Sunday, 24 April 2016

My experiences in Ukraine. Part 1 – Welcome to Crimea

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Flag of Ukraine. Flag of Ukraine. Photo: Jørgen Deleuran

About his first trip to Ukraine, namely the peninsula Crimea, the Danish journalist and editor Joergen Deleuran recounts.

Sometime in the early 1990s, I had to make a radio broadcast about nuclear power. There was once again some thoughts about that Denmark should introduce this kind of energy. During my research, I was of course also in touch with the problems of Chernobyl and the catastrophe that happened. But I also got other information about Ukraine, which at that time was a country which I only knew very little about. However, from the information I could conclude that this was a country with a very interesting history as well as culture and nature. Therefore, I decided that I had to go there some day.

As with so many other wishes my dream to visit Ukraine did not come true right away. Actually I didn't realize my dream before 12 years later. I had found some old books among my things. One of them was an atlas which I started looking in. Then I once again came to mind my previous desire to visit Ukraine, and I began to study the map to get an idea of where I could go. Kyiv was of course obvious, but on the other hand I would like to see some of the country's nature. I discovered that there was made a cross on Crimea with a pensil. It was not a cross made by me. Once I bought the atlas in an antiquarian bookshop, so it had to be the previous owner who had done it.

That's where I want to go

On Internet I discovered more about Crimea. What I already knew about the place was that it was here the Yalta Conference was held after the 2nd World War, and that Crimea also was home to the Black Sea Fleet. But the more I found out about Crimea, the more excited I became. It was simply the place I wanted to go to.

curiousua com ukraine crimea sevastopol black sea fleet photo joergen deleuran

Two ships of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. 

When I had made the decision, I started looking for contacts in Crimea and found someone who could help me to arrange train tickets from Kyiv to Simferopol and hiring an apartment. In fact I had decided to fly to Kyiv and take a look at the city before I moved on to Crimea. I decided to go by train, because I'd like to try a long train journey, where I could get the experience to see some of the country.

From 19 degrees to 33

Well arrived at Boryspil Airport, I was together with the other passengers taken to Terminal B, where I waited a while on my luggage. Then I put myself in line at passport control. Inside their glass cages officers received the people's passports. They looked very carefully at passport photo and face. Then again at the photo and then again at the face. Such like 4-5 times before it was clear to them that the passport belonged to the person who stood in front of the officer. When it was my turn, I was among other questions asked where I was staying during my stay. I told him that I should stay in an apartment and from whom I had rented it. The officer nodded, and I was allowed to proceed to the customs. Here I was greeted by a friendly smiling woman who asked me to open my suitcase. She took a quick look and then wished me a nice stay in Ukraine.

ukraine curiousua com boryspil airport kyiv photo joergen deleuran

Boryspil Airport's Terminal B. 

Out on the square in front of Terminal B, I quickly found the bus which drove to the southern terminal of the railway station. The trip took 45 minutes, and part of it was done on the 4-lane highway, along the sides of which are placed huge billboards. On one of these commercials Carlsberg welcomed me to Kiev. However, I had no thoughts about drinking Danish beer during my stay. Should I get the desire for beer, it would obviously be Ukrainian beer.

The southern terminal of the railway station proved to be a big, impressive and modern building that rose high into the sky with huge glass windows on the facade. Just outside there was a small church on its own refuge in the middle of the roadway. Also the church was newly built and very nice, standing there with its golden dome.

ukraine curiousua com railway station kyiv photo joergen deleuran

Kyiv Railway Station, southern terminal. 

I looked around in the neighborhood, took some pictures, and went to the supermarket, which is located opposite the railway station and on whose facade there was a great advertisement for Carlsberg. Then I sat on one of the benches outside the station and ate my food and looked at the life around me. It was a lovely warm evening in early August, and there were many people on the streets. Everything breathed peace and harmony, and I felt really comfortable. When I five hours earlier arrived at the airport, I came to 33 degrees heat. Came from a cool summer with 19 degrees, rain and wind.

Once it was new

Shortly before 11 o'clock p.m. I went to the platform from where my train would run. The platform was filled with people; women, men, children. Young girls and young boys, old women and ditto men. We all waited for the train to the south. As the train rolled into the station, I could see that it was characterized by the fact that it once had been new - once, long time ago. It also looked so inside where the interior was worn but usable. In the wagons corridor there was a carpet in an indefinable grayish color with longitudinal blue and yellow stripes on each side.

This was what I would call a protective carpet, because under that carpet the real carpet lay, which was very nice, what you could see when the protective carpet – wich in each end of the hallway was attached to the floor with metal band - slipped slightly to side, as people walked on it. Now and then the train crew pulled the protective carpet back in place, so the real carpet didn't become worn. On the right side of the corridor there was windows, on the left side the compartments. Sleeping compartments for four people. Four bunk beds, a table by the window, blankets and pillows, various devices for placement of clothes and other items. In the compartment there was already a woman and a man. I put the luggage into the room that was under the lower bunk bed. That way it could not disappear while I slept. At least not without dragging me out of the bunk.

OK, it was not first class

A train hostess came in with sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases and towels - all gleaming white and clean, so it was a contrast to everything else in the train which, for many years, had not been painted or maintained more than the bare essentials. When you went to the toilet, it was obvious that something similar existed there. With the only difference that the toilet seemed like the last time it was clean was, when the train was new. It was not here, you would sit and read the newspaper for half an hour. OK, I had no ticket to first class where conditions were somewhat different. But I've never been fastidious, so I looked at it as an experience.

The train set in motion and slowly began to leave the station. I ate a little and drank spring water. Looked out of the window into the night. I lay down reading in a book. People addicted to tobacco smoking had to go to the corridor that connects two wagons. When one had finished smoking, the rest of the cigarrette was thrown on the metal floor and the glow was trodden out. There were no ashtrays. At intervals, the staff took the besom that stood in the corner, and cleaned the floor.

Rocked to sleep

The passengers went to sleep. I too crawled to bed and lay there in the warm night and rocked as the train moved. On my way through the vast country, on my way to my goal, which I would reach after 14 hours. I fell asleep and dreamed pleasant. I woke up, looked around in the compartment, turned around, closed my eyes again and let me once again rock to sleep. Another dream, another awakening and once again I was rocked to sleep by the train's pitching movements.

Billions of sunshine yellow sunflowers

As the train pulled into a station, I woke up again. My watch showed that the time was 4:55 a.m. I felt refreshed and comfortable. Turned my head and looked out of the window. The platform and the buildings had – like the train – once been new. It was a big place. Very long platform and several large buildings. And once there had been a lot of activity here. Now it seemed like an abandoned place. A metallic knocking sound was heard at short intervals. I saw a railwayman who walked along the train and knocked on the wheels with a hammer so he could hear if the wheels was okay. I sat up, put on my clothes, got up and went out into the corridor and placed myself at a window.

It was still before daybreak. Also on this side there was buildings, where there previously had been more activity than now. Then I went to smoke a cigarette. Another passenger was already there. When I later had finished my cigarret, I went back to the compartment where I took a few biscuits, some cheese and spring water. After eating, I went back to the window in the corridor. A little later, the train started again slowly rolling forward. For my eyes popped up huge fields. So far as the eye could see, there were fields. And so it continued. Hour after hour after hour. Meadows, cornfields, fields of billions of sunshine yellow sunflowers that turned their heads toward me as if they gazed at me. Here and there I saw small, very small villages with very small houses. Some of them had two floors, but none of the houses looked as if they were large enough to be able to contain people. Not everywhere in the world people live in houses at 160 m2.

What is happiness?

An old woman was walking along the tracks with her cow. Periodically it stopped and ate grass on the roadside. It helped her to make sure that she could sustain life. Outside each small house there was cabbage, corn, potatoes and other plants that would provide food on the table. A little later I saw another old woman with five goats, and also more people with their cows. In some places 7-8 people were gathered with their 16-17 cows. Some had one cow others two or more. They talked with each other, watched their animals, looked at the train.

ukraine curiousua com cows crimea photo joergen deleuran

Happiness may be a cow or two. 

A study to clarify how happy various countries' populations were, showed that Danes were the second most unhappy. Another study some months later showed that Danes were the happiest people in the world. So we (and the government) ignored the first one and put our trust in the last one. In the same study, the Ukrainians were referred to the last place - the world's most unhappy people.

Life has taught me that you get answers like you ask. And if you put as a prerequisite for happiness that you have washing machine and dishwasher, a large selection of various kitchen appliances, B&O stereo, personal computers, flat-screen TV and what else we fill up our lives with in Denmark, then it is obviously not a piece of good luck to live in a small house, grow your own crops and have a single cow. But the truth is that the woman with the cow does not necessarily have to be less happy than a Dane. Or more unhappy. She has of course wishes, also some which are hard or impossible to fulfill. Like a Dane – or should I say, like any other human being – me as well.

What each of us has of wishes to life, is obviously different from person to person. Perhaps some Danes want more peace and quiet, less stress, time to grow their own potatoes. But will they ever get it fulfilled? Maybe the woman with the cow wants a four-wheel drive and a flat-screen TV. But will she ever get it fulfilled?

A last meal

The train continued through the beautiful landscape with vast fields. If we believe that we in Denmark have some large farms, here you can see fields over a distance of several hundred kilometers.

Through the window I saw the next small village. The cemetery was right next to the track. The railing around the cemetery and all the crosses were painted in a bright blue color. The place really stood out from the outside world. And already here in the early morning, there were people who looked after the graves.

I went to the compartment, took some more biscuits with cheese, ate a banana, drank water, took my book and went to the corridor, where I sat down on one of the folding seats along the wall. Here I immersed myself in my novel. Little by little, my fellow passengers woke up and went with the towel over one shoulder to the toilet.

I used the rest of the morning for reading, looked at the landscape the train passed through and the life that was unfolded there. When the train reached Crimea I once again found my food, so I could get a last meal before I reached Simferopol.

Welcome to Crimea

1 o'clock p.m. the train rolled into the train station, and a little later I stood on the platform. I walked along it until I saw a man standing with a sign with my name on. When I booked the holiday apartment, I had made an agreement with the landlord so I could be picked up at the train station and driven to the apartment.

ukraine curiousua com simferopol station crimea photo joergen deleuran

Simferopol Train Station.

The driver greeted me and welcomed me to Crimea. Then we went to his car and started the trip towards the center of Simferopol. There was more traffic than I had imagined. I had an idea that in a country where many people are poor, there would not be many cars in the streets, but there was. The driver steered safely and professionally the car through the streets. We passed Salgir River, which meanders through the city and a little later we passed a big square where Lenin stood on his pedestal and looked out over the people. We drove two blocks further, turned left and then to the right into a courtyard. The driver stopped the car, turned off the engine and said, «We have arrived».

Read 1251 times Last modified on Saturday, 01 July 2017

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