Okay, so the title of this blog posting is a bit misleading. I’m not talking about Ukraine girls. But I am in Ukraine and I needed some sort of segue!
I arrived in Lviv Monday afternoon. The journey was arduous. I had taken the train from Ascoli Piceno, Italy to Bologna. The train was an hour and a half late arriving in Bologna–and I was standing the entire time. I had never been on an oversold train in Italy. I didn’t even know they existed. In Facebook postings to friends, I joked that I was developing Nixon disease–phlebitis.
By the time I reached my hotel in Bologna, it was after 11:00 p.m., the restaurant had closed and I was reduced to eating the peanuts and biscotti in my room’s minibar. I fell, exhausted, into bed around midnight and was jarred awake by my 5:00 a.m. alarm in order to catch the taxi for my flight to Lviv. Fortunately, upon checkout, the concierge had two large cartons of magnificent pastries. I grabbed two to snack on at the airport.
The flight to Lviv took me through Vienna which included a four-hour layover. Wandering around the airport, I was able to indulge in a wonderful Viennese breakfast of scrambled eggs, German sausage, fresh-squeezed orange juice and a beef broth–for $21. I didn’t care.
Finally, the time came for my departure to Lviv. The flight was only about two hours. I have to admit that I was tired from all the traveling through Italy and feeling a bit anxious to get back to Portland.
However, once the plane landed and the taxi took me through the streets of Lviv, I felt myself falling in love all over again with the city.
Again, I stayed with my former Airbnb host, Ed, who is now a friend. Walking through the streets of Lviv with him and his little family, I went back in time to 2015. The images of that first visit, when I was seeking my heritage were still remarkably fresh in my mind.
I remembered the sense of excitement I had that I was nearing the end of my genealogical journey. I had arrived armed with names/dates/locations. My biological brother was going to join me and we would, together, visit the hometowns of our maternal grandparents. Together we would catch a glimpse of the environment in which they lived in the small, ex-Soviet town of Kuty, Ukraine.
After his return to Astana, Kazahkstan, I remained in Ukraine for several more weeks to bring my search to its completion. I had no idea I would actually find living family members. I had no idea they would have knowledge of my background. I had NO idea they would have actual letters from my maternal grandfather or my late, beloved aunt.
Yet, all of the above would happen. I suppose it was providential that I would experience such alone. This was truly my search, one that I had begun in 1977 and that was rapidly coming to a close, although I did not know it.
After thirty-eight years, hundreds of thousands of dollars and a million tears, I would finally have my answers, answers I would not be able to articulate (and still can’t) and I would have a peace that I was not expecting (and wasn’t necessarily seeking).
Lviv feels comfortable. It feels like home, just like Italy does. I think that, spending nearly two months here back in ’15 helped to make it seem more familiar. My visits were not quick and furtive. They were extended and thoughtful.
I have been savoring the vibrant cafe culture and magnificent architecture. The city is more vibrant. I see more activity, more people, more wealth. Coffee is still $.90. Meals are still cheap.
Today I met with my cousin, Viktor for several hours and we talked. Later I had coffee with Viktor’s son, Victor. Each visit was satisfying. Unfortunately, Viktor’s father, Zenovyi, had died on Christmas Day, 2016, not even six months ago.
I will go to Kuty to visit his grave, leave flowers and pay my respects. Zenovyi was a wonderful man, full of mirth and whimsy, with a warm smile and infectious sense of humor, despite the language difference. My videos of him are even more precious now.
He has joined so many of my ancestors now. Yet I thank God so much that I had the opportunity to meet him. He provided a window into the lives of distant family members–life under collectivization, Stalinism, Communism and Soviet occupation. He gave me letters from my grandfather and connected the dots in a part of my ancestry that was incomplete.
And I was able to provide for him answers that had bedeviled him about a distant and fascinating family that he had heard about through his mother. I brought closure for him and his heart was at peace. When he asked me to be a brother to his beloved son, Viktor, my only answer could be “yes”.
It’s not the Ukraine girls who are knocking me out. It’s the Ukraine side of my adoption story.