indness Ukrainian Style
June 6, 2002
Help in Crossing the Border
On the bus from Suceava, Romania to Chernivtsi, Ukraine, we were both focused on the countryside and wondering if and how it would differ from what we had seen in Romania. We, of course, were the focus of attention of most of the rest of the bus. Jan spent some time trying to listen to the conversations around her, but quickly got tired. When we arrived at the border, however, and we all had to get out of the bus, curiosity got the better of some of the passengers and a group of women approached us to ask questions.
So I was in the hot seat, suddenly called on to understand Russian and try to express myself in it. Let me remind you that apart from a three-day interlude in the late 80's when we hosted two Ukrainian Russian speakers in Middletown, I hadn't had any practice in Russian since I graduated from Bradford in 1971, 31 years before! The ladies were delighted that I could even attempt to speak Russian and were both patient and helpful. One woman, in particular, Stella, was quite excited about meeting a foreigner and personally escorted us through the different border checks. As we learned from Stella and her friends, they travel across the border from Ukraine to Romania and back once a month to sell hand-made wedding dresses. Poor as Romanians are, they are richer than Ukrainians and so the market across the border is better. Isn't world trade wonderful?
Help Finding a Hotel
We arrived in Chernivtsi in the late afternoon and getting off the bus, started to discuss the usual two topics that arise on arrival in a new city: first, where do we go from here and how; second, where are we going to stay. Throughout Turkey, Gerry had been our scout for bus timetables and likely hotels, but since we had entered the former Soviet zone of influence, such tasks had more and more often fallen to Jan thanks to her supposed Russian language skills. In Bulgaria the ability to read cyrillic script certainly helped, although the Bulgarians seemed no more willing to speak Russian than the Czechs had been back in 1969 after the crushing of the Prague Spring liberalization. In Romania, German was more useful than Russian especially in Bukovina, a former Saxon enclave. But here in Ukraine, no longer just an ex-Warsaw Pact country, but an ex-Soviet Republic, it seemed most likely that Jan would get some real Russian practice.
After an excursion to try and find out the times of buses on to our next destination, Vinnitsa, and encouraged by Gerry’s constant prodding, Jan at last approached a woman in the bus station to ask hesitantly if she knew a hotel in Chernivtsi. The woman was seeing her son off and replied that yes, she did know one and if I would wait she would help me. And help me she did. She walked with me from the bus station to the nearest tram stop, helped me buy a ticket, rode with me the two stops to the hotel, came in to the Bukovina Hotel and helped me ask about a room, accompanied me upstairs to examine the room, and finally offered to accompany me back to the bus station! I was quite overcome by her kindness and asked her why she was doing all this. She merely smiled and said that she thought it was just so interesting to talk to someone from abroad and especially someone, how should I say, older than she was!
I refused her offer to come back to the bus station with me, having taken up so much of her time already, but I did not refuse the name and phone number of her sister from Kiev. She assured me that if I needed help, I could call on Larissa, her sister, for help. We said a warm goodbye and I set off to walk the kilometer or so back to the bus station and Gerry suffused with a very warm feeling about Ukraine and Ukrainians..