Friday, February 27, 2009

Zhitomer: "Live in Peace," Ukraine

This morning while traveling between the village and Zhitomer, I encountered a total of four horses pulling wagons. Where am I, back in Ohio, in Amish country? Managed to shoot one horse, with an Olympus sharp-shooter, of course, and here's how that handsome steed looked afterward. Just the same. (Click to enlarge photo.)

Poor horse. He had a runny nose and it's visible in the photo, the white stuff. In my family, we would say it snot funny. But that shows our sophisticated humor. Maybe there's a horse doctor in the group who would know what's wrong with that poor guy, possibly named Orlik. Lena, my hostess here, says that's a good name for a Ukrainian horse.

Oh, yesterday went to the market to find a dolly, the two-wheeled variety. Got a great dolly for less than $20 - my first dolly and am I ever happy about that. It's to help me deal with that Wal-mart suitcase of mine, the wheel of which came off the other day. I deemed it unrepairable and lobbed it - the wheel that is - into a nearby flower bed. Okay, I confess to littering. But I digress . . .

While at the market, upon impulse I loaded up on souvenir dolls, less than $1.90 each, a fraction of what they'd cost in a bigger city. Today we had a meeting and here's who all showed up. What a relief, none of them were suffering from nasal drip like poor Orlik. That would be so hard to explain back home. . .

Oh, you must meet Tammy, she's from Iowa, from Washington and now from Ukraine. She's lived in Japan six years and Hungary for several. . .

This is Miss Tammy Swailes. She's one sharp cookie and she's my friend here in Zhitomer. Tammy works as a missionary for Open Bible Church and we became friends through my blog. That's because she's good at snooping around on the internet and tracking people and information. Well Tammy is a gypsy too: she oversees the theological extension education programs for several countries in Europe and travels quite a bit, based out of Zhitomer area.

Last summer Tammy invited me to come along with her to Decebren, Hungary this weekend. It's a 2-day trip from here to there, through the Carpathian Mountains of southwest Ukraine. I'm pretty excited because for so long I've been wanting to visit dear friend Ruth and her husband who serve in the church in Miskolc, Hungary two hours northwest of Decebren. (You know I'll keep you posted on that adventure.)

This afternoon returning to the village where Tammy lives, this Orthodox church was under construction across from the bus stop.

One of these days, there will be a gold cupola installed on top. Interesting feedback from my host here, Yuri. He said this church is connected with the Orthodox church group based in Moscow which is on less-than-friendly terms with the Ukrainian Orthodox church. But interesting that such a beautiful building would be constructed out here in such a remote area.

Just today I learned the meaning of this city name. Amazing I had to ask, because it's really so obvious. Zhit (жить) means to live and mer (мир) means peace or earth. I'd translate this to live in peace.

How about you dear blog reader, ever been to Ukraine? Ever helped a horse with post-nasal drip? Ever had a wooden dolly. . . or a two-wheeled one, for that matter? Is a cathedral being constructed in your neighborhood?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kharkov, Ukraine: A Look around Town

Thursday evening caught the overnight train from Kharkov, Ukraine to Kiev. That's pretty slick: A hotel on wheels and surely the best rate anywhere. Several express trains run daily between these cities, the two biggest in the country. Say, join me for a quick look around the city. . .

The Kharkov train station. (Click to enlarge.)

Another view of the Kharkov train station. Inhale, exhale, don't breathe! Good looks as though we got a good shot even w/out a tripod, something I'm not inclined to lug around.

The Soldier Statue on the corner of The 23rd of August and Lenin Streets. On the 23 of August, 1943, Fascist troops were driveт from Kharkov.

Just past the soldier, apartments being constructed. Metro entrance on left in foreground, 23rd of August station. Who knows you might decide to invest in Kharkov real estate. Or come to see the museums or visit wonderful churches. Then this will help get you oriented. And being oriented is a very good thing. BTW, the soldier is oriented westwardly. How about a time out for some colorful shots. . . we can revisit monuments later.

Florist across the street on February 15th. Valentine's is an emerging holiday here. They did a thriving business on the 14th. And I must say that I did my part!

In a fabric store, photo taken with my *hidden camera.* A rainbow of zippers. Got your choice of color and length. Saw a sign that said invisible zippers. And truly, they were.

Need a button? This bank of buttons is nicely organized, nearly twice as wide as seen here.

Okay, back to things memorial:
In 1941, things started getting rough in Kharkov. This monument is behind the soldier statue.

The war ended in 1945.

People pass these monuments every day in their comings and goings. The youngest war veterans are now elderly. Folks in their 80's were kids during the war and they still remember.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Got Milk? Get Milk! But BYOB

Sunday morning walking to the bus stop I happened upon this queue.  I shouldn't have been surprised.  I remembered a line in the same spot in December, last time I was in Kharkov.

The yellow tank is a milk dispenser. Fresh milk from the country, only 4 grivna a liter, something like 50 cents a quart.

What an orderly group here. Even the stray dog waits in line.  Except he forgot to bring his own bottle. Poor buddy. In the distance is the soldier statue, a landmark in the area, a historic spot where Nazi forces were driven from the city in 1945. In fact the street to the left is The 23 of August Street because that's when it happened. Those soliders, they were so busy fighting for freedom, milk certainly was not on their minds. 

Fresh milk. Have you ever drunk fresh, raw milk? They say without the additives and preservatives it's better for you. What do you think? All I can say is, drink it up fast!

Got Music! Later Sunday afternoon, a friend and I happened upon this street musician. He's playing a traditional instrument called a balalaika. Maybe that's what it's called. See, I should have written it down the word at that very moment. Because,  well . . . when you're over 50, you'll understand why! Anyway, Mr Music said he has been playing this fiddle for only two years. He took it up when he retired.

Then last night at the metro, this sign jumped out at me as we were waiting for the train. It's Mordison Wedding Agency. You can get yourself a husband in Europe, the USA or Canada. The red cursive writing says, We want you to be happy! So there are the phone numbers. The package includes a studio photo, internet access and translation services. Talk about service.

Surely there's no connection between the name of the agency, Mordinson, and the word mordant, meaning cutting and sarcastic, the dictionary tells me. Surely not.

So there we have it, dear friends - Get milk! Get music! Get married! It's simply that easy here in Kharkov, Ukraine. We just want for you to be happy!

Friday, February 13, 2009

For Valentine's Day: The Greatest Love

For God
(the greatest person)
so loved
(the greatest degree)
the world
(the greatest company)

that He gave
(the greatest act)
His only begotten son
(the greatest gift)

that whosoever
(the greatest opportunity)
(the greatest simplicity)
in Him
(the greatest attraction)

should not perish
(the greatest promise)
(the greatest difference)
(the greatest certainty)
eternal life.
(the greatest possession)

John 3:16

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Hey, Hey Baby!

Come on in, we're doing fine. . . this time of night it's party potty time! At a local orphanage, the evening routine calls for sitting and taking care of business.

It's a bonding time in a way. Mostly male bonding. . . although there are three young ladies present.

Just like at a Super Bowl party, some people get rather emotional at a potty party. Others are in a zombie mode.

There's laughter and there's tears. There's congratulations for a job well done.

Ladies and gentlemen, please come to order. Please take your seats and give me your undivided attention. Word on the street has it that things get out of control in here at potty time. And that must come to a stop.

Please sit on your assigned seat. Each of you is responsible for your own work. You must not disturb your neighbor. Do we understand each other? Great, now let's get down to business. On your mark. Get set. GO!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Liberation of Auschwitz: Observations and Thoughts

The Nazi labor and death camp, Auschwitz, was liberated on January 27th, 1945 as Soviet troops marched across southern Poland en route to Berlin. The Day of Memory is observed each January 27th and last week the images on Russian television reminded me of my own visit there several summers back.

Auschwitz has become a symbol of the Holocaust, of terror and genocide and the disregard for human life of World War II. Nazis sent over 1,500,000 people to Auschwitz, including Jews, gypsies and Polish political prisoners. Quite a few survived their ordeal and have shared their stories. Care to come along for a bit of the tour? But be forewarned: It's not exactly a walk in the park.

The inscription over the main gate, Work makes you free.

On the inside looking out. Across the barbed wire are my fellow travelers. We had caught an early train from Warsaw south to Krakow and then came west to Auschwitz by bus.

A guard tower through a window.

We visited the museum, a collection of buildings that house 6,000-plus exhibits. Here's an overview.

This suitcase belonged to Fanni from Vienna and she carefully labeled it with her address. This was one of 3,500 suitcases confiscated.

Pots, drinking cups and cutlery were collected from prisoners.

A vast sea of shoes.

This shoe was new and oh-so-special, once upon a summer's day.

A wooden shoe, Dutch style.

Combs and hairbrushes, powder brushes. Blush, anyone?

Now the story becomes considerably more sad. . .

Locks of human hair. Hair cut from the dead and recycled into haircloth for use in officers' uniforms. When the camp was liberated in 1945, over 7,000 kilograms - 15,000 pounds - of hair was found, packed into paper bags and ready to be hauled back to Germany for weaving.

The finished cloth: Traditionally, tailor's canvas is made from horsehair. This is from human hair.

Entering the crematorium. When prisoners arrived at Auschwitz, they were sorted into two groups: those fit to work and those unfit to work. The unfit came to this building after their long train trip to the camp. The sign over the door read "shower and disinfection."

In the next room were gas chambers disguised as shower rooms.

Later, corpses were burned in furnaces such as these. One crematorium had 12 furnaces. Beyond this were grinding machines that ground bones into bone meal, used to enrich the soil.

There was lots to see at Auschwitz. But one museum building and the crematorium was enough for me and I was drained. Walking toward the exit and the museum shop, I found myself making sick jokes about what souvenirs might be in the shop, my way of dealing with the gruesomeness of it all. I thought, imagine a t-shirt that said Auschwitz 2009. Or one that said My grandma went to Auschwitz and all she brought me back was this t-shirt. It goes downhill from there but fortunately I didn't see any such things for sale. Rather there were books, videos and such. I stocked up on several, knowing that soon this would be but a dream, a nightmare and I didn't want to forget.

This book by Stella Muller-Madej, personally autographed has these words on the back cover: It is true that Schindler's Jews were saved from hell, but can we say it all had a happy ending? None of the people I have met have ever been truly happy,none have managed to get away from the misery of the past. When they meet each other they are unable to talk about anything else, it is like a shadow cast over their lives. They can not forget, and we must not do so. (Steven Spielberg)

This book, The Residence of Death (2003), by Teresa and Kenryk Swiebocki, 127 pages of photographs and manuscripts, packed with information.

* * * * *

Eating my breakfast last week and watching highlights of the January 27th liberation of Auschwitz, I was struck by a sad irony. We shake our heads in disgust and point our fingers at the Nazis, their crimes against humanity, the snuffing out of 6 million lives.

Yet days earlier, on January 22 was another anniversary, that of Roe versus Wade, the court decision which legalized abortion in the United States. Since then, 49 million have lost their lives through abortion. To put that into perspective, that's like eliminating the entire population of California plus Ohio.

How ironic to condemn the atrocities of the Holocaust and then shrug off what is happening amongst us. Is there a museum to the 49 million babies who have been killed? Has anybody been charged with crimes against humanity? Myself, I don't hear much said about abortion. I don't recall hearing abortion mentioned much even in Christian circles. The thought crosses my mind, Are some topics off-limits?

If so, why might that be?

* * * * *

Holy Father, give us Your eyes.
Help us see life as You see it.
Help us to treasure human life, young or old, born or unborn.

Father, thank You that You know all, You see all.
You witness life wherever it is, whenever it begins.
You know the thoughts, the motives of each who wants to end a life. . .
the life of the frail elderly, the life of the unborn.

Father help each of us to make wise choices.
Help us to harness our needs and desires
May we live within your parameters.

That we will do all to Your honor, to Your glory.
Within Your grace, ever sufficient.
For ever and ever.