Leaving the Ukraine

My two weeks in the Ukraine have come to an end. I leave tomorrow morning for Kiev where I will spend another day with my friend Grady and his family before heading to Budapest, Hungary and Prague, Czech Republic for a week of vacation before going bac to Los Angeles on June 1. I know, I know. “Vacation? What do you call the last four weeks in Europe?” Well, as sexy as it sounds, I’ve actually been working. You’ve just heard about the fun part on here. But I worked around the clock in London, spoke three times in Florence (and wrote a funeral), and then taught six hours a day here in the Ukraine. So actually, I am ready for a vacation, and I can’t wait to see these cities that have been at the top of my “must see” list for some time now. The only thing between here and there? A 24 hour train trip across Ukraine and Hungary on Sunday. At least I have a sleeper car, so I should be ok if I don’t have to bunk with a smoking Russian. As long as he has vodka, we’re good to go. Haha

I have commented on the rest I have enjoyed here, and that is no doubt true. Even though I have taught six hours a day, I’ve only been doing ONE thing rather than five or six that seems to be my life in LA. I had a real weekend here in which I managed to do nothing more than walk by the river, sit on a park bench, read a book, watch a movie, and just enjoy the city. I never have weekends like that in LA, but I think I’m going to start trying to make sure they happen more often.

I am not sure what I expected when I came here, but I would say that the Ukraine has exceeded any expectation that I did have. We Americans tend to assume that the rest of the world is more backward than us, and people from Los Angeles are even worse because we think that we set the trends for the rest of the world (which after being on this trip I feel is actually more true than not). While there are hardships about being here like language, it’s not like I’ve had a rough missionary life here out in the remote villages of Africa. It is not that different than home. My friends from here will laugh at this because I know it sounds so American to think that we live in a nice place, and that the rest of the world must be backward. But I just want to report from “the edge” that it isn’t so bad.

I have come to see that places like the Ukraine are advancing far beyond our knowledge. Every day I’ve made my home in an internet cafe and mall that is nicer than any mall in Los Angeles, and the cell phone technology far exceeds ours in the United States (Europeans are more addicted to their cell phones and text messaging than I am, so I love them for that). Fodd and drink options are just as plentiful and diverse. The fashion is every bit as trendy, if not more so. No, the Internet is still not as accessible here as it is in the US, the streets and some services seem a bit ancient or inefficient, the political situations are still more unpredictable and volatile (is that possible?), and the public transportation can sometimes be a bit grimy or old, but overall one cannot complain about life here. The Ukrainians and Eastern Europeans are doing just fine. It’s a pretty good life, at least here in the city.

Ukraine and the countries of Eastern Europe have come along ways since 1989. I am aware that most of the kids sitting around me every day have no memory of the Soviet Union just as my own students at Pepperdine never knew Ronald Reagan. They have grown up in a world that is free, rapidly changing and generally optimistic. But I also think about the older people that I see around me here. They knew communism, and some of them still long for its predictability and security. Many of them once thought of me and Americans as their enemy. They could not imagine a world open to the west. Now life has dramatically changed for them, and some embrace it while others wish for the past.

The Ukraine is preparing itself for entry into the European Union, which is still in the distance as long as Russia protests their entry into it. The Ukraine is Russia’s only hope for any empire in the future, and it desperately wants to keep Ukraine’s sympathies with Russia rather than with the US and the EU. But that is not how most Ukrainians feel. They are eager to embrace the west and ready to compete in the European Union market. Their politics are still a bit volatile as long as there is a conflict between their prime minister and the president, but most Ukrainians are so hopeful about their lives and their economy that they believe that politics are almost irrelevant. Christianity is growing all over the country with large Baptist and non-denominational churches springing up everywhere. The people are beautiful, the real estate market is exploding, the economy is good, and the land is resourceful.

Things look good for the Ukraine. I hope to come back here one day and see how things have progressed. I’ve met some incredibly intelligent students, experienced an interesting culture, and seen a country with its best days ahead. I’ve shared the deepest truths I know. I’m grateful. But for now, I am glad to be going west and going home.


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