To start with, and since it’s a bit of a tradition on this blog, name 5 famous Ukrainians (my answer is below).
I like Kyiv. The Ukrainian spelling works better I think since people seem to pronounce it Kee-uhv rather than Key-ev, the way I’ve always assumed and heard it pronounced by British football commentators. By the way, and on a totally unrelated tangent, someone recently pointed out to me that football is the reason why a lot of British men have a fairly good knowledge of geography (in the capitals and other major cities sense of geography rather than the formation of U-shaped valleys sense). We know where Tbilisi is, and Liege and Malmo and Porto and Krakow and Craiova and a hundred other European cities, purely because of the club competitions. We also have a fairly good idea of Latin American geography for the same reason (we find it difficult to pinpoint Surinam or Guyana on a map of South America because they’re the countries that aren’t in the CONMEBOL qualifiers). With the recent rise of African football, I imagine that the younger generation are becoming familiar with Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon. This is why young US Americans are lagging behind in geography – not because of bad teaching but because they’re not interested in football.
But, as usual, I digress. Kyiv. Big wide 19th century boulevards flanked by large imposing buildings, in the style of Paris or Barcelona (or not really, but you get the idea). I imagine Bucharest was possibly once like this too, before Ceausescu got his hands on it. I know I keep banging on about the destruction of Romanian cities at his hands, and obviously in the grand scheme of things knocking down a few old buildings was one of the least of his crimes, but it’s just the major remnant of his regime that you can’t avoid seeing everywhere. [On another architectural note why were the years of the mid to late 20th century so godawful? Who told architects that what the world needed were large monolithic hideous in your face concrete clad monstrosities? It’s not just in the communist world either – I lived in Coventry and spent a lot of time in Sheffield, two cities greatly damaged by bombings in the second world war, and they too, were rebuilt as if by someone with a grudge against society and aesthetics. What was going on?]
Today (actually Saturday - that's when I wrote this, but haven't been online until now) I went around the city, guided ably by Tanya my host, and saw some of the sights. It’s a nice place. We went to some orthodox cathedrals, and the old bit, and the river bank, and this long winding steep street full of people selling things I didn’t want. One church I actually went into – Tanya not, because she had forgotten to bring a scarf for her head. Obviously Ukrainian orthodoxy is a harder version than Romanian since I’ve never seen women unable to enter a church for want of a head scarf at home. It throws up quite a contrast in fact as the prevailing fashion among young Ukrainian women is something which should be, but probably isn’t, referred to as “slut chic”. So you get the slightly paradoxical sight of women in miniskirts, fishnets and 10cm stiletto heels donning a head scarf in order to wander round a church and pay their respects to some saint or other. Pictures will follow (of the buildings and so forth, not the scantily clad Kyivans, you’ll be sorry to hear).
So, five famous Ukrainians. I imagine that it is a measure of my lack of culturedness that the ones I can think of are all politicians recently in the news and sports stars. Sergey Bubka, Andrei Shevchenko, Viktor Yushenko, Yulia Timoshenko and Leonid Kuchma. Last time I was in Ukraine I was introduced to a famous opera singer (not literally, but by name and reputation through a small museum in Lviv), but I have no idea of what her name was. Bit sad really. Mind you, even though I do know some Romanian writers and architects and stuff, the first five Romanians that I’d think of for a similar question would be Ilie Nastase, Gheorghe Hagi, Nadia Comaneci, Nicolae Ceausescu and Ion Iliescu, so it still ends up the same.