L’viv and Odessa – Л’вовь и Одесса

After receiving the final document needed for my Russian visa application, I went to the embassy in Kiev. I was so nervous that they were going to turn me down my hands shook as I handed over my papers (there’s technically a law that says that you can only apply for a Russian visa in the country where you live). The sharply dressed man looked everything over and said ok, it’ll be ready in two weeks. Wow, not a single question! I paid the fee and left. For the next two weeks I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that something was going to go wrong when I returned to retrieve my passport. Two more weeks in Ukraine. Off to L’viv I go.

In the months leading up to my interview for the Fulbright (all candidates for the Fulbright to Russia must be interviewed in Russian) I worked with a tutor, Nelia, in New York. She was from Ukraine but had been living in New York for many years. We did our lessons over Skype so although we saw each other three times a week for a few months, we never actually met in person. Coincidentally, she was visiting Ukraine at the same time. I took the train to L’viv where she picked me up and drove me to Sambir, about an hour from the city. It was really amazing to finally meet her in person, and in Ukraine of all places! She took me around Sambir and out to the village where her parents live. We went to the border with Poland and walked as far as we could- my passport was still at the Russian embassy so I couldn’t cross. One day we went into L’viv and walked around. I absolutely love this city! While Kiev feels like a “little Moscow,” L’viv feels like an old Austro-Hungarian city. The architecture is stunning. And the food…so delicious! Finally a REAL cup of coffee, too.

As I had suspected, western Ukraine differs greatly from the east. While most people understand Russian, many can’t speak it at all, or at least don’t want to. After the fall of the Soviet Union, western Ukraine went through a rapid de-Sovietization; street names were changed and monuments removed. Sure, Leningrad was changed back to St. Petersburg and Stalingrad to Volgograd, but in Russia streets are still named after Soviet heroes and every town still has its Lenin monument (Stalin passed a law that every city and town in the Soviet Union no matter the size had to have at least one statue of Lenin). In L’viv, the Soviet Union feels like a very distant memory.

After five days in Sambir, I spent one night in a hostel in L’viv and then took an overnight train to Odessa. I was so excited to see the Black Sea again after so many years. When I was backpacking through Russia in 1999, I spent one magical week in Sochi, a Black Sea resort town. Someday I will visit all the countries that line this amazing body of water. Unfortunately, in my last few days in L’viv I was coming down with a cold and by the time I got to Odessa I was quite ill. I managed to see what I could in the three days, but it wasn’t much (hence, the dearth of images). Odessa is a beautiful seaside city, albeit slightly tacky due to the large number of tourists that flock to the warm sea air.

I then hoped an overnight train to Kiev, picked up my passport with my shiny new visa, slept one night at the hostel and then got on a plane back to Kazan. I was in Ukraine for almost one month. It’s not a lot of time in terms of visiting a country, but it was a long time to be away from my work in Kazan. In some respects being back in Kazan has felt like a homecoming, seeing friends and walking around the city, but it also feels a bit like I’m starting over. I’m excited to start working again, but a bit daunted as I write this. I’m certain once I start it’ll feel like I never left.