Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rivne, Ukraine I

If you're new to the blog, we're currently writing about our time Ukraine-- our first visit back to our home country since we left ~20 years ago.

From Novovolynsk (Yuriy's birthplace), we took a marshrutka to Rivne, my birthplace. Turns out Yuriy and I were born in Ukrainian towns about 100 miles apart (never knew they were so close). We immigrated 6000 miles from Ukraine to the United States with our families. Yet we still somehow landed close to one another! I grew up in Idaho, Yuriy grew up in Washington, 500 miles apart. And a few years ago, we crossed paths, fell in love, got married. Now we live 0 miles apart, and that's just the way I like it.

Yuriy and I stayed in Rivne at my dad's cousin, Luda's, house. She summoned her niece & nephew (around our age) to give us a tour on our first day. The four of us piled into a car and drove around town. They took us to churches, cemeteries, the main train station, a frozen lake dotted with fishermen, shopping centers in town, the brand new mall, their flower shop business (which they were very proud of), and finally dropped us off for a few hours to explore on our own. They were so hesitant to leave us, as if we'd get lost or stolen. We tried to remind them we had been in several countries already without knowing the language, and managed to get around... at least we could speak Ukrainian here.

I moved to the United States with my family in 1989 when I was just one year old. Thus I don't remember a thing about the city I was born in. I had such a wild mix of emotions to see the town that my parents lived in and started their family together (they grew up in smaller nearby villages). I couldn't tell if I was happy or sad. I was happy to see where my mom and dad originated from. I was happy to see the place that formed their lives, thoughts, style, and culture. I was happy and sentimental imagining my mom and dad walking these streets and shopping these stores in their younger years. It was nice to see people around who looked like them and spoke like them. However, at the same time I felt sad to see poverty and a country still recovering from it's Communist past and trying to grow into an independent country (since 1991). It felt like the modern world was just trickling into this place and they were trying to catch up. I tried to imagine what my parents' life would have been like if they hadn't moved to the US 21 years ago with their small kids in tow. I tried to imagine what my story would have been like growing up in Rivne and whether I'd have similar interests and aspirations. I got a glimpse of what our lives would have looked like when we visited my mom's brother and sister and their families in a village just outside of Rivne. But more on that later.

I never missed my parents so much as I did while we were in Rivne. I would have done anything to have them there with me as my tour guides, reliving their past and explaining everything I saw. Instead, it was Yuriy and I trying to figure out the country we were born in, but know little about.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? How did you feel visiting your birthplace for the first time?

Here's a small look at the place where I spent the first year of my life in a stroller.

- Julia

The main movie theater. And Taras Shevchenko standing in front.
The giant Christmas tree is going up in the center of town.
Our hard to miss tour guide (my dad's cousin's niece... I think).
I love Ukrainian Christmas decorations! Very old fashioned.
The central train station (we came here to buy tickets to Kiev).
The place was packed with waiting people, stray dogs keeping warm, and the occasional bird from outside.
Hot piroshki, drinks, and other snacks selling outside the train station.
Inside Luda's house (my dad's cousin)-- where Yuriy and I stayed the night. Her decor is so charming and so Ukrainian.
Luda's kids on their wedding days. 
"God is love"
"...go and sin no more"