Ukraine: “Countrybumpkinland” in a good way

On Ai-Petri with Gever the dog, whose forest-ranger owner named him after the "Sturmgewehr" Nazi assault rifle.

On Ai-Petri with Gever the dog, whose forest-ranger owner named him after the "Sturmgewehr" Nazi assault rifle.

Sorry for the absence; I’ve been in Ukraine to get a new Russian visa.  I stayed in Kiev for a week, then hitchhiked down to the Crimea to soak in some sun and see some nature.

Overall, Ukraine seemed like a mini-Russia: Everything looked the same, only the cities are smaller, the distances are shorter and the people are nicer.  No stereotypes shattered here; there really is a little of the podunk “Khokhlandia” about which Russians like to joke (“Khokhlandia” means “Land of the ‘Khokhols,'” “Khokhol” being a slightly derisive word for “Ukrainian” that carries connations of country-bumpkinness; the word comes from name for the single tuft of hair Cossacks traditionally wore).

"Or even worse: Turn into a Khokhol."

"Or even worse: Turn into a Khokhol."

You can stop along the highway to buy milk — milk that somehow tastes earthier, farmier — from a farmer who squeezed it that morning, or strawberries from a babushka.  Or listen to the country folk speak Russian with an accent of exaggerated vowel sounds.  Or listen to them speak Ukrainian, which, to the Russian-speaking ear, sounds like a deaf person reciting tongue twisters.

But the ups outnumber the downs — Ukrainians are kind and friendly folk.  And it is a land of adventure for those who know how to find it, from the sea cliffs of Ai-Petri in the Crimea to the abandoned farmhouses of the middle country to the “industrial alpinism” (rappeling off abandoned factories) of the Soviet cities.


One Response to “Ukraine: “Countrybumpkinland” in a good way”

  1. Hey Alec! After our recent trip to St. Petersburg, where you hosted us with so much competence and navigated that complex and invigorating city so that it became accessible to us two–very–Americans, now, back in the States, I went to Eagle and the Bear to read about where we’d been. In the past you’ve written about the city but today the top story was on your trip to the Ukraine. It was very entertaining–but to be so bold as to make a request: I’d love to read about some St. Petersburg gems: the ballet, the Russian Museum (fabulous!), the trips down the canal. Even the artist on the street who sold us our painting of St. Isaacs. It was all so wonderful; it’s an incredible city. I know you’ve written a lot about “Piter” in your blog, but I look forward to hearing more in depth this summer.

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