Ukraine is an off-beat destination for most travellers, including Holly Morris, who nonetheless, dives right into her Globe Trekker journey to discover plenty of unexpected charms, cultural curiosities, and historical perspectives that range from fun to deeply haunting.
Holly’s Ukraine itinerary cuts a wide circular swath through this vast country which is slightly bigger then France, and home to over 45 million people. Within Ukraine’s current borders lies a history of overlapping empires, conquering armies and a patchwork of ethnic populations that sets the scene for today’s visitor at every turn.
A uniquely condensed collection of Renaissance and Baroque churches and architecture is Holly’s first impression when she lands in the city of Lviv, Ukraine’s north western “cultural capital”, a reminder that Lviv was once a jewel of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, and an outpost of European culture on the frontier of the Russian border. Modern day Lviv also displays a penchant for extreme-themed cafes and restaurants, and Holly discovers two prime examples: a “secret” Beer hall devoted to the memory of World War 2-era Ukrainian resistance fighters and an S&M themed cafe devoted to Lviv-born writer Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, who inspired the term “masochism”.
Next, comes living folklore, as Holly hits the road for the gorgeous scenery of the Carpathian Mountains. Here, authentic traditions of local mountain peoples, such as the “Hutsuls”remainintact, as Holly discovers when she shops a local outdoor market, visits a mountain shaman for a blessing, and dances the night away at a local wedding reception. Afterwards, we head south through the vast flat plains of central Ukraine, which is dotted with ancient farmvillages and towns such as Uman, where we witness a joyful annual pilgrimage celebration for Hassidic Jews from all over the world whose sect was founded in this region hundreds of years ago.
Continuing south, to Pervamaisk, Holly visits a once secret, cold war era missile base. Escorted by an ex-commander deep down inside a bomb-proofed control room, she puts her finger on “The Button”, but thankfully, the nuclear missiles that once pointed at the U.S. are long gone. In a stopover in Kherson, an industrial port on the edge of the Black Sea, Holly checks into her hotel only to find a party going on in the disco-ballroom where she gets to observe a Ukrainian Bride agency in action.
Holly moves on to the large, peninsula known as Crimea, a semi-autonomous republic and a long-time favourite vacation spot of Russians who still dominate cultural and political life here.
In Yalta, Holly visits the Livadia Palace, originally builtfor Czar Nicholas II as a summer home, but most famously used for the “Yalta Conference”, as a meeting point forChurchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at the end of World War 2. After sampling the spa treatments at a soviet-era “sanatorium”, once the playground of communist party leaders, Hollytravels near the port of Sevastapol, and meets up with some passionate history buffs who are gathered to recreate the first battle of The Crimean War circa 1854.
Finally, heading back north to the top of the country, and the modern capital of Kiev, Holly takes a day trip to the nearby site of the Chernobyl disaster. Armed with a guide and a Geiger counter, she ventures into the 30 kilometre “exclusion” zone, into a surreal world of ghost cities, radioactive hot spots, and a few gritty natives who couldn’t be torn away from their homeland.
Inspired by the people they met in Chernobyl, especially those who have chosen to stay in the ‘Dead Zone’ despite the health warnings, Holly Morris and Director of the Ukraine show Anne Bogart have launched their campaign and brand new film venturewww.thebabushkasofchernobyl.com.
Visit the website to find out more and to support their efforts, check out their Kickstarter Campaign: http://kck.st/OeaH9J
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