A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for Russian class

Paskha, the Russian Easter

Like in many European Catholic countries, Paskha is a weeklong festival. For the very religious, there are church ceremonies beginning a week in advance, but the most important days are the last four: Great Thursday (also known as “Clean Thursday,” because this day is dedicated to a thorough spring cleaning), Friday of the Passion, Great Saturday, and finally Paskha itself on Sunday. For some, Saturday is a fast day, broken after the Paskhal vigil church service, which ends at midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning. After that, the Paskha feast can begin!

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Cultural differences

I read an English folk tale, translated into Russian, with Elena Alexandrovna the other day. A poor couple is granted three wishes. They argue all night over what to wish for, and finally agree to sleep on it and decide in the morning. Exhausted, the wife declares that she wishes they had a sausage to eat. Sure enough, the sausage appears on the table. The husband, enraged at his wife’s stupidity, shouts that he wishes that the sausage would stick to her nose. As expected, the sausage attached itself to her face, and no amount of pulling could remove it. Both shamed by their carelessness, they finally concede their third wish and ask for the sausage to detatch from her nose. It does. Although they end up no richer than before the wishes, they learn a valuable lesson.

“You know, we have a Russian version of that tale,” Elena Alexandrovna observed.

“We do, as well,” I agreed, thinking of all our be careful what you wish for stories. “What’s the Russian variant?”

“Davnim davno…” she began.

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East vs West

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December advertisement featuring Valeriy Konovalyuk, a member of the Party of Regions, which has strong ties to Russia. The sign reads:

“Issue at stake: NATIONAL IDEA
Valeriy Konovalyuk
Farewell, arms!
Farewell, NATO!
National idea:
A new Ukraine-
Without the right to mistakes”

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Back in the USSR

The Soviet Union is missed more dearly in Ukraine than one would expect.

USSR Casino

“Things were better during the USSR,” Sveta, my Russian teacher, has told me many a time. “Education was so much better than it is today. The streets were clean. Everyone could get healthcare. People were more respectful.”

More respectful? How do you figure?

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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 »

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:

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