neolithic artifacts from archaeological sites in the Ternopil area, old stone icons that had been thrown into the river when Christianity set in, and, most powerful to me, an incredibly powerful and moving set of artifacts and artwork depicting the initial invasion of the Red Army in the 30's (greeted as potential liberators, but when they put people in prisoncamps, realized to be tyrants), and then the invasion by Nazi Germany (again, initially greeted as liberators from the Soviets, but hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians - Jews and Gentiles alike - were sent to concentration and deathcamps). There is a very strong sense of centuries of persecution and war, and atrocities from all sides.

Perhaps the reason for this is the Ukrainian geography. There are no natural borders around this country - no clear delineation by mountain ranges, bodies of water. Just long, rolling hills full of fertile soil...

Many people still use horse and cart, and the old people take the family cows for walks along the side of the road, which is really quite charming. Families of geese wander the streets, and the old women gather in groups to clearly gossip and catch up. The ghosts of concrete and brick collectives are seen dotting the country-side, with old factory towers and grain elevators that have fallen into disrepair, ransacked and destroyed in the last decade since independence.

Tomorrow we're off to Moldova - wine cellars, ancient cave monastaries, and hopefully a little less Soviet concrete...

1 comment:

Juliane said...

Hi Delphine!
This all sounds incredibly fascinating! What a fabulous trip - I'm enjoying keeping up with you :)
We miss you here ... have fun!