Today I learned why Victor was so adamant that I needed to be "flexible" and "able to go with the flow" when he talked about the trip with me. Schedules in Ukraine, at least when Victor visits, are fluid, at best. At worst, they are frustratingly vague and unpredictable.
Our day began with breakfast at 9:30, though I had woken at 7:00 and had been unable to go back to sleep (using the opportunity to do some writing in this journal). Breakfast was three courses. First, there was a cold course of sausage (Ivan Yurishko had provided the kitchen with beef sausage that we could eat), sliced thinly, cheese, bread, and wedges of tomato and cucumber. These were served on plates from which we took as much or as little as we desired.
Next came a small serving of some sort of cottage-cheese type dish. It tasted a little different from the cottage cheese I am used to, and was drier, but that was the closest I could come to naming it. Victor said that, when he was a child, this used to be served at Easter (I think he said Easter...some sort of holiday, anyway). This was eaten by topping it with jam. The jam was served in a small bowl and was very runny--not as much of a gel as we think of jam being. Also--there was no butter offered for the bread. Beverly said that it would be very unusual for it to be offered.
Lastly was the main course, which was blini with sour cream. The blini were filled with the same cottage-cheese-type mixture as we had eaten secondarily. Beverly and Kassie had juice, and Victor and I had coffee; the coffee was served very strong in demi-tasse cups. It was, of course, instant, but at that strength and with sufficient sugar, it wasn't bad.
Ivan Yurishko arrived as we were eating, and we left for the day's travels as soon as we had finished. The day was a beautiful one, not too warm yet, but full of birdsong. I was reminded of being out at my grandfather's house when I was young, out in the hills of Tennessee. This place had the same quiet to it, without a lot of ambient noise other than natural sounds.
Ivan drove us past some of the dachas (weekend/vacation country houses) of people who live and work in the city. He told us that this area is booming, and even turning into a resort area for the well-off. The houses were certainly lavish from the outside, with gracious, curving designs and beautifully-wrought fences and gates in all manner of shapes and patterns. Most of the houses were brick or stucco, and many were brightly colored, but no two were exactly alike. The color I saw most on houses in this area was a golden yellow.
Ivan took us out to the place where LifeNets had sponsored a children's summer camp a few years ago. The place had been purchased and was being remade into some sort of resort.
The day before, in response to a question, Ivan had told us that the mafia was pretty much gone from Ukraine. He said that there had been so much in-fighting that the mafia had imploded. Some of the leaders had been killed, some arrested (I think), and the rest had fled, mainly to Russia or to Czechoslovakia. Good for Ukraine, of course, but not so good for the surrounding nations. Near the Golubaya Shayan, where we are staying, there is a huge, beautiful, rambling mansion, with sweeping architecture, grand staircases that can be seen through huge windows, and a high brick wall that meanders around it. It was owned by one of the mafioso in the area (I think the name was Bilikin, but I'm not sure), who has since fled to another country. There is still at least one security guard there, though no one is living there. We saw an old man and a young one at the gate a few times, entering or leaving; and a light in the front of the house stays on most of the night.
Ivan pointed out a footbridge that had been built at the behest of this owner. It stretched, he said, between two hilltops from the mansion. Ivan said that the man had had it built as his personal walkway. When we asked how much such a thing had cost, he waved his hand and said, "A million dollars."
There is a great vitality about Ivan Yurishko. He seems as though nothing would stay in his way for long, and he reminds me (in his personality) a little bit of my dad. He is emphatic and bold, and he just says what he thinks. It is entertaining to watch him talking to Victor; the interplay of the conversation is fascinating. The words ripple and crash, peaking and ebbing in intensity. In some ways, it is liberating not to speak the language they are speaking, because I don't have to attempt to follow along or understand what is being said; I can simply watch and listen as though it were a musical performance.
While in Shayan, we visited the natural mineral spring there. Beverly told me that when they had first visited, there had been no way to obtain drinking water without bringing empty containers down here and filling them at the spring. I wasn't sure what to expect (an actual spring?). We pulled into a dusty pull-off and saw a faded wood building. Along the side of it was a long, narrow, metal trough, with spigots positioned above it every so often. There were several cars backed up close to it, and families were busily pulling empty plastic bottles from the trunks and filling them. Some of the families worked in assembly-line fashion; all had dozens--perhaps hundreds--of bottles to fill.
The water itself is naturally carbonated, though Ivan told us that the bottling plant (for now there is one, and one can buy the Shayan water in many places) adds carbonation, because people like more bubbles than naturally occur. The water has a very strong taste, and I doubt that one would drink it for the first time and think, "Oh, that's gooood!" It's more acquired than that. I suspect a lot of iron in the water (though that may be a stupid thing to say: does iron dissolve into water?) because of the odd metallic taste. Unlike springs in the US (which I visited later in the summer), there was no handy chart of what minerals and things were dissolved therein.
Ivan had bought for us each a ceramic drinking cup, imprinted with 'Shayan.' They looked like ceramic straw cups, like the boys use at Grandma's house! I didn't mind the taste too much, though I thought it might upset my stomach (it didn't). I'm not sure that, given a choice, I would choose to drink the mineral water over 'still' water. Drinking the mineral water didn't make me feel less thirsty.
Our next stop was Khust, of which we hadn't seen much the previous day. Business, at least according to appearances, is booming. While a few years ago, there had been few cars, now the streets were jammed with motor traffic. Ivan said that traffic is bad enough during the day, but that in the evening it just stops because there are too many cars trying to go in all directions. There are no traffic lights, only occasional stop signs that serve more as suggestions to think about than actual commands. There are a few 'no entry' signs, too, to mark one-way streets; but these are ignored whenever a driver deems it more convenient to do so. At one point, Ivan told us that we were going so slowly because we were going against traffic. The fact that this was because he had deliberately driven the non-recommended direction down a one-way street was, apparently, neither here nor there. It didn't seem to bother him or anyone else. There were a great many little shops, all huddled together. It was definitely different than an American street scene, although I could see points of similarity between the town and, say, a Western town at the turn of the century.
Ivan told us that the economy was better than it had been, and that banks were stable. He said that there were even four or five ATMs around town, a big change from even the last trip that Vic and Bev had made.
Our destination was Ivan's print and copy business, Sturmer (he also owns a construction company, Orienda, and was looking to buy a cement truck, though whether that was for Orienda or another company altogether, I couldn't say). We followed a gravel drive into
a small parking lto, which was tucked into the central space formed by a U-shaped building. Sturmer was tree-shaded (by chestnut trees) and well-maintained. The flowerbeds in front were neatly-tended, and the whole building gave off an impression of neat, white, efficiency.
I had just been in a UPS store at home before the trip, so I can say with some authority that at least this end of the business is like a small American print shop. The counter was much like business counters everywhere, and there were a plethora of small supplies available--pens, pencils, calendars, paper--it truly was just like being at home in some ways. Two of Ivan's children were at work in the office--Nelya and Ivan (I think). There was, naturally, much exclaiming over how they had changed and grown, now adult or nearly so.
After we had spent a few minutes in the shop, we followed Ivan through the parking lot to another door, more towards the base of the 'U' of the building. This area was not as well-kept. As we entered, Ivan told us that this was an old government building. A school had part of it, and filled, then, the other side of the 'U.' Ivan leased his part of the building (it wasn't clear from whom or which part of the building this was).
I was immediately struck by how high the ceilings were--I think 20 feet? The hallway was massive, but also ill-lighted and very bare, like I might expect if I walked into a long-vacant building. It seemed empty of life, but down the corridor and down another to the right was a door with the LifeNets symbol on a small placard.
This was the location of a computer class that is funded by LifeNets. Inside, about twenty high-school-age kids were hard at work learning how to navigate through programs like Word and Excel. The teacher was a shy Hungarian woman named Maria (I think). She, Victor, and Ivan talked about how few computers are available to children in Ukraine, and how difficult it can be to learn to use one. Apparently, one way that this class helps is that these young people learn how to use computers at school, and then are able to come practice here. I believe that there is also a summer session but I am not positive about that.
As we left the building, we looked into a sewing class that is sponsored by the school. The machines don't look at all modern, though I couldn't have put a vintage to them. We also saw a machine shop, but it wasn't in use at the moment for a class. I did, however, see a word I knew--the one for 'machine tool.' I was so excited! Probable more so, in fact, than the moment called for.
As we were leaving the building, we bumped into the director of the school, Vasyl Ivanovich Popovich, so we stopped to chat with him. His opinion, like Ivan's, is that the Ukrainian people do not work hard enough to get ahead. He feels that the teens are only interested in smoking and video games (okay, that part sounded a lot like an American adult talking about teens), and don't want to pursue education. He said that there are many Ivans in Ukraine, but that what Ukraine needs is more Ivan Yurishkos.
He also bemoaned the lack of funding and support the school gets from the government. The exterior of the school had faded paint and pitted, chipping stucco. He said that the government will not pay for maintenance; that the government says that it is poor, but that it is not.