Reflections on Ukraine – My Visit in 1998 (2)


With everything that is going on with the dreadful, reprehensible war on Ukraine at the moment, I have spent much time over the past couple of weeks reflecting upon a visit that I made to Ukraine in 1998. I thought that I would now put this into a series of blog posts. Click here for the first post. This is the second post.

As mentioned in the first post, while I got to Ukraine, my suitcase didn’t. My suitcase actually played catch up for most of the trip – it got to Kyiv when I got to Donetsk, to Donetsk when I got to Warsaw, to Warsaw when I got to Krakow… I then told the company to keep it at Warsaw until I returned there to fly to the UK… by which time I had had to buy an additional case. My original case was largely intact – just missing a bag of nuts, and a Kit Kat chocolate bar had seemingly melted, probably at Lagos, and then reformed around the foil. The only other thing that had gone missing was a keyring that I had bought in Hiroshima; a relief of the A-bomb dome with the text “No More Hiroshima” (sic). When I went to check in for my return to the UK the airline was surprised to see that I had two cases and wanted to charge me for the extra, but I refused and pointed out the reason why I had two and they (Swiss Air, by the way) eventually relented. Anyway, as a result of not having my suitcase in Ukraine, it limited some of the work I could do as all of my materials were inside it. So while I continued to try to achieve some of the work planned, I also took the time to explore the cities I was visiting.

As noted in the previous post, I saw some people with earpieces and although I had become reluctant to take many pictures, I did manage to take one with one such person in… but from the distance and quality of print, you’d never know (I just remember that it was the reason for the shot). The person in question is the one right at the bottom of the photo.

I spent quite a bit of time walking around the city. I hoped that my suitcase would catch up soon and I could get on with my work, but I thought that in the meantime, getting to know the city, what the people seemed to be like, how the economy was going, may give me some insights into whether Ukraine was a viable market for the programme to recruit from.

One of the issues was that I neither spoke Ukrainian nor Russian. I could not read the Cyrillic alphabet – but it did become a bit of fun trying to work it out when seeing words I knew how they were supposed to be read. Despite having studied (in order that I learnt them & not including my mother language English), Latin, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Swedish (there should probably be a bit of Cantonese in there somewhere, but I can recognise more than I can say due to being tone deaf and have never studied formally in anyway), I would never describe myself as a linguist. I have very little, if any, interest in languages (so it is ironic that I am now in a University department called the “School of Modern Languages”).

One of the linguistic things that did catch my interest while in Kyiv was the name of the city. I had always learnt it was Kiev. Yet now I was largely seeing it as Kyiv. I learnt that Kyiv is the Ukrainian spelling and Kiev, the Russian. While Russian was predominant in Eastern Ukraine – such as Donetsk where I was going next – in the capital, Ukrainian was the main language. I have spelt it Kyiv ever since and often include it still in my discussions with students about how we transliterate place names into English. I also noticed upon my return to the UK how when the Champions League football was shown on TV, the ITV graphic would show “Dynamo Kiev” but graphics super-imposed by UEFA from time-to-time during the game would be “Dynamo Kyiv”, so the two spellings would appear at the same time.

Speaking of Dynamo Kyiv, I walked past the stadium a couple of times and I think that I went to a market near the stadium too. One of the times I went by was when a night match was going on – I have no memory of this, I am just working off the photos that I have recently scanned.

At some point I picked up a Dynamo Kyiv shirt… which I still have and managed to dig out from the attic recently, wash, and am now wearing from time to time (including today) to show my support for Ukraine.

The other shopping that I did during my visits to markets and – from what I remember – to small kiosks dotted along the main roads was for cheap, pirated cassette tapes. By 1998, I was largely using CD and even MiniDisc – but the tapes were so cheap, often contained original collections rather than being copies of official albums, and I think some original remixes. It reminded me of my first trip to Bangkok in 1989. Anyway, I picked up a number of these tapes. At some point, I also bought a number of maps – I will need to check if I still have these and perhaps discuss them in another post.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Hana says:

    I left Ukraine for Tokyo at the end 2021, not knowing that I wouldn’t be able to come back a month later due to MOFA’s warning. I have been teaching IR at Zhytomyr Polytechnic State University for the past 2.5 years. Apart from Kyiv, Ukraine is still quite a homogenious country. I suppose the people in town have become aware of this only genuinely “gaijin” looking person who arrived in town a few years back. Kids would gaze at me in the bus, which made me feel sort of apologetic (sorry to surprise you…., you were not expecting to see this funny panda-like creature sitting next to you in the bus). One day when I went out of the apartment to take the rubbish out, I saw three kids standing and gaxing at me as usual, but one of them smiled and said to me “Dobryy den! (‘Good day’ in Russian). I smiled and said “Dobryy den!” to them which made all of them smile. It is the poorest country in Europe, but people there were happy in their own way, including myself. What has become of those kids, who were always playing in the play ground on the back of the apartment block? Elderly people were also spendingh hours there, just sitting and chatting on the benches located there. I loved living there. I am sad the life I managed to build up over the past few years (it took some time for me to get used to the entirely new environment, obviously) was destroyed just like that. My friends are all scared and worried about what would become of them and their beloved city.
    My partner fled the city of the day of the invasion when he heard exposion from the small air base located 10km outside of the town (for some reason, Italian Embassy never issued as strong warning as the Japanese one did), and spent next five days gueueing up at Ukrainian-Polish border.
    The remain of our life is still in Zhytomyr, and we will be returning there if/when it becomes possible. But we both know both ouuselves and our would feel very differently by then. This invasion has changed the way we looked at our respective lives in a very different way the pandemic did.
    For now, I am still in the mourning process for what I have lost – my job, home, and the life I had with my partner and my new friends there. I should be vertainly gratedful none of my friends have perished during the invasion. I communicate with them daily, and everytime I talk them, it breaks my heart. Are we going to be ok anytime soon? Me and my Ukrainian friends? I know I must convert my sadness into analysis as an IR scholar but I seem to be unable to do so just now. I have loved Ukraine, its people, and my life there. My only hope is that this invasion is over sooner than later, so that my beloved friends can sleep in peace, and we can find something to smile about together when we meet again (but really, when could it happen?).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hana says:

    Sorry, my reply above is full of misspelt words and other errors…, I am just so upset and confused that I am unable to function properly, obviously.
    So many things have changed since the beginning of the pandemic (for the worse, especially in Ukraine, unfortunately). It was only the first six months that I was able to teach in the classroom at my University in Zhytomyr. Still we (I mean my colleagues and students) managed to find the way to have a bit of fun when we can. Now we are all over the place (literally), not knowing when/if we are to be reunited in Zhytomyr.
    Over the last few years, I lost several of my dear friends, directly and indirectly due to Covid. And now this.
    It is very difficult for me just for now not to look back and think about many things and friends that I have lost.
    I miss Ukraine, and its people. Indeed, it is a poor country, but I have come to appreciate all those small happy moments while living in Ukraine (like kids greeting me with a shy smile). People are relaxed and happy in their own way. Why their happiness had to be destroyed just like that?
    I am perhaps not suited to be an IR scholar after all. I have always found it difficult to think of the victims of conflicts in terms of number – rather I could not help thinking of them as individuals with respective names, faces, and loved ones. Now it has become even more so.
    I want my Ukraine back – but when? And how? 11 years have passed afer the Great East Japan Earthquake, and we still feel the pain with or without direct connections with victims or the affected regions. I suppose it would be like that with Ukraine. For me at least.

    Liked by 1 person

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