My Ukrainian village experience in Zalavye, Ternopil

I’ve tried starting this post about five different ways.

My idea was to start with the most exciting and most interesting part, mid-story, then go back to the start. Except the thing was, there were many “most exciting” parts — me, sitting on the bus, full of anticipation and curiosity and wonder and mild confusion, on my way out to my family’s village; the car ride to my family’s house when the guy next to me, a friend of my cousin’s, kept sniffing my armpit; driving (OK, speeding) into town with my cousin and his friends when all of a sudden one of them pulls a bottle of horilka (vodka) from under the seat and passes it around for a shot; the bathroom experience at the gas station (the punchline: there was no toilet); having a final (couple) drink(s) in the car outside my family’s home at who-knows-what-time AM.

Instead, why don’t I just start at the beginning?

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The intriguing city of Poltava, Ukraine

If Poltava were an animal, it would be an alligator.

On our drive to the city, Kyrylo from Cobblestone Freeway Tours told us a story as a way to prepare us for our next home.

I don't remember the entire story word for word, so let me tell you my own version.

There was this guy. He was from a village. Not many people left this village. But he did. He went on an African safari where he spotted countless new sights. When he returned home to his village, he told his friends about what he saw.

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Life after living abroad

I felt like a superstar as I came down the escalator in Winnipeg's airport.

There they were, my family and friends, standing on the hug rug, some wearing shirts they bought in Ukraine, holding a sign saying WELCOME HOME KAITY!

Getting closer and closer, going down the escalator, the smiles grew bigger (didn't know that was even possible), the tears started flowing (people on the escalator turned around to see what the deal was), and then it happened. We were reunited.

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What to see in Lutsk, Ukraine

To give you a sense of the vibe of Lutsk, let me tell you a story.

My friends and I caught a bus to go to a dance class (where I became a master of krump) led by one of the dancers of the Волинський народний хор, where I trained for two months. The artistic director of the Volyn ensemble, Valeriy Smyrnov, was on the bus with his wife, Myroslava. We were all heading to the same place, School #25 for rehearsal with the group Джерельце, where they both teach as well.

At one point along the way, an older woman got on the bus. She moved slowly, using a cane. Like most people in this country, she was dressed in what as a Canadian I would call "Sunday best", but as someone who's lived in Ukraine for nine months would call "everyday wear". Valeriy got up so she could sit down, (actually he had Natalya, who was sitting in a chair on its own, sit by Myroslava so the older woman had a more accessible seat).

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Inside the Volyn ensemble studio

Since moving to Ukraine, I've been keeping a journal. I try to write in it every day, even if it's just a couple lines, about what I did, what I learned, who I met, how I felt, and so on. I wrote seven pages about my last night in Lutsk, the evening of our farewell dinner. Seven pages. About one night. I think that's an indication of how many memories I made in my two months there.

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Caving in Ternopil Oblast

To spelunk is to live.

And to think that before I didn't even know what the word "spelunking" meant. (It's the exploration of caves a.k.a. caving.)

On our way back from our Easter celebrations in Lviv and Tulova, we stopped in the village Korolivka in the Ternopil Oblast.

I wasn't sure what to expect. My dad and I went into caves in Cuba about 10 years ago, and all I remember is I saw lots of bats and no crawling was required.

Well, as we pulled up into the parking lot of the start of the cave expedition, I was even less sure of what to expect.

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Easter in Ukraine

People jump up at a willow tree in a public square, grabbing low hanging branches to be blessed in church.

A boy laughs and runs around his grandma, trying to hit his dad with pussy willows.

Hundreds of people gather, ladies with their heads covered in scarves, waiting for their turn to go into church.

These are just a few scenes from Easter in Ukraine. I saw some Easter celebrations in Lutsk, like Palm Sunday and a large pysanky display, but I went to Lviv for Orthodox Easter weekend (April 7 to 9). Cobblestone Freeway Tours had a couple things planned for us girls, and my parents joined too.

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Ukrainian-themed books and films

Ukraine is full of history, traditions, and folklore, which I began to get familiar with after starting to Ukraine dance 25 years ago. Dance got me interested in Ukrainian culture and had me wanting to learn more. That's where books and films come in.

This is less of an extensive entertainment guide and more of a short, not-detailed list, since I read/watched some of these films/books a while ago, and to be honest, I don't necessarily remember a whole lot about them. But what I do remember is my love of them, which is why I want to share them with you.

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That time I feared for my life in Lutsk, Ukraine

It started with a knock at the door.

I wasn't expecting visitors. In each city I've lived in in Ukraine, my landlord usually says only answer the door if you know who it is, which makes sense. I admit, there have been times I've broken this rule, like that time a couple weeks back someone banged and yelled "HEAT. HEAT." Not exactly knowing what they wanted, I opened the door, and they checked some kind of gauge by the door.

But I figured it was a bit late for any city workers to be coming by. It was about 7 p.m. on a Wednesday. I ignored the door, and began to carry on with my night. I was going to quickly make something to eat before going to a cafe to do some work.

Then I heard another knock, more aggressive this time.

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English mistranslations on Ukrainian clothes

Learning a second language is tough.

I've lived in Ukraine for seven months, taking language lessons two to three times per week. And my skills are nowhere near where I want them to be. I usually just resort to the friendly smile and nod, smile and nod.

I've met countless people in Ukraine who speak multiple languages Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, German, and English are a few common ones. And each time I hear the number of languages they speak, I am amazed.

When we (attempt to) speak Ukrainian or when the Ukrainians speak English, sometimes there are funny mistranslations. In Kyiv, a friend once said she had a "raining" nose instead of a "runny" nose. And there have been many times we've mispronounced Ukrainian words, saying foul words instead of what we meant.

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Exploring the streets of Chernivtsi

Chernivtsi felt like home.

I've had the feeling a few times while living in Ukraine, like the time we hosted the Virsky Studio dancers over for Canadian Thanksgiving in Kyiv or when my sister came to visit in Lviv or even any day I have a fully stocked fridge (OK, maybe not fully but more so than usual) after grocery shopping.

One reason I felt at home was because of the people, most notably the Bukovyna State Ensemble of Song and Dance. Another reason is because so many Canadians are from the Bukovynian region, which Chernivtsi is in.

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Malanka in Vashkivtsi and Chernivtsi

The time was 9:30 a.m. The place was the side of the road outside the village Vashkivtsi. The obstacle was a group of people in costumes blocking our van, demanding money.

We obliged, they threw wheat in our van for good luck, we got out of the van for a shot of horilka (vodka), then we carried on.

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Christmas in the Carpathians

After weeks of festivities, the holiday season is officially over in Ukraine.

My celebrations started with St. Andrews Day (Dec. 13) at Shevchenkivs'kyi Hai and ended with the feast of Epiphany/Jordan (Jan. 19) at a new dance friend's home with her family.

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Lviv: A photographer's paradise

I think I found the winter wonderland everyone keeps singing about.

It's Lviv.

As I write this, giant snowflakes fall from the sky  the ones that are just fluffy enough that they're not too wet that they soak your clothes and not too dry that they hurt your eyes.

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St. Andrews Day and other traditions in Lviv

Happy St. Nicholas Day! (Or happy belated St. Nicholas Day to all those back home in the west who celebrate it on Dec. 9.)

Lviv is alive with the holiday spirit. The snow here may come and go (last week it was 4 C and rainy just about every day, but this week we're back to the minuses), but that doesn't mean the feeling of Christmas and New Years isn't here. The streets are decorated, the Christmas markets are full of gifts, and the skating rink in Rynok Square is open.

I've heard stories of how special it is to spend the holidays in Ukraine Lviv in particular and I'm so thankful to experience it for myself. Last week, I took part in folk celebrations on the eve of St. Andrews Day, a day full of jokes, games, and fortune telling.

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Missing family, making family, and visiting family abroad

I've been away from my family and friends for three and a half months. As I'm sure you can imagine, I miss them. But I wouldn't say I'm home sick. Just "people sick."

I miss lunches at Baba and Gigi's, sibling dinner dates, running around with my niece and nephew, answering my mom's technology questions (though, this is still ongoing), checking out a sports game with my dad, and laughing, eating, singing, dancing, and chatting with my friends.

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My time in Kyiv: An overview

Just as I was starting to feel comfortable in Kyiv, more into a routine, I moved. Two Sundays ago, my roommate and I sat on our couch to thank our apartment for the shelter it provided and the good times we had. (Kyrylo, someone helping organize our year in Ukraine, said it's a Ukrainian tradition to thank your home).

Though I was sad to leave, I am happy to be in Lviv, the city that made me fall in love with this country three years ago.

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