No matter how blistery cold outside, we couldn’t stay put in Lviv. The city was more beautiful, more European, more historic, and more charming than we had ever imagined. We were compelled to get to know the city from the moment we got there. I had spent all my life imagining the country I was born in, and now that I was here, I didn’t want to waste any time getting to know Ukraine. I wanted to walk past every building, learn every statue, try all the food. Yuriy and I wandered around the narrow, snowy sidewalks and read all the signs aloud in Ukrainian, just because we could. What a powerful feeling. I peered more closely at the people walking past me on the streets. Every face looked familiar, like I had seen them before or as if I knew their brother, daughter, or cousin. Yuriy and I grew up in Ukrainian Christian churches in the States and have always had a lot of Slavic people in our lives even while living in America. Now we were on the opposite side of the world, so far from home, and all the people looked and talked the same as our relatives and people from church.
I kept wondering if I blended in with the locals thanks to my Ukrainian face, or if I looked like a foreigner. I felt like a foreigner. This city was something out of a storybook or from a skazka. And yet again, I felt right at home when I caught sight of “borsht” or “vareniki” on a restaurant window, dishes my mom raised me on or when I heard a stranger exclaim something my dad would say.
Back home, I felt like I knew Slavics very, very well (I use the word Slavic because it encompasses Ukrainians and Russians). I knew what kind of cars they drove, the food they ate, and where they shopped. I knew they were cheap and had big families. I knew they shopped at garage sales and loved volleyball at the park and only lived in the suburbs--the bigger the house the better. I could spot a Ukrainian at the grocery store or in the car next to me at a stoplight. Yet in this country called Ukraine, I suddenly felt like I didn’t really know them all that well. I couldn’t pick one from the crowd. Suddenly I was the minority and trying to fit in. How strange to think that I’m a Ukrainian trying to be Ukrainian, when I had spent all my life trying to be an American.
Every Ukrainian city has a statue of Taras Shevchenko and every Ukrainian home has his portrait and a copy of his book, Kobzar. He was an artist and poet who inspired Ukrainian nationalism and greatly influenced Ukrainian literature. Shevchenko is regarded as an icon of the country to this day. We even see him show up commonly in Ukrainian households in America!
I think we were the only crazy ones eating ice cream in this winter weather. It was too yummy.
The car everyone's dad drove "back in the day". Looks like they're still all over the streets.