Autumn in Ukraine

There (Here?) And Back Again

Last week we made an impromptu trip to New York (again) for some business (again). We had another lovely stay at an apartment rented through AirBnb. We’ve stayed at AirBnb places five times now, twice in NYC and three places during our EuroRoadTrip this summer. It’s been mostly positive experiences–affordable, interesting, more personal than a hotel, and often you meet neat people. Plus, it allows us to cook for ourselves, which we generally prefer (though a year ago I never thought I’d prefer doing my own cooking–who am I?!).

peeling paint in the East Village

Now we’re back in Ukraine, but Thursday we’ll hop on the ol’ train back to Kiev to head to Dallas for my dissertation defense on October 19th! My head is all a-whirl with the packing, unpacking, packing, laundry, unpacking… I forget what stage of that we’re in currently, but it’s nearly impossible to locate any single item of clothing I want to wear.

Between that, the trailer for Peter Jackson’s upcoming awesomeness (Part 4 of 6!), and re-re-re-reading the beginning of The Hobbit last night, plus all the moving around… and there you have the blog post title.

In the midst of all this crazy, several friends took us out in the countryside surrounding Kharkov yesterday. It was fantastically beautiful, walking through a forest of tall trees beginning to flame into bright yellow, leaves softly falling to the ground while we looked for mushrooms–or rather, wandered aimlessly in the gorgeousness and managed not to get lost. Then we headed to the river, cooked sausages (stuffed with SWISS CHEESE, so amazing) over a fire, picked some grapes, and finally met a Ukrainian babushka before heading back. It was heavenly, a perfect fall day–and just in the nick of time, since it’s cold and rainy and dark today.

Autumn in Ukraine

I’ve turned in my full dissertation–boy is THAT surreal to say!–and am working on my slideshow for my 20-minute presentation to my committee during my defense. And trying to fathom life after PhD… but really, who has time when there’s all this unpacking/packing to do?


Vanilla Spice Coconut Protein Cupcakes

Wow, that’s a lot of modifiers for one recipe… but the only other fitting name would be “Yummy Cupcakes of Goodness,” which isn’t nearly as specifically descriptive. They taste like an awesome mix of vanilla cupcakes and zucchini bread, not too sweet but still dessert-y. I mashed up a couple of protein-powder-based desserts and pancakes I’ve made in the past with Tone It Up’s Coconut Carrot Cupcakes, and made a couple substitutes for things I can’t easily find here in Ukraine.

They’re SUPER filling and very tasty, quite moist as long as you quickly cover them after cooking. The only problem I’ve had cooking them has been that I don’t have true cupcake pans, only mini bundt cake pans, which means the middles take a lot longer to cook. If you use cupcake pans, cook as listed in the recipe below. If you use larger mini-cake pans (about 4″ across), they’ll probably take you 4 minutes longer, but check them earlier just in case.

vanilla protein cupcakes

Don’t forget to grease or line the pans–these dense cakes are hard to get out!

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 14-17 minutes (until fork in the middle comes out clean).

  • 1/2 cup vanilla whey protein powder
  • 1/4 cup vanilla casein protein powder*
  • 1/4 cup flour**
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes (non-sweeted)
  • 1 tBsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp chai spices***
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tBsp vanilla sugar****
  • 3 whole eggs (med-large)*****
  • 1/4 cup olive oil******
  • 1/2 cup sour cream*******
  • splash of milk, 1% (around 2 tBsp, whatever you need for correct batter thickness)

*If you don’t have casein powder, you can just add in this much more flour… but honestly, try the casein, it’s soooo much more long-lasting of a protein and YUMMY!

**I’m using white flour because it’s hard to find anything else, but I’d LOVE to try ground oatmeal, or try rice flour for a gluten-free option. Christina or Kait, you willing to try that and get back to me? ūüėČ ¬†

***I have the chai spices on-hand, so I’m substituting it for 1/4 tsp nutmeg & pinch of cloves. I think any of these warm, Christmas-y spices in similar amounts would work well.

****Vanilla sugar is a flavored sugar here–it’s used instead of liquid vanilla extract, which I’ve never seen in Ukraine. The original recipe ALSO calls for 1/3 cup sugar, which I used a couple drops of Stevia for, but the second time around I didn’t use either, because our vanilla protein powders are SO sweet. If yours isn’t, try adding a little Stevia or sugar to taste–but you don’t need much. If you’re using regular sugar, maybe add a tsp of vanilla extract and work up from there.

*****So the recipe actually calls for 2 egg whites, I think jumbo size. I hate, hate, HATE wasting yolks, and I only have teeny-tiny eggs in Ukraine, so I figured 3 whole eggs was a reasonable substitute. Texture-wise, it seems okay. If I was cooking this in the states, I’d personally use 2 jumbo eggs.

******This was supposed to be canola oil. I tried the recipe both using olive oil and using butter, and olive oil created a far superior texture. I thought the taste a teensy bit odd, but The Hubs loves it.

*******Yes, another substitution! This should be plain Greek yogurt, which I think would be stellar. However, the sour cream is surprisingly great in this recipe. 

frosted protein cupcake

The frosting helped further moisten the cakes–truly yum-tastic!

For the frosting, I’ve tried a chocolate version and a lemon glaze. I didn’t measure anything, just mixed until it felt right each time.

Chocolate frosting:

  • chocolate casein protein powder (it sets up better than whey)
  • cocoa powder (1:2 up to 1:1 for cocoa-to-casein ratio)
  • water
  • powdered sugar (not much!)
  • butter (not much!)

Lemon glaze:

  • lemon juice
  • vanilla casein protein powder (this was odd texturally, maybe I’ll try the vanilla whey next time)
  • powdered sugar
  • tiny bit of butter (i’d eliminate this, next time)

I’m curious to hear the results with Greek yogurt in the batter, rice flour, and other configurations of the with or without substitutions. If you try this out, please let me know!

In the meantime: Many Happy Noms to you!

Also try: Protein-Powder Brownies

The Katyn Massacre

You might have read the¬†AP News story¬†about¬†recently de-classified documents revealing that the U.S. government knew about Soviet Russia’s¬†Katyn Massacre of 22,000 Polish officers as early as 1943. As a former government documents librarian, anything in the news about “govdocs” catches my eye. However this particular story is close to home, literally:¬†I live near one of the massacre sites.

map of Katyn massacre

Map showing Katyn Massacre sites. We live in Kharkov, circled in purple.

Here’s a timeline related to Katyn, pulled together from several sources, including this AP story:

  • September 1939: Germany invades Poland, starting WWII; USSR and Germany secretly agree to divide Poland; Soviets capture thousands of Polish officers and citizens and deport them to the USSR (internment camps in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine)
  • March 1940:¬†in a¬†letter, Stalin approves NKVD (Soviet secret police)¬†order to “liquidate” all Polish POWs
  • April-May 1940: the Katyn Massacre: Soviet secret police kill 22,000 Polish POWs and dump their bodies in mass graves in multiple locations, Katyn Forest being one of the largest
  • Summer-Fall 1941: Germany invades the Soviet Union, overtaking the area around Katyn Forest in September (see map); Russia joins the Allies
  • April 1943: Nazi Germany announces finding mass graves at Katyn and blames Russia, hoping to weaken agreement between the Allies
  • May 1943: Germans bring American and British POWs to see the advanced decomposition of Polish victims at Katyn and other evidence that they were killed in 1940, proving they were killed by the Soviets before Germany invaded in 1941; soon after, the American send coded messages to the U.S. government indicating that they believed the Nazis and had seen proof that the USSR was at fault
  • May 1945: World War II ends, American POWs file written report on Katyn (which is lost)
  • 1951-1952: U.S. Congressional Committee investigates the Katyn Massacre (including more testimony from the POWs); it concludes Soviet guilt
  • April 1990: Mikhail Gorbachev publicly admits Soviet guilt for Katyn and releases related documents
  • September 10, 2012:¬†NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) releases declassified Katyn-related documents that show the Roosevelt administration knew of Soviet guilt as early as 1943, but ignored this information to preserve the alliance with Stalin

The main site of the¬†Katyn Massacre took place at Smolensk (Russia), near the Katyn forest. The other locations of simultaneous Polish mass murders in the USSR were Tver (Russia), Minsk (Belarus), three cities in Ukraine: Kiev, Kherson, and where we now live: Kharkov. (Kharkov is 460 miles south of the Katyn area.) Below is a map showing the mass grave sites in Kharkov relative to the memorial, and where we live (click to enlarge).¬†The mass grave sites are marked A, B, and E. In¬†red text, I added the location of the memorial, our apartment, Alex’s office, and the main square.

Kharkov map with Katyn memorial

Kharkov map¬†from the book¬†God’s Eye.

This is what happened at Kharkov. Under orders from Stalin, the NKVD¬†brought 4,300 Polish people from a Soviet internment camp in Ukraine called Starobielsk and killed them in¬†Piatykhatky.¬†At the time, Piatykhatky was a village 8 miles north of Kharkov; it’s now a suburb within the Kharkov city limits. The victims (3,820 soldiers and 480 civilians) were originally buried there, and were rediscovered by children playing in the woods during the 1950s and 1960s. The site is now a¬†Katyn memorial; I visited it shortly after moving to Kharkov last November. The memorial also honors 2,100 Ukrainian victims of Stalin’s purges, primarily¬†intellectuals killed there during 1937-38. The memorial is moving and inclusive; sculptures there represent the various faiths of all buried there: a Western cross, an Eastern Orthodox cross, a star of David, and a crescent moon. The name of each Polish victim is engraved on a separate plaque set in the ground.

Katyn memorial

Just one small section of Kharkov’s Katyn Memorial. This wall is devoted to the 2,100 murdered Ukrainians, with an Orthodox cross. The rusting wall symbolizes the blood shed there.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has recently made a huge effort to find and make public all documents related to the Katyn Massacre, including declassifying many documents previously unseen by the public. Many of these were released this Monday; there is a NARA webpage devoted to Katyn as well as a documents finding aid. NARA has also uploaded an old documentary on Katyn to YouTube (see video below). It centers around the “mystery” of Katyn, when Russia was still blaming Nazi Germany for the massacre. (Here’s a 1979 article from the Journal of Historical Review examining the mystery of what happened to the 10,000 Polish citizens not found at the Katyn site.) The truth was only made public in 1990 when Mikhail¬†Gorbachev officially admitted Russian guilt for Katyn.

Related Documents:

What’s notable about the NARA record release is that it proves that the U.S. government was aware during the war that Russia, not Germany, was responsible for the Katyn Massacre. In 1943, two American prisoners of war were taken by their German captors into the Russian forest to see the bodies of the Polish victims. Their advanced state of decomposition, and artifacts accompanying the bodies that were clearly dated from 1940, indicated to the POWs that the Nazis were in fact telling the truth, that the Katyn massacre had occurred before Germany had invaded this part of Russia. The POWs accounts were sent to the U.S. via code in 1943. But the U.S. claimed ignorance to preserve its alliance with Stalin, in order to win World War II. Descendants of the victims have attempted to prove this for years, and the NARA document release finally proves them correct.

In a related tragedy, do you remember the April 2010¬†plane crash that killed the president of Poland and his cabinet? Sadly, they were on their way to Russia for a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre. The US made a resolution to commemorate this event. As a diplomatic show of solidarity with Poland, Russia published documents related to the Katyn Massacre online. The archive includes the¬†letter¬†(see first page below) detailing the plan to “liquidate” Soviet internment camps, which was signed by high-ranking Soviet officials, including Stalin. You can see Stalin’s signature on the left, I believe it’s the top one: –ė.–í. –°—ā–į–Ľ–ł–Ĺ—É in Cyrillic.

Katyn letter

Letter indicating plan to dispense with all Polish citizens held at Russian internment camps.

So that’s the long, sad tale.¬†It’s grimmer fare than I usually write, but I wanted to share because I was impressed by the memorial last year, but didn’t really understand the story behind it. Now that it’s been in the news, and I’ve spent a few days researching the history and finding related government documents from both sides, I wanted to put the story out there. It’s different being here, where something of this magnitude happened, different than reading in a book. Just like our visit to Chernobyl this summer, which I’ve yet to write about. History isn’t some dry list of facts and dates in a dusty old book, history is¬†life that happened to real people.

Art of Packing 2: Euro Road Trip!

I’ve posted before about how to pack for conferences, but it’s a whole other ballgame when you’re vacationing. It’s particularly interesting in this case: we were¬†gone for two weeks, driving through six countries with varied climates. We stayed at a couple places with laundry facilities (thank you, AirBnb!), so that helped… although we did scramble and wash clothes in the sink at a hotel in Nice when our plans changed last-minute.


The trickiest part was packing enough options that a) I was warm (and dry!) in the Swiss Alps and cool on southern France beaches, as well as b) not completely bored of wearing the same three outfits… while still keeping it light. I packed everything for Alex and myself into our small carry-on suitcase (20″ Travel Pro roll-aboard), my Jo Totes camera bag (doubles as purse/tote-bag), and Alex’s camera gear backpack. On a larger flight, we wouldn’t have had to check any luggage–but since this was a tiny plane, we had to check the rollaboard. At least it¬†all fit in our rental car easily (along with a James, a Bryce, and their luggage)–and when we had to lug it up five flights of stairs to various apartments/hotel rooms without elevators, it wasn’t too bad.

Clothes I Packed:

  • 1 pair long jeans (for the plane, colder climates)
  • 1 pair shorts
  • 1 skirt (also doubles as a mini-dress)
  • 1 beige tank top (with SEQUINS for fun!)
  • 3 black t-shirts (1 plain, 1 with a front print, 1 with a studded feather design)
  • 2 3/4-length shirts (1 black, 1 teal, to throw over tank or t-shirts)
  • 1 long-sleeved knit shirt (I ordinarily don’t pack soooo many layers, but we went through a LOT of climates)
  • 1 long-sleeved wrap (to layer over the long-sleeved shirt in the Alps, and wear on the airplane)
  • 2 scarves (for warmth & fun! I also use these as blankets on cold airplanes. Or skirts, beach coverups, etc… My rule is always pack a scarf, preferably two.)
  • 1 bikini + extra halter top (swim top doubles as a shirt on hot days)
  • workout clothes: shorts & tank top¬†(double as PJs), headband
  • 1 pair waterproof tennis shoes for hiking/walking/working out
  • flip-flops and sunglasses for beaches
  • for Alex: 6 Under Armour “Catalyst” shirts¬†in various colors (50+ UPF sun protection, moisture-wicking, and quick dry after washing!), 1 pair khaki shorts, 1 pair jeans, 1 button-down short-sleeve shirt, bathing suit.

What I Wished I’d Packed:

  • 1 minidress for fancy days, beach coverup (I bought one in Venice, so it made a nice souvenir… just wish I’d had one earlier on the trip.)
  • 1 pair nice flats — I went back and forth on this, and decided to leave them behind to make more room–but MAN did I get sick of wearing sneakers. Again, I bought a nice pair of wedge sandals in Nice, but before that I was frustrated by my lack of choices.
  • light parka — I always go back and forth about taking an umbrella. We have two small travel umbrellas; one is so light that it’s useless in wind–the other is small and sturdy, but heavy. I ended up packing neither, but a light rainproof windbreaker would have been nice in Switzerland… unfortunately, my only parka is still in Dallas.
  • for Alex, we ended up buying sunglasses and some nice sandals in Nice.

For vacation, I abide by the same packing rule as for work: plan a clothing color palette¬†(see the linkApartment Therapy has some great ideas for doing this). For professional trips, I usually go with black/grey/red. For this trip, I went with black/beige/teal/orange, and it was a nice change–felt very summery! I concentrated the color pops of teal and orange in the accessories: my Jo Totes bag, scarves, jewelry, one of the shirts, and the skirt. It gave me a good mix-and-match, although by the time I bought the colorful minidress, I was reeeeeally happy to wear something different! Next time, I’ll bring the dress from the get-go.

Non-Clothes We Packed:

  • minimal jewelry (2 necklaces, 2 pairs earrings), makeup, liquids
    • we bought sunscreen once we got to France
    • I often buy at least one piece of jewelry and/or scarf on a trip, so I try to pack realizing I’ll bring back more.
  • 2 iPads (in lieu of laptops: for email, blogging, storing digital photos/videos, notes for dissertation, watching movies, reading ebooks)
    • If we were less tech-dependent, or more patient, we could easily make do with 1 iPad. But since we each have one, and they’re light, and this was two weeks… I’m really glad we each had one to use in the evenings!
  • Alex’s Nikon D-800
  • my Nikon D-7000
  • Alex’s Hassleblad + film (yeah, he’s old school like that!)
  • assorted lenses — (since Alex primarily stuck with his 17-35mm wide-angle and I stuck with our zoom-a-riffic 28-300mm, I think the only other we should have packed was our trusty 50mm)
  • Alex’s tripod + camera attachments
  • assorted camera accessories, straps, blah blah blah
  • our iPhones (Alex’s has a travel SIM; we both have Ukraine SIMs)
  • USB cables, chargers, etc. for electronics
  • Belkin mini-surge-protector with USB chargers (best electronic travel accessory EVER–attach one plug adapter and you can charge 5 items simultaneously in any country!)
  • multi-plug-adapter — (we have sets with lots of plug tips, but this one is compact and best for multi-country travel; ours is similar to this one)

More Useful Travel-Related Stuff

I used¬†CamScanner Pro¬†on my iPhone to take photos of the most useful pages from our print guidebooks and combine them into a PDF. Much lighter than lugging those guidebooks in our suitcase! (I didn’t finish in time to ditch all the print books, but it helped.) I also use this app to keep high-res scans of our passports on-hand–just in case. If you travel a lot and find yourself needing to make PDFs, save receipts for reimbursement, sign documents, or scan stuff, etc., this app is well worth the $5 cost.

I have to admit, even knowing Kharkov’s time zone is 8 hours ahead of Texas’s CST, it’s hard for my brain to figure out good times for Skype calls–even more so during our trip when we were hopping countries! A tool I’ve been using to help schedule virtual meetings is The World Clock Meeting Planner. Sure, I could use the world time clocks on my laptop or iPhone, but this tool lays it all out with good suggestions, letting you select multiple time zones.

view out our room in Trento

I mentioned AirBnb earlier–we used this website/app to rent apartments in Bern, Marseilles, and Venice. This saved us some money (especially since there were 4 of us!), but it was also nice because 1) we were able to do laundry, 2) we could use the kitchens to cook, saving money and getting better nutrition than eating out all the time, 3) we had living areas with space to relax, and 4) we got to meet and talk to locals. We also stayed at an amazing 18th-century¬†villa in Trento, facing a mountainside vineyard, that served a great free breakfast, where we all stayed in a charming room named “Fabio” (really!), for only $25 USD each. An amazing deal, courtesy of

Once we got home, in addition to dumping all our clothes in the wash, I took out all our go-to travel gear (ziplock bags of liquids, extra contacts, luggage locks, electronic adapters/chargers) and put them in our Travel Drawer. I started this habit when Alex started flying between Ukraine and the US every 2-3 weeks, so that I always knew where our luggage scale was, and it’s been super-handy in Kharkov. I just dump all travel-related items in the drawer–no fancy organizers, just one big place to keep it all. I also keep sample-sized makeup in there so that I can quickly grab a travel bag of “girlie stuff.” Some might call it prepared or organized… it’s really just a way to enable my proclivity for packing procrastination!

Finally, here’s a great idea I’m planning to adopt–leave a photo on your camera (or phone!) with your contact information, in case it’s lost. I love that this guy does it in a fun, humorous way… although I think I’ll use far fewer photos for mine! I also write my email address on our scuba gear in permanent marker. That way, if we drop a fin, mask, snorkel, etc. in the ocean, another diver may run across it and let us know.

Ukraine Diaries

Having our pal James visiting us here in Kharkov is reminding me of all sorts of Ukrainian tidbits I haven’t shared yet in the Ukraine FAQ. So here are some of the more interesting, surprising, and funny aspects of life here. (Despite this post title, we haven’t seen Chernobyl¬†Diaries¬†yet, though we did roll our eyes at the trailer before leaving on our Chernobyl tour. Started going through our photos and will post on the experience soon.)


The water here isn’t drinkable, due not only to bacteria, but to heavy metals. The suggestions I’ve seen online range from boiling it from 5 to 15 minutes, and even then, there’s a bunch of mineral sediment that ends up settling at the bottom of your pan. Even locals boil it before using, or drink bottled water; we have a service that delivers big bottles once a week for our water cooler. (Every time I fill a glass of water at the cooler, I feel like I should be discussing a Dilbert cartoon with a coworker.) We go through water pretty quickly, when you consider that we not only drink it, but use it for cooking and–weirdest of all–to brush our teeth. Let me tell you, it feels downright luxurious when we visit the states and can brush our teeth with tapwater!


Attending ballets or opera, it’s fun at the end when the audience applauds. It may just be a Kharkov thing, but everyone’s always super-enthusiastic at performances, and after about 30 seconds of clapping, everyone starts to clap to the same¬†rhythm, as though we’re at a camp sing-a-long.

What’s really funny is flying. When you’re taking off or landing in an airplane, any and all Ukrainians on board clap. In fact, lately we’ve heard actual whoops and hollers of approval, as though someone just scored a goal. This puzzled us to no end, until we asked a Ukrainian friend what it was all about. He said that for some reason, they thought this was something Americans did! He also expressed his disapproval of the timing of most people’s landing applause. Most people clap as soon as the plane touches down, but he says you should really wait until the plane’s slowed down and you’re sure the landing is a good one. Hey, that makes an odd sort of sense to me!

Stuff in Bags That Shouldn’t Come in Bags

You know how milk comes in cartons or jugs, mayonaise and other condiments come in jars, and sour cream comes in tubs? Well, you can sometimes find them packaged that way, but all of them come in bags more often. Yeah. Thin plastic baggies full of liquid or semi-liquid contents, thus making them quite squishy. I can’t get over how odd and amusing I find this. For one thing, if you only use a little of the stuff in the bag, it’s really hard to store it. These are non-re-sealable bags. I ended up folding over the top of the mayo, clipping it with a paper clip, and sticking it in a zipock for good measure, but I wonder how the locals manage it. Given the avid consumption of both mayo and sour cream, though, they might simply use up an entire bag each time.


I love the quaint old-fashioned quality of the overnight trains in particular. There are several classes of travel, indicating if you’ll sit up in a chair all night, versus multiple bunks per cabin, versus a cabin with only two beds. The trains usually have a narrow rug running down the hallway, outdated curtains on the windows, and bizarrely-upholstered bunks. The decor, added to the little “train ladies” (as Alex and I call the attendants for each train car, usually women) that offer you tea or coffee before bed, makes it feel like you’re staying overnight at someone’s grandmother’s house. (Only to be fair, most grandmothers’ bathrooms are much cleaner than the train bathrooms.) The train attendants even get you up in the morning before the train arrives, and sometimes play old Ukrainian or Russian songs through the intercom. The typical overnight journey from Kharkov to Kiev takes 8 hours.

It’s hard to get a more dramatic contrast than the new high-speed day trains. They’re a huge jump in price from the regular day-trains, but at least they’re significantly more comfortable. The best aspect are the power outlets at every row–and the wifi would be nice if it was more reliable. Everything’s shiny and clean and sleek and modern–no curtains on these big windows! These trains are even accessible, with wheelchair ramps, larger bathrooms, and spaces for the wheelchairs to be locked in.


I’ve shopped a fair amount in western Europe (my husband is groaning and nodding his head in agreement, but just ignore him)–but it’s completely different here. The most similar aspect is the variety of little stores, versus mega-conglomerate-department-empires like Target (how I miss thee!). But at most of these little stores, all the products are behind the counter. While this has the benefit of prodding me into using Russian more, it’s frustrating to this Gen-X consumer who likes to browse and find things herself. You can’t always even see all of the products available, so sometimes you have to ask, or even know if the store might carry a particular item. Heaven help you if you need medicine, because Ukrainian pharmacy attendants have a reputation for being, shall we say, gruff. They want a complete list of symptoms, how long you’ve had them, and what you’ve tried before they’ll let you buy anything remotely medicinal. (I stock up on over-the-counter pain meds when we’re in the states to avoid this when possible.)

What’s funny about grocery shopping in particular is that I’ve yet to see a conveyer belt at the cash register–so as items are rung up, you’re constantly moving back and forth to bag your purchases and move the un-purchased stuff closer to the checkout person. When exchanging money, either paying or taking back change, you place it on a little tray on the counter–people look at you super-strangely if you try to directly hand them money. I love that they ask if you want bags or not–they charge if you need them, so usually I bring a large tote for random errands and 2 – 4 large reusable plastic bags for groceries. I’m not sure if this started as an environmental measure or a cost-saving one, but in either case, I approve!


photo from the Jagran Post

Now, an aspect that several people have asked about recently: Ukrainian, or Russian? We’re in eastern Ukraine, which speaks primarily Russian (although most paperwork and lots of signs are in Ukrainian). In western Ukraine, it’s primarily Ukrainian, which is the official langage of the country overall, regardless of what people speak on this side! Kiev, being both the capital and in the center of the country, seems to use both frequently. The difference in city names/pronunciations that you might have noticed between what I use and EuroCup announcers is usually because they’re using the Ukrainian version. Kharkov (–•–įŐĀ—Ä—Ć–ļ–ĺ–≤) is Russian, and Kharkiv (–•–į—Ä–ļ—Ė–≤) is Ukrainian.

Recently there was a vote on this issue, making Russian a secondary official language (despite its wide use here in the east, it was never “official”). There’s a huge amount of controversy over this issue, because to some Ukrainians, speaking Ukrainian is a big part of reclaiming their cultural heritage. Even those who speak primarily Russian in Kharkov say that songs and poetry are better in Ukrainian, which is apparently more lyrical. Ukraine has a complicated relationship with Russia, as you might expect given soviet times, so speaking Russian is a proud tradition for some and a reminder of cultural oppression for others. Hence, when the vote came through, a huge fight broke out in the Ukrainian parliament–just watch this video!

in Ukraine, politics get positively gymnastic! (AFP photo from

We’re learning Russian, because that’s what most people speak in Kharkov. We can read some signs in Ukrainian, but the character set is slightly different, and although there are some shared words, there are many more that aren’t.

I’ll have to save more of my observations for another post. Until then,¬†–ī–ĺ —Ā–≤–ł–ī–į–Ĺ–ł—Ź!