Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ukraine - Donetsk

I usually choose cards that may be interesting for the readers of my blog (at least I hope so) for the top of my updates :) This time some of you may think that I've chosen card that isn't very special in any way... But for me it's very special and I can explain you the reasons ;) I received this card from Aleksandra, who has made her best to find a nice postcard showing her city.

I was just 13 years old when I fell in love with Ukraine and obviously I wasn't allowed to go abroad myself. Therefore I was visiting just West Ukraine, because that's where Polish people usually go, if they decide to visit Ukraine. I also went to Kyiv once. But when I was 17, I decided it was already the right time to travel myself and to discover some new places in Ukraine. I wasn't sure if it was a good idea to go to Donetsk (even though a very good friend of mine lives there, so I felt absolutely safe) because I had some stereotypes concerning East Ukraine, connected with political, historic and language issues. But I don't regret going there at all and I hope I'll be able to visit this city again :)

If you're interested in the boring story on "What happens if Orange Dreamers goes to East Ukraine", you can read it below. If not, just enjoy this card showing the Central Indoor Market and the Orthodox Cathedral in Donetsk (this photo was taken in 2002 - now the cathedral is already completed).

What happens if Orange Dreamer goes to East Ukraine?
(This story is 100% true and based on this blog's author's real experience)

If you're never been to Ukraine and don't know much about this country, but you'd like to go there at least once, I wouldn't recommend you visiting East Ukraine. If you want to have some general idea about Ukraine, it's history and culture - visit Kyiv. If you'd like to see an old city, which has been on crossroads of different cultures and religions for many centuries - visit Lviv. If you'd like to have nice holidays on the seaside, with Mediterrean climate and mountains just next to the sea - visit Crimea. If you love mountains and unspoiled nature - you should choose the Carpathian Mountains. If you're not really interested in Ukraine, a trip to Donetsk won't tell you much about this country and it's beauty. It's just a big city with approximately 1 million inhabitants, not very old (it was founded in 1869, if I remember well) and it's the centre of a large industrial region called Donbass. There are many coal mines and steelworks.

Orange Dreamer also wasn't really planning going to Donetsk. She was more than satisfied with her trips to West Ukraine. When she went to Kyiv for the first time (she was 16 at that time) and looked at the Dnipro river, which is said to divide Ukraine into Eastern and Western part (that's connected with history - Ukraine used to be divided between Poland and Russia, the border was on Dnipro) she thought that there was nothing really worth her attention on the East bank of that river. She had some stereotypes and her attitude to East Ukraine wasn't really good, because people spoke Russian and voted for pro-Russian politicians there (oh yes, she was - and still is - very interested in politics). And she thought nothing could change it. But in November 2008 she was talking to her friend from Donetsk on ICQ (they had met before in Poland) and she joked that maybe she should go to this city. That was supposed to be a funny joke :)) But, as it often happens in our lives, jokes may become reality, so be careful while joking! ;)

On 19 January 2009 she took a train from Ternopil (West Ukraine) to Donetsk. Fortunately, Orange Dreamer loves trains almost as much as she loves Ukraine, otherwise it would be hard to stand this 22 hours long trip. There was an elderly lady from Ternopil sitting next to her. She was going to visit her son, who lived in Donetsk. Orange Dreamer told her that she was going to East Ukraine for the first time.
- Be careful - the lady said very quietly - This train is owned by the Donetsk Railways, so we have to speak quietly. Remember not to say any of the things I'm telling you now in East Ukraine. They can throw you down to the river from 19m high bridge, if you tell the truth! And don't even try to speak Ukrainian there! In the best case they'll just ignore you, but much worse things can also happen!
Then she started telling her theories on how Russians and Jews are planning to destroy Ukraine and then whole Europe. She advised Orange Dreamer not to talk to dark-haired and dark-eyed people. Her views started to seem similar to the nazi ideology and finally she said "If uncle Adolf won that war - we would have order here!" Orange Dreamer realized that there was no point in continuing this conversation and she went to sleep. Next morning she decided to pretend she was sleeping as long as possible. But before her train arrived in Donetsk, she had to get some final advices.
- I'm going to Donetsk just for 4 days, because the air is so polluted that staying there any longer is very dangerous. Remember not to talk to anyone about the things you've heard from me. And call me, if you get into trouble!
Orange Dreamer was very sceptical about all the theories of that lady, but as the train was reaching it's final destination, she felt some fear and actually wasn't sure if she should get out of the train or wait until it goes back to West Ukraine. But she didn't have ticket for the way back anyway. As the train stopped, she realized there was no way back. She was in East Ukraine. Her friend, who was already waiting on the platform, was unfortunately black-haired. The lady from the train noticed it, so she asked Orange Dreamer to talk to her alone for a while.
- Remember, if you get into trouble, you know my phone number!
- the lady seemed to be rather sure that there would be some trouble. Orange Dreamer decided not to lose her faith that there are good people everywhere and that nothing bad should happen.

Orange Dreamer was right. Actually, she's always right, just not everyone realizes that ;) She saw a big and modern city, which was not scary at all (And there was no 19m high bridge... Or she just didn't see that one). People were speaking Russian there, but each time she was talking to them in Ukrainian (for example at the post office), they were answering kindly in Ukrainian :) Orange Dreamer went also to Svyatohirsk, an Orthodox sanctuary located on picturesque hills next to a river, about 140km north from Donetsk. There was a lot of snow and it was one of the most beautiful landscapes that Orange Dreamer still has in her memory. Then she was finally able to say that she really loves Ukraine - not only it's Western part. She hasn't changed her political views, but she understood that sometimes it's better just not to touch some topics that have been reasons of conflict for many years. It's a pity that many people in Ukraine still follow stereotypes and don't trust each other. Orange Dreamer hasn't noticed any real difference between people that live in Lviv and Donetsk. Political, ideological, religious and language differences are not what really matters. The people that she has met in different regions of Ukraine are probably the nicest people on this planet and going to East Ukraine hasn't changed her opinion about this country :)

She still prefers Lviv and Kyiv, just because she loves cities with long and fascinating history and because she can hear Ukrainian language more often in those cities, but she's already looking forward to going to East Ukraine again :) Her plans include visiting some new cities - perhaps Kharkiv and Dnipropertovsk :)


Katie H. said...

Thank you for this lovely post. I read every word with undivided attention, and I have to say, stories like this remind me why I joined Postcrossing in the first place! I really look forward to reading more of your blog.

Warm regards, Katie

Ana said...

I read your "boring" story without losing focus as well, and just wanna thank you for sharing it...i always love reading about people's real experiences or their own views and thoughts about a place they had been to...this is definitely a unique way for me to discover Ukraine :)

aleksasha said...

I wonder if all the West Europeans think the same =) As you saw it yourself, it's just tales and no one in Donetsk would beat your if you speak Ukrainian or support another political party. I even think that in the Eastern Ukraine we are more indifferent to politics that people from Kiev or L'vov are.

I'm glad that you changed your mind! And I was almost laughing when I read that you were afraid to get off train in Donetsk :) Btw it's not very polluted anymore, because a lot of factories stopped working.

I definitely reccomend you to go to Kharkiv, it's a very nice city with long history, there a lot of students. Dnepropetrovsk looks like Donetsk, another industrial city.

Good luck during your Ukrainian journeys! ;)

Оксана said...

@ Katie & Ana:
Thank you so much for your nice comments :) Now I feel I can write more posts like this one in the future :)) It's going to be much more pleasant to me than any attempts to treat my graphomania :))

@ Aleksasha:
I've talked to many people in Belgium and other West European countries and rarely know anything about Ukraine, maybe just that it's capital is Kyiv and that Yushchenko is the current president of this country. Soccer fans also know Shakhtar and Dinamo, but that's all :) So there's no need to worry :)

In Poland people usually know a bit more, they know where's Lviv and some other cities and towns in West Ukraine, because it used to be Polish territory and many Poles have relatives coming from there. The negative opinion about East Ukraine is based mainly on the information we were getting in the end of 2004. It was... ekhm... not very objective ;) These are just stereotypes, but most of people here just don't feel like learning more about Ukraine themselves, although they love to visit Lviv :)

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