Kyiv... Kiev... Kiyev. After this summer, I'm completely at a loss as to how to pronounce the name of this incredible city. It's pronounced differently in English, Russian, and Ukrainian. At any rate, it will forever be a city I love because it is the place Travis and I spent our first few days back together and preparing for the weeks of ministry before us. For a wonderful two and a half days, we were free to explore the city and take in the richness of its history. I have far too many pictures to post here, but I must say that it's a city full of some of the most beautiful cathedrals, parks, museums, and architecture that I have ever seen.
On our first day in the city, we walked to Independence Square. I literally had chills standing in this historical place - the site of the Orange Revolution and the demonstrations earlier this year when President Yuschenko dissolved the parliament. It is a site of Ukraine's ongoing struggle for democracy, freedom, and progress. It took me back immediately to my first night in Ukraine, when the bus I was traveling to Zaporozhye from Kyiv on was passed by four busses of orange clad demonstrators led by police escorts. After two months in this country, Ukraine's struggle is one that is close to my heart. I have seen how the country's policies impact people at an individual level, and I have come to love these people. I have learned how fiercely Ukrainians love their country, and how much they yearn for just development and growth. Standing in Independence Square, I was reminded of how far this country has come, and how important the future is to those I lived and served among this summer.
Every international traveler or overseas worker has at some point been warned of or taught about reverse culture shock. We go through culture shock when we first move to and learn to live in a culture and country vastly different from our native one. We go through a sort of reverse shock when we are reintroduced to our native culture. Across my time in Ukraine, I have lived and worked in the poorest areas of the country. While Zaporozhye is fairly modernized, its systems and access to external products and technology are very different from the culture I was raised in. The way of life is different - values are different - priorities are different. I spent much time in some of the poorest villages I have ever seen (compared to impoverished areas of Turkey and countries in Latin America). I expected to go through reverse culture shock when I returned to the states - not in Kyiv. Kyiv is a Westernized city of wealth. It is so different from the Ukraine I have seen and known. I was astounded at how such wealth can be concentrated into one area of the country. And I began to understand why the population of the rest of Ukraine is concentrating into Kyiv or leaving the country entirely. Wealth and opportunities for employment are being depleted in villages and poorer regions of Ukraine. Yet Kyiv offers wealth, opportunity, employment, and all the trappings of a Westernized culture. It is a beautiful and wonderful city, but it was difficult to process that I was in the same country...
On Sunday, we continued our journey through the city, taking in cathedrals and resting in the beauty of this place. Our time was short as we were leaving for the village of Knyajzicki, where we would spend next week in a children's camp with our sister church (Knyajzicki's village church is the sister church to our home church, Grace Fellowship, in Brooklyn Park). I don't think I've ever covered such a distance in such a short period of time, but we were motivated! We left exhausted but exhilerated by two days of rest and exploration - ready for the weeks of ministry ahead.