His hair seemed as if it had survived a tornado on his way to me. Dark hair flopping and flying around. I’d be surprised would I find a comb in his bathroom. Brown eyes twitched in his skull, full of energy. His hand shoots to mine. A quick introduction and we walk back to his apartment. From the metro, it was a short walk. On our way we pass a few restaurants, a shop and a handful of stands bearing fruits or fresh coffee. I analysed the area, preparing for the coming weeks. The elevator we had to take was an old model, slowly transporting us up. Inside his room, my eyes went exploring. It felt as if I recognised the place from an episode of Hoarders. Yet, instead of hoarding, this pigsty was an act of laziness. A dwelling filled with empty bottles, caps, dirty clothes and everything underneath the pile. However, interesting. His room kept many hidden treasures. Old Ukrainian uniforms, notes of Belarusian currency, pictures, stickers and posters of all sorts, some in German and English, license plates, you name it. As two women in need of housing had claimed the bed before I even was on Kiev soil, the couch became mine to drowse off on.
For Pavlo, an evening out does not require him to leave the building. Consuming cheap – admittedly tasty – beers with accompaniments atop the roof was all one need. Tottering the edge with views of the city around, many stories and memories rest on that rooftop. Travellers, friends, lovers and an ex-prisoner – an infamous Russian arrested for many years for merely supporting freedom – have viewed Kiev the way I did. Evenings filled with passionate discussions often marinated with history. Ukrainian leaders, architecture, hryvnia notes, the Ukrainian/Russian relationship, the Student Starvation, the Demonstration War of 2014 and many more topics were touched with Pavlo’s love for incessant talking. One evening, his Russian friend had joined and we sat sharing stories. I was the vainer, in comparison to their arrest in Russia for bursting out into the Ukrainian anthem and fearing imprisonment of several years or Pavlo’s day of horror as he is commanded to dig his own hole after being kidnapped by the Secret Police. His passion of conversations poured into the wailing of his lovely wife abandoning him and praising my home country; the Netherlands. Alcohol-fuelled he spoke fervidly that night: “You can’t really love your country unless you take care of it. In the Netherlands, every stone, every brick is perfection.” Other nights the conversations flowed more calmly as we discussed the preference in language, (Ukrainian more beautiful, Russian more common was the average answer) the alcohol in Ukraine or simply listening to music as we viewed the city.
This is where I watch over the city. We had climbed over the barricaded gate that blocked our way to the barely standing tower. Climbing up with flip flops over the wet stairs had been a slipper-y ascend. A leap over the missing steps. On top was a viewpoint of Kiev in the nearby distance. She trotted without complaint or hesitation over the gate in her neatly outfit, up the steps and to the edge. Raindrops made their way down, cooling the bodies that had been in the sweltering heat of a Ukrainian summer. Her smile was sweet, beaming at the city. Dark hair curled down her shoulders. This had been her favourite place. She would come up and think about all the people and their lives. Olga was different and thereby showed me a different side of the city, where lesser tread. Her camera rested in my palms, an honour I took with gratitude and joy as I tried my hardest to make captivating clicks. National Geographic won’t be asking for my shots any time soon, nevertheless I took pride when a picture came out well. Over train tracks we searched for the lost cranes, we scavenged abandoned buildings, climbed trees while savouring its fruits, visited the rusty Eiffel Tower for a day and got lost in a field before missing the final metro. Small that she was, she was strong at spirit and heart. Having endured plenty, she faces the world with a smile.
Let’s go back, she says, as the trots down enthusiastic. As result of the two ladies occupying the room that would have been mine, my following weeks were spent residing in the home of Olga instead, a friend of the journalist. It was a change of sight to be able to see the floor of the apartment. Olga shares the residence together with her father. His first appearance came off grumpy and dour, however in reality, the man is kind and filled with stories. Exciting, interesting and funny. A day after temporarily moving in, Alonya, a friend of Olga, had a fully packed bag in the apartment leaving issues in her dormitory. When Olga’s day job called her, teaching Czech, at times Alyona would be the one guiding me. Through the city we marched, until I had seen it all. On Independence square we stood, when she pointed to a ledge: “That’s where I made molotov cocktails during the Demonstration war.” Pictures and posters of the demised hang on the monument. As saddening is the Holodomor park, where you’re greeted by the statue of a young, starving girl. Her eyes hollowed out, made for a twisting feeling to my stomach. Or the poor families fearing their lives… Luckily, Kiev has plenty to offer besides that, however, I shall highlight them next time.
Together, the two ladies also showed me Kiev in dark through vodka tastings, music, bad pictures, sprinkler showers, toe-dipping in the warm river, drifting off to street music and other things. Among their company, I felt I had seen it all and after a solid two weeks, if not more, time had come to continue. I ended up on Pavlo’s roof for a final evening with all before moving onwards to Odessa.
50TH BLOG POST!! 😀
I remember chuckling at the thought of a blog, of writing. Now here I am, loving it. Thank you to everyone who’s reading this, to the ones who show support which includes my amazing family!