“Everyone I met in Ukraine was so interested in the United States and wanted to hear about me and where I lived,” said Judy Halstead. “And they also wanted to practice their English.”
During Judy’s stay the weather was cold, most of the time 10 degrees Fahrenheit to 32 degrees.
“We had snow, ice, sleet.”
The time of year means that it gets dark about 4:30 p.m. with little sun. However, the cold weather does not keep people indoors. People are out walking with families enjoying the parks. In the parks are kiosks with soup and hot drinks for sale.
Because it was the Christmas season, the city was lit with decorations for all the holidays of that period. The decorations celebrated St. Nicholas Day, Western Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Orthodox Christmas. In the neighborhood where Judy was staying was Marinsky Park.
“This beautiful park had large igloos with games, cookie decorating and other activities for children. There also were sled dogs to pet and feed.” Judy chuckled as she added, “In the air everywhere were American Christmas songs. I heard more ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ and ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’ in Ukraine than I heard in America.”
Judy’s method of seeing a city or a country is to walk among the people and observe all she sees. She enjoys looking at shops, buildings and people. Although it was cold, people were everywhere enjoying being outside.
Judy notes that when she was in Ukraine 10 years ago the people heard and used the Russian language as frequently as Ukrainian. Not today.
She said she knows about five courteous Russian phrases which she used 10 years ago. During her visit she started to use them again when she thought it was appropriate. She also said that she knows no Ukrainian.
She soon discovered that people she encountered were much more willing to help her when she said, “I speak only English” than when she tried some Russian.
And her “speak only English” brought grins as they tried to help her.
Her son John Silver lives in an apartment in the center of Kiev. Judy often shopped at the neighborhood corner grocery store. One day when she was buying some bread she met Sasha, who worked there. She was struggling to figure out how to ask for the bread.
Finally she spoke her “I speak only English.” Sasha was thrilled to hear that because he had been learning English for three months in an online course. Now he could practice his English with her, and did it whenever she went to the store.
Judy’s photo of Sasha shows him with a big “thumbs up.”
When Judy walked in the near-by park she often bought coffee at the coffee kiosk. It wasn’t long before the young woman who worked in the kiosk would ask, “The same, a short mocha?”
Judy would smile and nod. The woman was quite pleased with herself and asked the phrase whenever she saw Judy.
Judy saw all these attempts at communicating with her as proof of the interest of the Ukrainian people with America and the West.
Judy’s photos of that Christmas season in Ukraine show a vast amount of decorations in the Square and on the buildings with lights everywhere. They truly emphasized the Christmas spirit. The streets were snowy and it looked icy. Obviously it was cold because the people were bundled up in heavy coats and snow boots as well as bandannas.
Especially fun to see were the little children so covered only their pudgy smiling faces were visible. I could feel the gaiety of the season.
It’s impressive to see many people dressed in traditional outfits — both for the season and for pride in their country.
One woman wore a colorful red decorated stocking cap and huge woolen mittens. The orange skates on all the children and adults at the skating rink also was fascinating.
And there was even a Christmas tree lot with trees of all sizes!
St. Nicholas was represented with a long white beard and colorful robe. He was clothed either in a bright red robe with white trim or white robe with green trim. St. Nicholas is quite different from our Santa Claus.
Judy’s photos are the evidence of a people emerging from a traditional past they treasure while wanting to become part of the West. As I viewed them I felt more a part of what Judy had experienced — like visiting Ukraine, if only through her eyes.
Next week learn about the role the U.S. Embassy plays in Ukraine.