And it rhymes with “hryvnia.”
That’s the Ukrainian currency. And it’s worth $26 of our fabulous dollars, to be exact. Which means I can sit down at a fancy French restaurant, in Kyiv, and order a croque monsieur, with some damn good ice tea and bottled water (they don’t do tap here) and it’s only $7.50. I am a king.
Today was pretty good! Started off exploring Maidan Square, which has the taint of poverty and communism about it–a beautiful, 200 foot tall marble victory pillar built in 2001 with a 20 ton statue of Berehynia on top (a Slavic protector goddess)–right next to a tacky underground mall and posters and flyers for random events. Also, possibly pictures of people who have been killed in the protests in 2013 and 2014.
Getting some pretty strong China vibes here. Walked behind a government building to find piles of poo scattered everywhere. And this wasn’t dog poo, either.
It’s poor, but people are friendly and willing to go out of their way to take your money.
Case in point, I was strolling along and this couple approached me carrying four fluffy white pigeons, and tried to put them on me. I insisted that they not, and said firmly I’m not paying for this, but they were also adamant that I be bedecked with the pallid sky rats, so bedecked I was. They took roughly a kajillion pictures, then took the birds back and, smiles vanishing, demanded payment. I told them no. They insisted, and for some odd reason, I complied, offering about ten times less than they demanded.
But, they had their revenge. As they walked away, I felt something wet on my shoulder. I can tell you, the sun was shining, and it wasn’t rain. One of the motley critters left a deposit, and in retrospect, I noticed him looking rather pleased with himself as he departed.
I toured the various famous monuments and churches, or cathedrals–few of which had survived the loving embrace of the Soviets. A 12th century monastery had been “demolished with dynamite” to make way for the communist party headquarters in Kyiv. An even older 10th century Byzantine cathedral was nearly destroyed, but the scientists and historians of Ukraine rose up and protested so loudly the Communist Party relented. However, they still had the last say, and took it away from the church, turning it into a museum.
It was breathtaking inside. I was only able to sneak a few covert pictures, since photography wasn’t allowed inside. But the church was too astounding to heed such a warning. I asked the lady inside how old the faded murals that adorned the domed ceilings and pillared archways were, and she said over a thousand years.
I wandered about some more, meeting a man dressed as a bear, who told me he was trying to make some extra money. He was very nice, but had that hungry look that only a man living on his last crumbs can have. I gave him some money, he thanked me, and gave me a history lesson of the area in his best broken English.
He told me he was a middle school teacher, and made about $67 a month, and his rent was roughly $60 of that. I told him what my rent was, and he said he’d be “the king of Ukraine” if he had that much money. Poor guy. He said Ukrainians are very poor, and very unhappy, and that even with a new president, nothing has changed. He seemed like he had no hope.
Now I’m relaxing before the big day tomorrow–after more than a decade of fascination from a distance, I’m finally going to Chernobyl.
I can’t describe the anticipation, it’s like meeting a celebrity. I don’t know what to think. I can’t wait for it, but I don’t want it to be over either. It’s larger than life. Indeed, it is–it changed world history. After flying 6,357 miles, spending 26 hours traveling, and a further 1.5 hour bus ride, I’m going to be standing in the middle of the worst nuclear accident in the history of the world.
Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.