Tuesday, September 16, 2008

At 8 PM, the traffic jam at Besarabka was still huge, and everyone was driving on Khreshchatyk sidewalk, too, and suddenly I got nostalgic for the time when Kyiv was different.

Here's a typical view of Khreshchatyk five years ago:

And here's what it looks like now, more or less:

In 2003, I was just beginning to take pictures, and this is what I wrote about Kyiv then:

I find it difficult to photograph Kyiv. When I don't have my camera with me, I can see everything partly as it is and partly as I imagine it. Everything has a memory - and often more than just one - attached to it. Every building, every backyard. But with my camera, I'm forced to see it all as it really is - and all of a sudden, I realize that way too many things would be missing from the photos... and quite a lot of what I'd normally ignore would show up... The tacky plastic windows or air conditioners, for example.

Plastic windows and air conditioners? My 2003 rant seems almost sacrilegious now - everything was perfect then, no? - and I try not to think of what this post will read like five years on.

Here's what I must have been complaining about in Nov. 2003:

And here's what we've got today:

Ukrainian politics was very different in 2003, too. The Klichko brothers, for example, were still our glorious boxers then, sharing the "True Ukrainian Quality" title with Chernihivske beer:

Then one of them decided to run for Kyiv's mayor, twice, and failed:

My mother has just accused me of having a very negative outlook on life, and she is right, unfortunately. I took trolleybus #8 today from Ploshcha Peremohy to Shevchenko Park, and I felt like burning my clothes after I got out of the old stinking thing and made it back home. I tried hard not to mention this here, but failed.

To end it on a somewhat positive note, though, here's another picture of Kyiv from 2003 - a picture of something that's still there, sort of:


  1. Sigh...

    I also sometimes feel that this much longed-for 21st century turns out to be flavourless...

    Wasn't life after all very gratifying when people could just enjoy eachother's presence, without their cellular phones glued to the ear? And when..., and when..., and when...??

    I am puzzled by what ex-USSR citizens feel about it : thank you Veronika for giving me your hint...

    And cheers!


  2. It's not the 21st century I'm complaining about, Genia, it's the mess that Kyiv is in right now.

    I think cell phones and Internet are a blessing - a huge blessing - and I suspect that many "ex-USSR citizens" feel this way, too, especially those who grew up without any kinds of phones in their apartments at all.

    And I love cars, too, and I miss having one of my own, but I just wish our city authorities had done more to prepare Kyiv for SO MANY cars in its streets.

    As for all this new construction, it's a matter of taste, of course, and I'm sure there are people who find it cute. But it's also about the ruined state of Kyiv's infrastructure, and about corruption, too, and the authorities keep promising to look into it every now and then, but never really do, possibly because they are quite interested financially in all these construction projects to go on no matter what.

    My very warmest wishes to you and your family,


  3. I just wish they did a better job at encouraging people to not litter. The air conditioning units doesn't bother me so much. And the buildings? Well, they have the potential of being better and nicer-looking than much of the socialist realist architecture, or the Khrushchovky apartment buldings.

  4. Veronika, thanks so much for this post. I am in the U.S. right now on an extended-by-bureaucracy visa trip. It's nice in many ways; I have extra time to spend with relatives in the lovely region where I grew up. But I am also seeing lots of things here as they were 15-20 years ago when I was little, and how they are now, both physical aspects of home as well as political-cultural aspects of home. In my memory, the farms all had cows; now many are deserted and/or the barns are empty. In my memory, there were downtown department stores; now the downtown has gone through its most abandoned phase and come out the other side, but come out with antique stores and knick-knack shops instead of useful businesses. In my memory, our congressional district elected a gay Republican without batting an eye; now the culture wars have very successfully infiltrated local and state politics.

    I'm not sure how much of my memories are nostalgia, how much I'm just becoming a cranky old lady who remembers how everything was better in her youth. I do know that I feel a deep social anxiety and I sense that incoherent fear and ignorance are triumphing all around me.

    And because I've lived abroad for a while, I'm beginning to wonder how much I understand my country at all. My uncle told me the other day that I've got to stop letting politics get to me too much, shades of your mother telling you your outlook is too negative. He's right, and she might be too, but...how not to be negative and worried?

    anyway, thanks for your post and your photos.

  5. Markiyan, I used to worry about air conditioners back in 2003, but not anymore - I no longer notice them. Part of the reason was that we lived in St. Pete then, where, as far as I understand, it's illegal to place air conditioners on the facades of the buildings - roofs and backyard-facing walls are okay, but not the facades. And it was so much easier to photograph St. Pete buildings than their Kyiv counterparts because of that...

    Joy, thanks so much for writing. I'm actually glad I had enough energy to post this yesterday: now that I've mentioned this very vivid nostalgia to someone, I can move on - and I felt nothing but cold and wet when I got outside today, nothing worth writing about... :)