Thursday, July 31, 2008

(Славутич) Slavutych, the Newest City in the Soviet Union


On Tuesday we decided to take a drive out to the city of Slavutych with Jake and Anya Knotts. What makes Slavutych so interesting is that it was a planned Soviet city built to house the workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station after the city of Prypyat had to be abandoned. Prypyat had formerly been the newest city in the Soviet Union when it was constructed in 1970. Its 50,000 residents were evacuated 36 hours after reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl Plant suffered a meltdown on April 26th, 1986. With the aide of 1,200 buses, the residents were removed from the city, minus their belongings. They were told it was temporary, but no one was ever allowed to return.

In October of 1986, construction began on the city of Slavutych, the old slavic name for the Dnipro River. The first residents began moving into the city in October of 1988. The city was literally carved out of the forest and this was very obvious when we drove into the city. The city has a population of about 25,000, but it feels more spread out for a Ukrainian city of that size. The first thing we noticed were all the homes that resembled American track homes all built alike and in straight rows.


The layout of the city and even the style of some of the buildings reminded me of several U.S. Army Posts I've been on in the past like Fort Benning or Fort Lewis. It just seemed to have a very deliberate and planned feel to the whole place. The city was also unusually flat compared to other Ukrainian cities we've seen. I learned later that this was because the land had been leveled so that two meters (six feet) of uncontaminated soil could be brought in to build on.


Slavutych is architecturally unique as a city. It was built with eight different distinct sections. Each section was built with workers and architects from the Soviet Republics of the Armenian SSR, Azerbaijan SSR, Estonian SSR, Georgian SSR, Latvian SSR, Lithuanian SSR, Russian SFSR and Ukrainian SSR.


Slavutych is located 45 Km (28 miles) from the ghost town of Prypyat and 50 Km (31 miles) from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station. Although the plant was shut down in 2000, about 3,000 (down from the original 9,000) workers still work there to monitor and maintain the spent fuel stored there. A train travels from Slavutych crossing the border of Belarus twice to transport the workers to Chernobyl. The city of Prypyat is located in the Kyiv Oblast and while Slavutych is considered part of the Kyiv Oblast, it is completely surrounded by the Chernihiv Oblast. The best comparison I can think of would be if Los Angeles was considered to be part of the State of Arizona although it is located in the State of California. Interesting.


Each of the eight kindergartens, like the one above, have their own indoor swimming pools. The quality of life in Slavutych is much better than most cities in Ukraine and it has a significantly high birth rate and a low mortality rate. We didn't notice any wells for water like we're use to seeing in other cities, with good reason, but it left me wondering where their water does come from.


It was just really strange to see so many straight, well maintained roads and sidewalks. It's just not something you normally see in Ukraine. About 20% of the people live in one to two family style homes and most of those had green lawns complete with sprinklers rather than the usual vegetable gardens. Some of the homes looked similar to ones we might have come across back in our home town of San Luis Obispo, California. It was definitely strange to see some of these neighborhoods in Ukraine. It was even stranger to know that all of it was built by the Soviet government a mere twenty years ago.


There were no trees planted earlier than twenty years ago in Slavutych except for the pine trees that they left when they cleared the forest. This gives the city a strange look as you survey the neighborhoods and town square. Jake said it reminded him of the movie The Truman Show where the main character unknowingly lived on a movie set. That's exactly what it felt like.


Near the town square is a memorial to the victims of the Chernobyl accident with pictures of those that died immediately following the accident. The murals on either side of the memorial had an eerie, "Soviet denial" feel to them especially since they were in English.


We all enjoyed the time we spent in Slavutych especially since the overcast skies gave it an even creepier feel than normal. I was fascinated by the whole concept of a planned city and the determination of the Soviet Union to build its Utopia despite the devastation of the first. Slavutych was the Soviet Unions newest city and also a symbol of its downfall and global embarrassment. I can't think of anywhere I've ever traveled that comes close to the mystique of Slavutych. The next city I want to visit is Prypyat, where guided tours are available.

"We value calmness, security, and comfort in Slavutych!"

Just don't pick the mushrooms or berries in the surrounding forest because they still contain high levels of radiation.

Visit to Chernihiv

In Chernihiv with Jake, Anya, and Maia
Lunch in the Yard

On Monday we traveled to Chernihiv to spend a few days with Jake and Anya Knotts and their daughter Maia (also of Calvary Chapel San Luis Obispo). Jake is the pastor of a church he planted in Chernihiv and Anya is Ukrainian. I only mention that because Joshua was shocked to discover that Anya wasn't an American. He just assumed that she had done a good job of learning Ukrainian and Russian. Joshua had a good time entertaining Maia too, or was it the other way around?

Dominic, Jake, Conor, Reenie, Chris, Anya, Edna and Koren

Jake and Anya made us feel so welcome in their home and Jake was kind enough to add a ton of programs to our computer and give us some great tips on maximizing its potential. Thanks again Jake. They also showed us around the city and took us up in the bell tower of one of the Orthodox churches in Chernihiv. Edna, who's afraid of heights, was the only one not excited about that. Of course Dominic and Joshua were even more inthralled when Jake gave us a tour of the catacombs where the Orthodox monks are buried. Edna was a little more at ease in the tunnels than in the bell tower. At least her feet were on the ground.

Catacombs of Chernihiv
The Catacombs of Chernihiv

I think the highlight of our time there was when we decided to drive out to Slavutych. It is a city like no other in Ukraine. It was constructed to replace the city of Prypyat which was abandoned after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station accident. The city of Slavutych was literally carved out of the forest and had people living in it less than two years after construction began. It feels artificial compared to other Ukrainian cites as though you were walking around on a giant movie set. I'll post more about this unique city later.

It's always nice to visit other cities and see what God is doing there, but it's an even greater blessing to be able fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ who joyfully labor to share God's Love and to make His Word known to all. Thanks again guys.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Maxime's Back

Maxime at Church
Maxime at church today

Earlier this week, we met with Maxime's grandmother over at Olya's place to discuss our involvement with Maxime. She admitted that she was embarrassed that people at church knew that we were having to take care of Maxime. She insisted that she would take care of him and that he was not to come over to our apartment or go to church with us. We tried to explain that we were only looking out for his welfare and that we had no other intentions besides teaching him about Jesus Christ. Olya also spoke in our defense and told Maxime's grandmother that she had personally seen how we cared for Maxime day after day and the genuine love that we'd showed him. His grandmother finally agreed that Maxime could play with Dominic and Joshua, but only outside. She then left for a dentist appointment.

It wasn't long before Maxime showed up at our door and explained that he had asked his grandmother if he could stay here in Bila Tserkva. He told us that she had agreed to let him stay until Saturday before returning to the village. Then he told us he was hungry and asked if he could eat with us. We were torn with trying to honor his grandmother's wishes and wanting to see his physical needs met. We knocked on Olya's door and asked her opinion. Maxime told her that his mother said it was OK to eat with us so she told him to go eat with us, but just not to tell his grandmother.

Joshua and Maxime
Maxime enjoying a meal with Joshua after he came back from the village

We have been very careful to always ask his parents before having Maxime over or doing anything for him. His parents don't seem to feel the same way about us as his grandmother does, so we were happy today when Maxime's mother told Edna that it was OK for Maxime to go to church with us. (Apparently Maxime's grandmother didn't come to take him back to the village on Saturday like she had said.) We are so thankful to God that despite the problems with his grandmother, Maxime is once again being able to learn about God's Word and experience the Love of Christ in his life. We've noticed that Maxime's parents have begun to take better care of him and we pray that this continues. We were also told that Maxime's mother has stopped drinking since she recently had a stroke. We know that God has a purpose and a plan in Maxime's life and we are blessed to be a part of it.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11

Maxime and Zhenia at Church
Maxime and Zhenia at church today

When You Care, You Cook

Food from Olya
Today we stayed longer at church than we normally do. We all decided to sing a few more worship songs since we had someone playing keyboard and guitar. Since it was after 7:00PM, we decided to get something to eat before we went home. Shortly after getting home, just after 8:00PM, we heard a knock at the door. It was our neighbor Olya with her hands full of food. She told us that she had decided to fix dinner for us. Unfortunately we didn't come home at the time we usually do so we missed having dinner with her, but she left us with some delicious homemade Ukrainian food anyway.

Olya doesn't have a lot, but what she has, she always shares with us. She continues to be a close friend and like a grandmother to the boys. (In fact, that's what they call her, "grandmother" in Ukrainian.) It's nice to know that someone cares enough to cook you a meal "just because".

Monday, July 21, 2008

In a Pickle

Edna cleaning cucumbers
Edna cleaning pickling cucumbers

Today our neighbor Olya came over to help Edna can some pickles. We've been anticipating this day ever since Olya gave us a jar of her pickles during the winter. Aside from canning, it was a good opportunity for fellowship and ministry. While Edna and Olya were in the kitchen, I was helping to entertain her granddaughter, Alyona. We made a bracelet together and learned to sing a simple Ukrainian song about God's Love. Olya said she was touched by the words of the song because they were so rich in meaning.

Edna and Olya canning pickles
Edna working under the watchful eye of Olya

Food seems to be the center of life in Ukraine so it's no surprise that food is a great ministry tool and the kitchen seems to be where most of our ministry takes place. (Yes, God can also be glorified by canning pickles.) Last Friday, we had Olya over for dinner and we were able to sit around the table and learn more about Olya's life. Olya grew up in Bila Tserkva and lived in a house that was only a short walk from where she now lives. She shared with us about how things use to be and the difficulties of living life in Ukraine.

Edna and Olya canning pickles

Olya was surprised that we had never canned before. She was shocked to hear that not everyone cans in the United States. She told us that we should can as much of everything as we can while it's in season. She said that if we work hard now, we can sit back and rest during the winter while we eat our canned foods. (Not exactly the first thought that comes to mind for most Americans when they think about getting through the winter.) It's also a lot cheaper and tastier to can your own fruits and vegetables. That's what most Ukrainians do and it makes perfect sense so we're going to try and can everything we can for the next month. Olya has offered to let us use some of her storage space for all of the food we can. We are grateful for all of her help and her friendship. Edna is looking forward to many more hours with Olya in the kitchen.

Edna with the finished product
Edna with the finished product

Ukraine Rocks! Гніздо (Hnizdo) 2008

Hnizdo Festival 2008, Bila Tserkva, Ukraine

Yesterday, after church, we embarked on yet another Ukrainian cultural adventure. We decided to go see the second day of a music festival called "Hnizdo" (Nest) that was being held just on the outskirts of our city, Bila Tserkva. Some girls from our church had gone the day before and said that they had had a lot of fun so we decided to check it out. We were really excited about going because our favorite Ukrainian band, Скрябін (Skryabin), was scheduled to play and the fact that it was free made it all the better. Maria's sister Nastia and a couple of girls from our English Club also met up with us at the concert.

Walking to the Concert
"Are you sure this is the way to the concert?"

What I thought was interesting about the concert was that we were told that they stressed that it was a Ukrainian concert celebrating the beauty of the Ukrainian language. The official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and while Russian is also spoken in Eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian language is a symbol of national pride. We live far enough West that Ukrainian is mainly spoken here, although a little Russian is sometimes mixed in for good measure. Schools are all taught in Ukrainian which is why, with two school aged boys, we chose to learn Ukrainian rather than Russian. It's true that Russian can be used in other countries, but when we speak to people in Ukraine in their mother tongue, it has a huge impact on them. They've told us that they feel as though we've made a commitment to Ukraine and aren't simply planning on moving on to another Russian speaking country. No offense to any Russian speakers (we're learning a little Russian too), but you have to admit that Ukrainian sounds better. ;) As it has been said, "She is beautiful, Ukraine's language.".

One of our favorite Skryabin videos filmed in Kyiv

So after saying all this about a Ukrainian concert where they all spoke and sang in Ukrainian, I have to mention that one of the six bands that played was from Russia. I was wondering how that was going to work until the band came out and spoke. The first thing they did was apologize for not being able to speak Ukrainian, then they proceeded to sing all their songs in English complete with British accents. I was totally shocked. That's the first time I've heard a Russian apologize for not being able to speak Ukrainian.

Hnizdo Festival 2008, Bila Tserkva, Ukraine

I was impressed by the level of security that the city provided for the concert. Police were posted at every entrance making sure no glass bottles found their way in and they were posted literally every few feet in lines throughout the concert. At one point, Joshua really needed to go to the bathroom, but we were in the front row against the security barrier with a sea of people between us and the portable toilets. So Joshua simply slipped through the security barrier and walked up to one of the police officers. After a brief discussion and Joshua pointing out that we were his parents, the police officer escorted Joshua backstage to use the portables set up there for the bands. Joshua said the police officer never suspected he was an American.

It wouldn't be a concert without an accordion

The crowd seemed excited enough about the music, but when the group Tik (pronounced Teek) came on stage and began playing an accordion, things suddenly picked up. There's just something about an accordion that makes you want to dance. It also started pouring rain, but spirits weren't dampened by this little inconvenience. People simply shrugged and said, "It will get better". It continued to rain off and on until the end, but we stayed until the last band, Skryabin, played. We were all tired and wet by the end, but we had a great time and tucked away a little more Ukrainian culture into our hearts.

Here's the video I took of people dancing in the rain

ьо - Вона м'яка, твоя мова.
йо - Вона модна, твоя мова.
ї - Вона унікальна, твоя мова.

She is soft, your language.
She is fashionable, your language.
She is unique, your language.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dominic's Island Adventure

On Sunday, Dominic traveled to Kaharlyk where he met up with Micah Claycamp. On Monday they drove to a neighboring city where they then traveled by boat to a small island on the Dnipro River. Dominic will be spending 5 days on the island at a Christian camp called Camp 120.

This is the flyer for Camp 120

You can read about the details by clicking on this link to Micah Claycamp's post "Off to the island".

Dominic has been calling us each day to keep us updated. Unfortunately I didn't let him take our camera so hopefully Micah will take lots of pictures. This is a great opportunity for Dominic to fellowship with other Christians, make some new friends, and seek a little adventure.

Dominic told us the boat ride to the island took an hour and a half. I couldn't help but think how round trip, that adds up to a three hour tour. Interesting.

This is totally unrelated to this post, but has anyone else ever noticed that Tom from LOST, a.k.a. Mr. Friendly, bears a striking resemblance to the Skipper?

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Price of Compassion

Worn Out Sandals

When we returned from the United States in May, we found Maxime wearing shoes that had holes through the soles and were falling apart. We gave him a pair of Old Navy sandals which seemed perfect for summer. Since they were his only shoes, he proceeded to wear dime sized holes through both heels. When we saw this, Edna went out and bought him a new pair of shoes that would last through the summer. It wasn't long before Maxime was wearing his worn out sandals again. They were so worn out that his feet were being cut on glass and rocks and were a mess.

We took him upstairs to our place one day after a particularly bad cut to his foot and cleaned up his feet. He told us he couldn't go home because his parents would spank him for cutting his foot again. We asked him where the new shoes were that we had bought him, but he said he didn't know what his mother had done with them. Clothes that we had gotten for him were also nowhere to be found. We aren't sure what happened to his shoes, but Edna decided to buy him some new sandals and throw the old ones away for good.

This isn't the first time that Maxime's parents have totally neglected his well being to the point that it was criminal. We decided on Sunday, after church, that it would be in his best interest to contact Maxime's grandmother. We just wanted her to be aware of the situation. We don't mind watching after Maxime, but we couldn't stand to watch him live like this. It seems that our efforts to try and keep him healthy and safe are continually undermined by his parents' neglect.

We knew that the decision to contact Maxime's grandmother would come with a price and might even be taken the wrong way. Unfortunately we were right. Maxime's grandmother came to our apartment today to show us that she had bought Maxime some new shoes and didn't need the sandals that we had bought him. She politely returned the sandals and informed us that Maxime would be staying with her in the village most of the time now. She thanked us for the help that we had given him, but said that he was her boy and she would be taking care of him. Maxime was with her and it was all he could do to hold back the tears in his eyes.

We aren't sure how long this new situation will last or how long Maxime will be away, but we know that this is what is best for Maxime right now. Please pray that Maxime's grandmother will be able to better care for him than his parents did.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Івана Купала (Ivana Kupala)

Ivana Kupala

Yesterday, July 7th, was Ivana Kupala. It's a festival originating from Pre-Christian Ukraine that combines a celebration of John the Baptist with pagan fertility practices. On this day, young girls gather near rivers and ponds wearing flower wreaths on their heads that they will toss into the water. It is believed that depending on how the wreath floats, a girl can learn about her future prosperity. After dark, large bonfires are lit and as they burn down, individuals and couples will jump over the burning embers. Of course all of this gets started on the eve of Ivana Kupala, but more people turn out on the actual day and night.

On the Bridge Over the River Ros

A Little Girl With Her Ivana Kupala Wreath and Her Mother

Edna and I walked down to the bridge over the river along with Maxime and Joshua to watch the festivities. Ivana Kupala also signifies the start of the swimming season, so Maxime couldn't resist stripping down to his underwear with everyone else and swimming amongst all the flower wreaths. He had a chance to dry off by the bonfire before we called it a night. We were pretty worn out from a long day in Kyiv. We had spent the morning there where Edna had tests done to try and determine the source of pain she has been having in her kidneys. (Please pray for her healing and resolution to this problem.) We spent the rest of the afternoon in Kyiv visiting with our friend Cara Denney before returning home to Bila Tserkva.

A Babucsya Selling Flower Wreaths for Ivana Kupala
If you forgot to bring a flower wreath, no worries, this little babusya will sell you one.

Ivana Kupala Bonfires along the River Ros
This was the view from our apartment of some of the huge bonfires along the river.

It is said that the most adventurous go into the forest in search of the tsvit paporoti - the magic flower (fern flower), which blooms only on this night. If found, the finder gets untold riches and happiness. But beware! On this magic night the forest is full of demons and other scary beings (nechysta syla), which are out to get the unwary. In particular, there are Rusalky, the water nymphs, who are the souls of those drowned. They try to entice you into the water, so that you can join them in death. But around the bonfire all is merriment and joy.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

4th of July in Ukraine

4th of July

We spent the 4th of July with the Footes and Claycamps at the Claycamps' home in Kaharlyk. We also took Maxime with us where he was able to meet more Americans as well as some Australians and a New Zealander. He was totally confused by all the different accents and especially by Wayne and Olya's boys who speak Russian, Ukrainian, and English with Australian accents.

We celebrated with a few fireworks and American cuisine that included hot dogs minus the cabbage and carrots common to Ukraine. It was nice to be surrounded by Americans on the one day of the year that most reminds us of the home we left behind. (It was also fun to blow things up all in the name of celebration. Only apples and cherries were harmed by our zeal to be patriotic. Sorry about all the cherries on the roof Christy.)

Micah and Justin on the 4th of July
Micah and Justin (At least someone had the right shirt on)

After spending the day with everyone, we were blessed to be able to spend the night in the guest quarters of Calvary Chapel Kaharlyk at the church. Everyone has done a great job of transforming that part of the church building into a comfortable living space for guests. Maxime liked it so much that he wanted to spend another night.

4th of July
Innocently enough, Danny reached for the last of the tortilla chips. None of the children seemed to be amused.

Josie and Maxime playing checkers
Josie and Maxime playing checkers

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Thanks for the Ride Buddy!

Thanks for the Ride Buddy!
"Hey man, stop! Seriously, all we want to do is wash your windows."

Our apartment is on the third floor of our building and our bedroom window looks down on the street that leads to the river. This is the only street in our neighborhood that goes down to the river and the foot bridge that crosses over to village homes and the forest. Needless to say we get a lot of traffic, all day and all night. Most of it is foot traffic which is often accompanied by drunken singing as people take their best guess at which direction their home is in after a day at the river. Occasionally, a daytime photo opportunity presents itself and the above image is the result. Enjoy.