A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for Danya

The Center of the Universe

Not 30 minutes outside of Dnepropetrovsk, past the giant factory that used to employ over 1/5 of the city to make ballistic missiles, there is a large village called Krasnopolye. There you will find a church, a store that carries meat and liquor, a lake, and many small houses with their own farms.

Twice in June I had the pleasure of traveling there, of walking past the cows and the goats, of picking strawberries and grilling shishkebab over an open fire, and of breathing air the fresh air I didn’t realize I missed until I left the city. The people who live there say, laughing, that Krasnopolye is the center of the universe. For a few hours, it was for me, as well.

30 days hath September…

I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty annoying to figure out how many days are in May the American way. You have to go through the entire poem (except the February part– everyone knows how many days are in February) before realizing that May is one of the unmentioned “all the rest have 31” months. Now, there’s an easier way.

I present to you the Ukrainian method:


The months on the knuckles have 31 days, while the months in the spaces between have only 30 (except February, but as I said, we all know what her deal is). You’ll never be caught looking upward, biting your bottom lip, and humming that poem you learned in first grade again.

More cultural differences

“I went to the toy store to buy a gift for Ksyusha,” a friend was telling me the other day. “And I was totally surprised! They have everything there! I’ve never seen so many toys in my life! When I went to Oksana’s house to give the gift to her, I saw all the stuff that Elizavetta [her daughter] has. There’s this… thing, for example, that hangs over her cradle and spins and plays music and everything!”

“Yeah, so?” I snorted.

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Rosh Hashana

Friday, September 26

3 days until erev Rosh Hashana

Since the entire Joint office would have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off, and since not everyone works on Sunday, the office Rosh Hashana celebration was set for the Friday before the holiday. Someone had heard Sharon talk about making sushi for her family, and soon all the women were asking her to teach them (there are quite a few sushi restaurants in the city, but at least in the office, only Lena really goes to any of them. Many people had never tried Japanese food, in fact). Well, one thing led to another, and Friday’s Rosh Hashana lunch was a homemade sushi feast! We all helped prepare, rolling the maki, preparing the sumka (a type of salmon, I don’t know what it’s called in English), setting up the ginger and wasabi, making a platter of all the Rosh Hashana foods– apples, honey, pomegranate, and challah (the sushi was the fish)– and of course, since this is Ukraine after all, setting up platters of pickles, pickled mushrooms, and olives.

It was a wonderful lunch! Everyone had filled out small cards for at least five other staff members, and we all exchanged these. Drinks were poured, and toasts were made. Wine abounded. Everyone was in good spirits, and lunch lasted quite a few hours (as meals here tend to do). Read the rest of this entry »

Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink

For two days each year, at different times for each bank of the river, the city turns off all the water to clean the system. That means that Tuesday and Wednesday (that’s right, Rosh Hashana) my side of the river had no running water.

Here it is necessary to give a little background information. The city’s water is not potable under any circumstances. You can’t even boil it, because apparently the toxins in it will only get worse with heat. I don’t know the chemistry behind it, and although no one here can explain why, it’s a definite fact that there is nothing to be done with the river water. Instead, everyone in the city has one of those large water jugs, either like mine shown here, or with the two tabs to dispense hot and cold water.

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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.