Visiting Ukraine in 2013. Part 1. Artemovsk.
“Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity”.
When we first travel outside our motherland we experience a culture shock. After we live in a new country for a few years and travel to re-visit our motherland we may experience a ‘reverse culture shock‘. Cultural differences become more pronounced, and sometimes we hardly associate ourselves with the environment we used to be part of! We feel ‘aliens’ in our own motherland. Back in immigration, we often romanticize our past but now when we are in the middle of it, we definitely feel it is the past. Traveling to your country of origin can be the best time machine existing on Earth! It is therapeutic to re-visit it once in a while to sort out those thoughts and give your past a more objective value.
I have not been to Ukraine, my country of origin, for five years! I experienced a full range of the good, the bad and the ugly during my visit. I was so full of impressions that it took me almost a month to sort out my thoughts. I re-visited three of the cities I had lived in at different stages of my life: Artemovsk (my childhood town), Gorlovka (my student life) and Kiev (my adult life). It was nice seeing relatives and friends but occasionally I felt like I did not belong there any more. Back in the US my nostalgia was mostly related to relatives and old friends, certain foods or places. So, I decided not to focus on ‘the bad and the ugly’ and enjoy the best what the trip had to offer.
I will start from my childhood town of Artemovsk, where I lived before I entered the University at the age of 16. Artemovsk (also spelt as Artemivsk) is a part of Donetsk Region (Donetsk Oblast). This area is famous for its natural resources, coal mines, fertile black soil, several colleges and universities, cultural life, salt mines, beautiful girls, hot dry summers and humid cold winters. Many residents are proud of their region while others fled the area in search of better wages and lifestyles. Some towns look better than others: cleaner streets, renovated buildings and overall, a more developed infrastructure. Artemovsk has always been one of the most beautiful towns of Donetsk Region.
The history of Artemovsk dates back to XVI century. Since Soviet times Artemovsk has been famous for its salt mines and Winery. I remember quite a few productions working more than couple decades ago: a shoe factory, a glass factory, a metal plant, a fish and meat processing factories, a confectionery and a bakery. When a schoolgirl, I remember taking tours to a few such facilities. It was fun watching how a vase was being made or a chocolate cake was being cooked! The unfading memory was visiting one of confectionery shops where chocolate covered peanuts in huge boxes were stored. Oh, that endless free sampling… Nowadays Artemovsk lives a full life of a small town. There are a lot of cafes, banks, stores, churches and taxis on the roads. A lot of visitors find Artemovsk attractive compared to other similar towns. There are a lot of old buildings that may remind of European charm, so hopefully they will be preserved for many years to impress other visitors.
My life of a child in Artemovsk was good. I had a lot of friends, and we had a lot of places to explore as kids. I still remember how we climbed the roofs and were yelled at for that. So, the old lady, a night guard, had “to bribe” us so that we stopped climbing her roof. She shared some honey combs with us, and were were happily sitting at her guarded small house, chewing combs and enjoying teas. We used to run to the bakery, just around the corner – and begged for freshly made bread, still hot – again, from the guards:-) At daytime we often visited the Museum located across the road – we did not care too much about the history but we enjoyed sliding along the shiny hardwood floors in special protective slippers. We loved to play outdoors until midnight, and it was hard for our parents to make us go home. I still remember doing my homework in a rush , with my room window open to screaming kids in the yard, playing our favorite games… I also remember long classes at the musical school where I first loved playing the piano and the violin, then the piano and the violin “played me”. All of a sudden the childhood was over, and we all transformed into college students, when teachers addressed us in a polite way “Вы” (Russian for “You”). I started visiting Artemovsk only on weekends, and gradually my life and events became more connected to another small town, which I would mention in a separate post.
Speaking of new times, it was unusual to walk along the streets where I used to run as a kid. The old open farmer’s market is still there where you can still find some very good produce – so yummy! Natural or organic – whatever you call it, it tastes better than organic produce in the USA. My Mother grows some produce, too, and those cucumbers were the sweetest ones I tried in a long time. I re-visited the Museum, and even managed to see two exhibitions. We had a picnic with relatives, and I also met a few friends.
So, what to do while on vacation in a small town? In the town of your childhood?
1. You can check your favorite places of the past. You may open something new for yourself, reconnect with those memories and emotions you had in the past. I was really excited to see an old railway bridge where we used to play as kids. A typical steppe landscape: the river Bakhmut and the fields of wildflowers.
2. You can go to a local museum or a local exhibition. I had a special reason to visit the local Museum. I knew that my Mother donated a chandelier and an old heavy typing machine there. I wanted to take some photos and keep them as memories about those things while I cannot keep the things anymore.
3. The next idea is not new, but you will have fun doing it with your family members. It is about re-creating past photos with your relatives. Between these two photos – only 30 years…
4. Enjoy your favorite authentic meals you cannot purchase anywhere else. I found plenty delicious foods that I had missed so much. One of them is sour-cream. You can buy it at the fresh market, and it is made of raw milk which is outlawed in the US for human consumption. The sour cream is so thick and sweet – it rather reminds butter. So yummy! I do not have a photo of sour-cream but I have a photo of an ice-cream. Hands down, the best I tried in the world…
5. Purchase authentic souvenirs. Ukrainian people are very talented. You may find a lot of paintings, embroidered scarves (Rushnyky), hand carved wooden boxes, hand painted eggs (Pysanky), nest dolls, etc. The prices for handmade items may be very affordable. I did not have time to look for souvenirs in Artemovsk. I purchased most of my souvenirs in Kiev.
6. Visit local sights. Big attractions of Artemovsk are Salt Mines and Winery. We visited both of them with my husband during our previous visit in year 2008. Salt mines located 300 meters under the ground are safe to visit. Breathing salty air is very therapeutic. There is even speleosanatorium here, which may benefit people with asthma, allergies and thyroid gland condition. Walls, ceilings and floor – all made from salt. There are wall paintings/carving and even a church in the mines. There is a huge hall underground where local symphonic orchestra performed (acoustic is amazing there!). You may also be surprised on seeing soccer gates – yes, you can play football there, too!
7. Go to the cinema/theater and watch a movie/performance in your mother tongue. While you may enjoy watching your favorite shows on your computer, I bet you would enjoy watching them on a big screen. Unfortunately, I could not make it this time. I spent a lot of time walking and taking photos:-)
8. Cook your signature dish for your relatives and friends. You can also bring some non-perishable food from the US. Peanut butter can be such a good idea. I brought kale chips, Almondina (cookie crackers) and organic teas. I also brought some Indian spices which I use for my cooking.
9. Finding some old things like childhood photos or toys in your childhood home. You never know what old treasures you can discover visiting your childhood home. I was happy to find my childhood toy – a dog called ‘Tobick’ that is well preserved for more than 30 years! Now Tobik has a new life in the US. I am so happy for him:-) If some of your previously treasured items would not be found you may try to check eBay. They sell a lot of vintage items.
10. Finally, about the transportation. Getting to small towns can be painful. There may be no direct trains or buses. Check your options. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a new high-speed train Hyundai introduced in Ukraine before the Euro 2012 soccer tournament. The train goes between major cities such as Kiev, Donetsk, Lviv, etc. A 2nd class ticket is very affordable (300UAH, or $37USD). For example, it takes only 6 hours to get to Kiev from the small town nearby Artemovsk. This is versus 12 hours in a slow overnight train, where a 2nd class sleeper (4 sleeping berths in a cabin) costs 180UAH, or $22USD. When I was traveling to Artemovsk, all 2nd class tickets were sold out, so I had to take the 3rd class ticket. I did not know about a high-speed train then. Traveling back to Kiev was in much better conditions thanks to a new train:
These are only a few things that can help add impressions to your visit. Whatever you do during your vacation, you will remember the best. This is how our minds work. Eliminating the negative, and moving forward to conquer new territories, leaving behind such small towns, which used to be our whole world when we were kids.
… to be continued…
The Amateur Expert.
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Author: Elena White