This story is about a two-week stay outside the capital. Wow, you left the borders of your mega police. What an adventurous person you are! :)
True, a trip like this is not as eventful as a mountain tour or a trip far abroad. And still, it does have its part of new impressions, observations and emotional flash backs.
You begin by embarking on a several hours electric train journey. Not an air-conditioned train with cosy seats, on-board food service and stuff, but an ordinary train, with rows of hard seats designed to take in one hundred passengers. You sit in an open space divided into six seat sets, with three seats in front of the other three. It would be wise to gather your patience — the trip is not short and sitting motionless for hours is not that fun. Yet, somebody will spend in the train even more time: some people go to the terminus and will sit here for five or six hours.
The coach is practically empty. We have only some 15–20 travellers. Great, there will not be much Coronavirus spreading in the air. On the other hand, few people wear masks, which is an irresponsible and unreasonable. Anyways, the train leaves and takes you away from a noisy street traffic and high residential blocks. It crosses on a bridge the wide and splendid Dnipro (a river) and calmly enters into the land of small and lonely train stops, of fields, tree lines and electric pylons, all placed along the rail tracks.
A good way to escape train boredom is reading. Luckily, you just downloaded a new book and now can read right until the end of the journey. And actually,you indeed spend a lot of time reading, then stare thoughtlessly into a window and almost do not notice how the train already approaches your destination. Time to get off.
Hello my small town. Hello my shtetl :)
The town has public transport but, unless you reside somewhere really far off, you really do not need it that much and can get anywhere on foot sooner than in one hour. There are also taxis but they are for rich bastards. Just kidding, although it is true that for locals taxis are very expensive. Never mind public transport and taxis, the train slowed down my brain and I want to get home on foot. Even in the late evening and with few street lights, you will easily find your way home. You went though these streets thousands and thousands of times. You know them well.
For next days my time table essentially consists of doing nothing: staying in, going out for strolls, making an outing to the forest and visiting a notary to sign some papers. Speaking of strolls, they are pleasant to do here because the city centre is quite small and, unlike in large cities, you need not make any commuting. Just put your anti-Covid mask on, step out of your flat and voilà, you are already in the centre.
Some of the people you know, it seems, never go away from this town. In couple of days and two-three strolls you stumble upon so many familiar faces that it is hard to believe:
- A class mate from the primary school, last time I saw him something like 10 years ago
- An uncountable number of your school teachers, some of whom were already not young when you were a pupil. You are glad to see that they are still alive and in a seemingly good health
- Young chaps from the neighbouring block whom you never knew personally but whose faces you distinctly remember. Apparently, they also met by chance and stopped for a five minute chat.
- And also, people who are this town’s symbols:
1. A newspaper seller who for decades has been selling press and making coffee for people in trains and on the streets;
2. A street seller of eggs. She buys somewhere in bulk huge chicken eggs, then sits down in some very visible spot and, loudly praising her goods, invites passers-by to stop by. Somebody indeed stops and buys;
3. A slightly deranged young beggar alcoholic who likes to talk a friendly but loud gibberish and ask for money. Here people are not too expressive in the public, which makes our local symbols even more noticeable and amusingly attractive.
This list of familiar faces can go on and on.
Among the people you notice, most of all you pay attention to one woman: at one point you hear her talking energetically and elegantly to two other persons. Seen from distance, from 10–20 metres, she is a perfect MILF, or for prudes, an attractive middle-age woman. Then seconds later you recognise in her your school teacher, who by now must be not less than 70 years old. Well, you see, it turns out that time shatters human bodies but has no grip on human grace :)
Then the evening comes and the place becomes deserted at 9 pm. Do you realise how different it is from urban hubs where life never stops? At the same time, here as in Kyiv, they already do not sell booze at late hours. This helps keep the town quiet and keeps noisy drunks off the streets. Only here such late hours come even earlier. 9 pm at the clock, no people on the streets, no alcohol in shops.
At the notary’s
Notaries are plenty here. The town is a regional centre, after all. You go to the notary in relation to one small real estate deal. It turns out the whole thing will take only several days and two visits, including the one you just made.
While waiting outside in front of the entrance you hear a man discussing some legal matters on telephone. Apparently, he will also go to the notary or has gone already. He advises somebody on a possible deal with people from the Eastern Ukraine — Donbas. “Do not worry. They are good people. Different, in a good sense. Very open. Donbas does not serve rubbish”.
As a matter of fact, when in 2014 Russia began a war on us, half a million of Eastern residents moved to the West and, having dealt with all sorts of hardships, had settled in various Ukrainian regions, including my hometown. This telephone comment had caught my attention and stuck in my memory. A couple of my Kyiv university acquaintances were also from Donbas. So, they were indeed open people. Direct and open. Interesting to say that openness is often an attribute western foreigners ascribe to the whole Eastern Europe. So, inside Ukraine itself, we also apply a similar parallel and see Eastern Ukrainians as even more open.
Now, I can confirm it. Gentrification has reached Eastern European provinces. There are quite a few expensive cars on the roads of my town, expensive, that is by Western terms, not only by Ukrainian. For last 30 years after the Soviet collapse we also had huge economic inequalities. But now they became even larger and are noticeable not only in large cities but in the provinces also. When I read and hear about differences in peoples incomes in the West I cannot help but sceptically smile. Of course, inequalities are bad and, of course, they exist in the West. But take my word for it, your inequalities pale in comparison to ours, or to those of Africa which are even starker.
In any case, no need for pessimistic mood. I perceived the view of these new wealthy in my province merely as a fact, not followed by any real emotions. You just see the change and you remark it. Just a year ago, the picture here was not as different as it is now. Still, it is peculiar to observe this wealth amid of the absolute majority of modest locals who commute on old and shaky bicycles and fear the winter season with its high bills for home heating.
A phenomenon in its own right is a local TV station. It is an old-fashioned and charming channel broadcasting a mix of music and choir concerts, of funny cartoons and advertisements. Unsophisticated graphics and the retro style content make it look like a channel from the 80s. But in fact, it is not from the 80s. It is alive and is working right now. It simply is provincial. Its calmness and simplicity does not make it boring though. If nobody watched it, the town hall would have closed the channel long time ago. And it has not done so. Also, independently of the viewer base, you can’t just kill the local cultural symbol on the account of commercial interests. In the United Kingdom, for example, nobody is demanding the closure of BBC. Right?
So, at one moment you see on this channel a humour programme of jokes. Around a table are seated half a dozens of blokes. Smiling with metallic teeth or speaking with distinct Jewish pronunciation, they present jokes one by one, or to be more precise, they tell short stories with funny endings. This kind of humour is mega popular in Ukraine. So, you are glad to stumble upon such a diamond. To be honest, a part of the jokes are average and even gross, but at moments the guys produce such miracles that you find yourself seized with laughter for minutes. On a quiet evening you sit alone in your provincial flat and explode with laughter. Not bad. Not bad.
That is it. Today you go back to Kyiv. Yet another half an hour stroll, this time on an early sunny morning and in direction of the railway station. Surprisingly enough, this time your train coach is nearly full, even if it is week-end. Another couple of hours in an austere electric train and you are back in the capital.
Oh, capital, I like it because here you have so much place where to stroll. You just need time and good weather. Luckily, on this sunny day I have both. So, at a light pace I walk through the central Kyiv way down to Podil. On week-ends there is a relaxed atmosphere here and the city looks particularly nice. It looks nice and it is nice. But Podil is even nicer.