Archive for the Category Dan’s notes



How’s this for a fine group of young aspiring journalists?
These students are in the master’s level journalism program at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. They took a class on radio production that I co-taught last term. (My co-teacher, the fabulous Tanya Lockot, is on the far right in the green sweater.) If you understand Ukrainian, you can listen to their final projects here. I was quite pleased with the variety of their reports. Some looked back at history, others examined current social problems or cultural developments, and one climbed to the top of an abandoned building in downtown Kyiv.

I’ve also given a couple of lectures at other places, including the journalism departments at Zaporizhzhia National University and Kyiv’s National Aviation University, where this picture (below) was taken. The gentleman with me is Volodymyr Vladymyrov, who invited me to talk to his students. Vlad, as I call him, spent a year at the University of Missouri as a Fulbright scholar in 2003-2004.
Lecturing generally has gone pretty well. I’ve been very impressed by how well the students here understand English. They do their writing in Ukrainian, though, and my language limitations prevent me from doing much of the kind of teaching that I think is most valuable: Acting as an editor, and giving specific feedback to students on their own projects. I hope what I’m doing is still worthwhile!

Semi-wild dogs

IMG_2794 copyEver since we got here, we’ve intended to write something about the wild dogs who live on our street (and most other streets and parks of this city.) For outsiders like us, they are a startling and fascinating phenomenon: Dogs that live right in the middle of a city, side by side with humans, but which clearly are not pets. We learned very quickly to leave them alone. Soon after we arrived here, we were walking down our street and Nora saw a couple of them lying sleepily on the sidewalk. She instinctively moved toward the animals — they seemed so lovable! — and in an instant they were on their feet, barking and looking like they were ready to rip out our throats. We felt lucky to get away.

IMG_2797 copyI’m finally posting this because last week, the Financial Times published a really interesting story about the wild dogs who live in Moscow. It sounds very similar to Kyiv, although I haven’t seen any dogs riding on the Metro here.

IMG_2790 copyThe FT story doesn’t dwell on the darker side of this canine community. The dogs, especially those that live in parks, can terrorize runners and bicyclists, and menace children at playgrounds. We’ve heard that there’s increasing interest in doing something to get ride of those dogs — but no action so far.

The statue of St. Vladimir

vlad2A few months ago, I fell under the spell of Mikhail Bulgakov’s book White Guard. The book is set in Kiev and describes events that Bulgakov witnessed during the civil war that followed the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

Bulgakov was a native of Kiev, and his descriptions of “the City” are wonderfully evocative. A central image in the book, to which he returns again and again, is a statue of St. Vladimir that stands on a hill overlooking the river. When I read the book, I wasn’t sure exactly where this statue was, or if it still existed. So I was delighted to stumble onto it during a walk the other day.

Here, along with a few pictures, are two passages from White Guard.

vlad1In winter, as in no other city in the world, a calm fell over the streets and lanes and the upper City, over the hills and the lower City, sprawled out at a bend in the frozen Dnieper, and all the mechanical noise retreated into the stone buildings, which softened and muffled its growl. ….

The City played, overflowed with light, lit up, and danced, flickering all through the night until morning, when it died out and wrapped itself in smoke and haze.

But the electric white cross in the hands of the gigantic St. Vladimir on St. Vladimir’s Hill shimmered best of all ….. In the winter the cross shone in the thick black heavens and reigned coldly and calmly over the dark sloping distances of the Moscow shore, where two huge bridges crossed.

The books ends with this passage:
Vlad4The last night blossomed. In its second half its heavy blue, God’s curtain, which enrobes the world, was blanketed with stars. In the infinite height beyond this blue curtain, at the holy gates, they seemed to be serving vespers. Lights were lit at the alter, and they appeared on the curtain as crosses, in clusters and squares. Above the Dnieper, Vladimir’s midnight cross rose from the sinful, bloodied, snowy earth to the black and gloomy heights. From a distance its crossbar seemed to disappear and merge with its vertical, transforming the cross into a sharp, menacing sword.

But this isn’t frightening. All this will pass. The sufferings, agonies, blood, hunger, and wholesale death. The sword will go away, but these stars will remain when even the shadows of our bodies and our affairs are gone from this earth. There is not a man who does not know this. So why are we reluctant to turn our gaze to them? Why?

Tevye lives

tevjeIf you look for them, this country is full of ghosts — masses of people who once lived here, but were driven away or killed in war, political oppression, pogroms, or genocide. One unanswered question in today’s Ukraine is how these vanished communities will be remembered. Are the Jewish shtetls, for instance, part of Ukraine’s national story? Or some separate history?

Brigid did a radio story for The World last week about one of these vanished people, the brilliant author Sholem Aleichem, and the community that he described in his stories about Tevye’s daughters. Those stories, of course, became the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” You can listen to the story by clicking on this link.

We only realized a few weeks ago that there’s a Ukrainian stage adaptation of “Tevye’s Daughters” playing here in Kyiv, Sholem Aleichem’s home town. Grigori Gorin, a Russian author and playwright, created it several decades ago, and it’s been playing here regularly for the past twenty years. Ukraine’s most famous living actor, Bogdan Stupka, plays the lead role. We went to see it, and even though we couldn’t understand the dialogue, it was an amazing experience. There’s no singing in this version, but a lot more laughing along with the crying. It seemed closer to the spirit of the original stories. But it was also a moving and slightly disturbing experience to experience these stories in the place where they were written, where the life they describe was so horribly snuffed out.

Vote for me. I’m really, really big.


Maybe you hadn’t heard, but there’s a presidential campaign underway in Ukraine. This fellow, Sergiy Tigipko, has the biggest billboard we’ve seen.



It’s one (1) degree (fahrenheit) in Kiev right now, which is just about cold enough for me, thank you very much. But I have to say, there’s a certain charming quality about this place that emerges when it’s cold.


hatIt’s partly the classy winter clothes that suddenly emerge from storage. They make me feel like I stepped into Doctor Zhivago or something.

But also, you have to admire the simple fortitude with which people go about their business, despite a wind that feels like knife blades.

I think people may actually get more cheerful when it turns cold, as though they relish their common challenge. The other day I encountered a street musician in a long, echoing pedestrian underpass. His bare fingers were playing some beautiful guitar music, despite the freezing temperatures. I gave him ten hryvni.



We’re from Washington, DC, though. We cover ourselves with blankets.
Or we cower in a warm corner of the kitchen, in between the oven (where bread is baking) and the radiator.

Night train

IMG_2650If you want to travel to almost any other city in Ukraine, whether it’s Odessa, Lviv, or Donetsk, you get there on an overnight train. So it’s nothing special, I suppose, for Ukrainians. But when we took night trains recently from Kyiv to Lviv, and then from Kamyanets-Podilsky back to Kyiv, everything about it seemed like an adventure: Finding our train car in the dark and cold of the station; settling into our compartment; pulling out the white sheets and laying them over the narrow beds. Then the long ride through the night, the rhythmic clicking and banging of rail joints underneath us. Most of us weren’t very successful when it came to actually sleeping, so we were pretty tired when we got to our destination. But it was still fun!

Here’s a gallery of pictures from our second train trip. Clicking on them brings up a big version.

Flu update

maskThe government of Ukraine is sticking with its over-the-top reaction to H1N1: Shutting down all schools for three weeks and banning big public gatherings (except, of course, for important ones like soccer games). Although from what we hear, the rates of illness and death pretty much reflect a normal flu season. Why? Brigid looked into this for The World. You can listen to it, download it, or read the transcript at this link.

An old town like no other

During Molly and Nora’s fall break from school we decided to explore a bit of western Ukraine. Like most visitors, we visited the beautiful city of Lviv. Then we took a five-hour bus ride to the thousand-year-old city of Kamyanets-Podilsky.

The topography of the old city is singular and spectacular. It sits inside a river gorge at a point where the river (the Smotrich) makes almost a complete loop, and the walls of the gorge are like castle walls, protecting the city from intruders. And at the point where loop opens, where an old road crosses a stone bridge and enters the city, a huge fortress stands guard.

That probably worked pretty well a thousand years ago. It did not, however, protect the city from tanks and air raids during World War II. According to our Lonely Planet guidebook, occupying German forces used the old city as a prison camp, murdering tens of thousands of Jews and others. In the course of the war, large sections of the city were destroyed.

It’s still a patchwork of fixed-up and ruined buildings, and somehow that only makes the place more wild and striking. Here’s a gallery of images from our trip there. If you click on an image, you should get a larger version.

H1N1 Panic!

IMG_2643So maybe you were wondering why we suddenly are finding time to post things on our blog. (see items below.) Well! We have time on our hands! H1N1 (swine flu) reached Ukraine and government officials started competing with each other in the decisiveness department. They shut down all schools in the country for three weeks. (So Molly and Nora are staying home.) That includes universities. (So no teaching for me.) And public gatherings are banned, so we can’t even go to see a ballet performance or a musical concert.

For the first couple of days of the excitement we had no idea what was going on. We were traveling in western Ukraine, on a bus from Lviv to Kamyanets-Podilsky, and stopped in Ternopil, which happened to be ground zero of the flu outbreak. We saw people walking around wearing surgical masks and wondered what their problem was.

IMG_2639A day later, the receptionist in our hotel in Kamyanets-Podilsky was wearing a mask. So were all the workers at the pizza restaurant where we ate.

We really have no idea how serious this is. The numbers we see in the media are all over the map. Maybe Ukraine is more hard hit than other places, but maybe not. Maybe the prime minister would have done the same thing, even if she weren’t running for president of the country. Or maybe not. But we certainly see lots of people walking around with masks or scarves over their noses, hoping to keep that nasty virus out.

Meanwhile, we’re all healthy. For now. Hope it stays that way.