A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for September, 2008

Baklazhannaya Ikra

This eggplant spread is another very common Ukrainian dish served at most major gatherings. It is even easier to prepare than vinaigrette! What you need:

  • 4 eggplants (keep in mind that Ukrainian vegetables are much smaller than American roid-raging ones)
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tomatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 tsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, squeezed for juice
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Read the rest of this entry »

At the market

I had two reasons for wanting to go to the market today. I have been dying to cook myself some fish, but there is only one supermarket close enough to me that has its own aquarium (meaning the fish will be fresh), and I was told that it’s much better from the market, anyway. Additionally, I am going to cook some kind of dessert for Sharon and Amir for Rosh Hashana dinner on Monday, and I wanted to buy some berries to use as decoration. In the supermarkets, you can find common vegetables and some fruit (usually bananas, grapes, apples, oranges, nectarines, etc. sometimes in pretty dismal shape, depending on the store), but certainly no berries at this time of year, already out of season. The market, however, would still have some.

Lena and I set off after pilates, at around noon. Already, the market would be stripped of its best meats and cheeses, but our quarry would still be there. Sure enough, three hours later, I arrived home loaded up with as many groceries as I could buy with a little less than 80 grivnas (about $15). Read the rest of this entry »

A singular event

I was walking with my friend Danya the other day along Karl Marx St., the main thoroughfare in the center of the city, chatting in Russian, when suddenly, he cried out,

-A black!

-A black? I repeated, confused.

-A black! Back there! Didn’t you see him? A black. You know… a… “nihher.”

He didn’t have to pronounce the English word properly for me to understand what he meant. I was completely taken aback, and only partially due to his surprising lexicon. You see, I haven’t seen a single black person, or any non-white person, for that matter, since arriving in Dnepropetrovsk almost a month ago. This is the most homogeneous place I have ever been in my life. Danya informs me that every now and then you’ll see a black person with dreds, but this is a very rare occurrance and clearly merits screaming it out loud as you pass. Also, apparently, there are some Chinese people in Chinatown, which is not a town so much as an intersection not too far from Chessed, but I haven’t seen a non-white person yet in the couple of times I’ve been there.

After me, the flood

I am still wet, two hours after arriving at work, despite having carried an umbrella wth me. Rain is always tricky in this city, even when just a small drizzle. The streets and sidewalks are so riddled with potholes, any rain whatsoever will collect in large puddles scattered without rhyme or reason and barring your path. The drainage here must be pretty poor, I think, given how much water congregates after only a few minutes of rain and stays for some time afterward. Add to this the fact that women wear crazy heels all year round, despite the weather and the temperature. One does not wear winter boots or galoshes, as one would in America. One wears fine leather boots with a large stiletto heel, and one somehow skirts around the puddles as if they weren’t there. I don’t know how the women do it. I find myself constantly looking down, even when the weather is fine, lest I trip over a some kind of hole or kink in the sidewalk (and it’s even worse on the roads!). If I struggle so, I who live in the center of the city, where everything is new and capitalistic and thriving, just imagine what it is like the further one gets from this modern metropolis.

In any event, today was one of the greatest downpours I’ve seen in the city, and certainly the largest I’ve had to struggle through. The walk to work was like a giant adventure: Indiana Jones and the Ukrainian Downpour! I was running and leaping just to walk along the sidewalk without soaking my shoes (and running and leaping in 3 inch stiletto heals is no easy feat). Then, to cross the street, I often had to walk 1/4 of a block out of my way to find a manageable leap, putting myself in harm’s way by stepping in front of the oncoming traffic (but what threat is death compared with getting wet and ruining my shoes?). With my umbrella as my shield and my bag tucked firmly under my arm, I laboriously traversed the 1/2 mile or so from Russian class to the JCC, but just when I thought that all would be well and I would soon be safe and dry, I found myself face to face with the greatest challenge of all. Read the rest of this entry »


No, this is not a dressing, this is a full salad. This popular Ukrainian dish can be served at all times throughout the year (a big deal, because it’s hard to get fresh fruit and some veggies during the winter). Nine times out of ten if you are invited as a guest in a Ukrainian home, a vinaigrette will be served. It’s delicious, very filling, and easy to make (although time consuming to dice all the vegetables). Here is the recipe I recommend (the recipe I followed is in parentheses). Both versions are modified slightly from the official recipe I looked up.

You will need:

  • 5 beets (I used 4)
  • 3 carrots
  • 5 potatoes (I used 6)
  • 1/2 onion
  • 3 dill pickles
  • 1 lemon
  • roughly 1/3 cup of oil
  • about 1 tablespoon salt
  • some pepper or spice

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine review: Magarach semi-sweet red

I picked this wine up in the grocery store last week because someone had recommended it to me as good quality and less sweet than the average Ukrainian wine. As the label is entirely in Ukrainian, I had no idea what I was in for and took her word for it. After trying it for myself, the question that comes to mind is, “less sweet than what??” I would hate to try one of Magarach’s dessert wines. Read the rest of this entry »

The grand opening of the new synagogue in Dneprodzerzhinsk

First of all, where is Dneprodzerzhinsk? You may have guessed from the name of the city that, like Dnepropetrovsk, it is located along the Dnepr River. Now, click on the map below, and it’ll open a new window with a large map of Ukraine. First we need to find Dnepropetrovsk. This isn’t too hard. You see Crimea, that island/peninsula located at the southernmost part of Ukraine? Right, on the eastern half, surrounded by the Black and Azov Seas. Now move north, along the Dnepr River, past Zaporozhe (spelled the Ukrainian way here), and then you’ll see it: Dnepropetrovsk, the third largest city in Ukraine! Maladetz, well done! Now, Dneprodzerzhinsk is not nearly so large a city, so you’ll have to zoom in here. Look just west of Dnepropetrovsk, and you’ll see Dneprodzerzhinsk (but spelled the Ukrainian way) written next to a small circle. There it is. It took us about 30 minutes to get there from the kindergarten, and 40 minutes to get back to my apartment, which is closer to the center.

I know what you’re wondering now: who is “us?” (“It took us about 30 minutes to get there…”) I went with Sharon, my boss’s wife, and her eldest son, Ido. Sharon is great and has been a real friend to me here. Here’s a picture of her and Ido in the synagogue:

Read the rest of this entry »

So what exactly am I doing here?

I work for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee– otherwise known as “JDC” in America and “the Joint” everywhere else in the world. Technically, my title is “volunteer,” although I am paid a modest monthly salary, have an apartment with all expenses paid, and have health insurance coverage. I live far better than the average Ukrainian (I live pretty well by any standards), and yet I am considered to be a volunteer. I, therefore, consider myself a paid employee and, as such, take my work very seriously.

My first week was devoted to getting to know the Jewish community here in Dnepropetrovsk. I visited the JDC office, the Jewish Community Center (JCC), Chessed (a center which runs programs for the elderly Jews in the community), the new synagogue, the Jewish school (actually, there are three schools in the same facility– one religious one for boys, one religious one for girls, and one not-quite-secular-but-far-less-religious one that is co-ed), Beit-Chana (the university for women studying to become Jewish teachers), and Beit-Baruch (the nursing home for 60 elderly Jews erected by the Boston JCRC). I met the main characters in each location, and I especially devoted my time to auditing the various programs the JCC offers to the community. My boss Amir told me right off the bat that I should take a few weeks to get my bearings and figure the place out before I get involved in any one project. JDC is very much about understanding what the community wants, based on how it already functions. It would be pretty useless and maybe even detrimental for me to enter into an already high functioning organization and create a new program that just won’t work with the system in place. After I understand Dnepropetrovsk and fully grok the people in the Jewish community, then I can go about changing it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Праздник Днепропетровска (the city’s holiday)

This weekend celebrated Dnepropetrovsk’s birthday, and the city celebrated accordingly. This episode in my life is best told in photographs, but I’ll give you a brief introduction. The festival opened Saturday morning with concerts, parades, and general merrymaking throughout the city center, near all the major landmarks. My friend Lena and I walked around for several hours, enjoying the sights. That night the festivities continued, a little drunker this time, despite the rain. Sunday there were still celebrations in the parks, but I didn’t go to them because it was the JCC opening. That evening was the opening of the new Dnepropetrovsk Stadium, the future site of the 2012 Eurocup. There were opening ceremonies, akin to those of the Olympics (but of course on a smaller scale), speeches, exhibition games, and then a giant concert. Five acts played, the most famous artists in Ukraine. That night there were various firework displays. QUITE an exciting weekend.