July 14, 2005

I already miss Ukraine.

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This is the Pecherska Lavra, a series of old Orthodox Christian Monasteries in the capital city of Kiev. The Pecherska Lavra is actually built in small underground caves, originally founded in 1051 AD, but there are also many above-ground structures. I will write more about these caves in another article.

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Another picture of the strada outside the caves.

I got back a few days ago from my two weeks in Ukraine. Man, I had a great time! This was the first trip it was very difficult coming back to Kuwait. It had nothing to do with Kuwait though. I just didn't want to leave.

Here's the short version of my trip: I landed in Kiev and met up with my friend Vitalik. We fared around the capital for a few days and checked out many great sites, including the Chernobyl Museum, Soviet/Afghan War Museum, World War II Museum, Kiev Square (famous from the Orange Revolution of 2004), and a few other local stops.

After Kiev, Vitalik and I took a train to his home town, Kharkiv. I stayed at his house for the week and met his mother and sister, Katya, along with many other friends (Anya, Lila, Katya, Yura, Sasha). We partied, rode horses, and drank lots of Vodka.

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Leaving Kharkiv, we took another train down to Yalta, a city nestled in the Crimean Peninsula, overlooking the Black Sea.

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This beautiful resort town has many stories to tell, from the Vikings of old to the Greek Empire...to modern times such as the Soviet Union and its collapse.

I have much to share, and it will take some time to get all the pieces up on this web site. Along with that, I'm trying to get back to speed with my job, and preparing for my second trip to Afghanistan.

Keep checking up, and I'll write again soon. Vitalik, Anya, Katya, and everybody else in Ukraine: I miss you all and had a great time. I will definitely come visit again.

More to follow...

Posted by Dan at 11:52 AM | Comments (5)

July 29, 2005

Ukraine Trip (1 of 2)

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Click on the picture to enlarge (a new window will pop up).

I've been back in Afghanistan for a few weeks now, but I haven't been able to work on my site until today. As you know, I returned from my trip to Ukraine, and here is the first series of pictures.

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I flew into Kiev (via Boryspil International Airport). The flight was only a few hours from Frankfurt Intl. and the service on Ukrainian International Airlines was pretty good. After what seemed like hours in Passport Control, I made it through the airport and I immediately found my friend Vitalik.

A quick background: Vitaliy (I can call him Vitalik because he is my friend) is a soldier I met while working with the Ukraine Army in Iraq. I worked on a large project for the Multinational Division, and was attached to the Ukrainian Army Division Headquarters. Vitalik always told me how great his country is, and now I got the chance to see for myself.

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We grabbed a taxi and took a ride into Kiev (the capital).

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We stayed in this hotel the first night. Everything was fine except their lack of hot water. I didn't care though. I just wanted to see Kiev.

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This is Independence Square in Kiev, recently famous for the election protests of 2004 that started the Orange Revolution. Remember, this new president (Viktor Yushchenko) was poisoned, in an attempt to remove the competition. Crazy stuff.

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This is Kvas, a regional drink made from wheat. It looks like beer (and almost tastes the same), but it doesn't have any alcohol, though it is pretty good at curing hangovers!

There are vendors everywhere, selling food and drinks as you walk down the main streets. It is as if Kiev is always celebrating something.

Vitalik and I walked around the downtown region the rest of the evening, ate some traditional food (like borshch), and had a few beers. By the way, beer is called pivo...my favorite word.

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This is the Pecherska Lavra Monastery. I couldn't take photos inside, but you can go here to see the caves and learn more.

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Another photo outside. This place was awesome. I love the architecture.

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After the caves, we went to the Soviet/Afghan War Museum and browsed around the outside "gardens." Here you can see a MiG-23, one of the former Soviet Army's most powerful air-fighters. I have seen wreckage from one of these at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan (where I work currently).

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This is an RSD-10 (also known as an SS-20 Theater Ballistic Missile). It has a range of about 5,000 KM, and can carry 1-3 nuclear warheads, depending on the production variant. Click here for more info.

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Further down is the World War II Museum. Built on top is a giant statue representing the Motherland. Unfortunately, that's all the info I've got. In the photo above, you can see a small tourist standing in the plaza below (for size comparison).

Many people might not realize how much Ukraine was affected by WWII. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were killed or placed in concentration camps. The majority of cities were destroyed and burned to the ground, along with their citizens. This is information that I don't seem to remember reading about at the museum in Washington. I hope the fault is mine, in that I just didn't notice at the time.

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You've seen those war posters before, only of the American type. Well, here's what the Soviets' posters looked like. It says something to the effect of "What are you doing to help?"

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And here is a tribute similar to the USMC War Memorial of Iwo Jima. I don't have any information on the sculpture, but it was impressive.

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We also went to the Chernobyl Museum, but I really didn't feel like taking many photos. The whole thing was pretty disturbing. The Chernobyl Accident involved a complete meltdown of one of the plant's reactors, leading to a release of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. For more info on Chernobyl, click here.

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Our last stop before leaving Kiev was to the equivalent of the White House.

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This compound is actually made up of several buildings. Just across the entrance, several protesters were camped out, but I don't know what they were there for.

Now would be a good time to mention that Ukraine has a slight division, similar to the "North and South" in the US. Western Ukraine is more Euro-styled, and they speak mostly Ukrainian, while Eastern Ukraine is more like Russia, and they speak primarily in Russian. I'm not saying Eastern Ukraine is like Communist Territory...the people just want to maintain better ties with Russia. I doubt there will be a civil war between the East and West, but the people have different views.

Now back to the story...

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It was getting dark, and Vitalik and I had a train to catch, so we headed to the station (Destination: Kharkiv). This is Vitalik's home town.

For more info on Kiev, click here.

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Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine, with a population of 1.4 million (I forgot to mention that Kiev's population is around 3 million). This is the plaza next to Kharkiv's train station. Nemiroff is Ukraine's most famous brand Vodka. Believe me, it's good.

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After Vitalik and I got some rest, we met up with his girlfriend, Anya, and her friend, Lila. They wanted to show me their town, so we headed out and went horseback riding.

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We started out in a small forest about 60 km near the Russian border, and ended up on the edge of a small valley.

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The girls don't seem to have this problem, but after riding for about an hour, Vitalik and I started to develope a "soreness," if you understand what I'm getting at. It's not always fun being a guy!

After riding, we went out to dinner and met up with some more of Vitalik and Anya's friends.

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The next day, we went to the market to get some food for a barbeque. After our errands and eating, we went out again. This is Ploscha Nezalezhnosti, Kharkiv's Independence Square. It is the largest city square in all of Europe, and the second largest in the world (after Tiananmen Square in China).

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At the other end is a statue of Lenin. There are many statues of this famous political figure all over Ukraine.

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One of our nights out. From left to right: Vitalik, Anya, Katya (Vitalik's sister), Katya, Yura, and me.

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It was time to get moving again. This is the Kharkiv train station. Vitalik, his sister Katya, his girlfriend Anya, and I were going to take a trip down to the Black Sea, to a beach town called Yalta.

I will post the second half of the trip in a few days...

As for what's new with me, I'm still at Bagram. A few weeks ago, four detainees escaped from the prison and managed to get off base. And this week, there have been massive protests outside the gates. Overall, Bagram is not a bad place to be, but I think the locals are starting to get upset with our presence here.

Until next time...

Posted by Dan at 02:37 PM | Comments (2)