Spring Cleaning

Don’t worry – we still have some more “Winter Wrap-Ups” to post, but I wanted to let you know that SPRING IS HERE!!  After a long weekend in the eastern part of the country, we arrived back home Sunday to find the rest of the snow GONE!  The temperatures have been in the 50s for the past two weeks, although still chilly at night.  Sunday was also the beginning of daylight savings time in Ukraine, so it’s light out from before 7am to after 7pm.  It’s like the town has been awakened: people are out and about all day long, enjoying the weather and getting to work!

Ready for spring! The snow is gone, so people are cleaning up and burning their trash in the background.

So, what does it mean when spring comes to Ukraine?  Spring cleaning, of course!  First of all, everyone is cleaning indoors in preparation for Easter, which will be celebrated April 4th.  Secondly, everyone is cleaning outdoors!  Individuals in their own yards and town maintenance workers in the parks and streets.  They are raking up dead leaves and trash from their yards and the park.  They are cutting down trees.  They are tilling their gardens in preparation for planting.  And at the end of the day, they make small (sometimes large) piles of dead yard waste and trash and burn it.  That was something I noticed when we first came to Ukraine – the smell of all this smoke.  At that time it was annoying to breath it in all the time, but I don’t mind it this go-round.  It’s become a sign of spring to me: we’re getting rid of all the dead stuff and trash and preparing for a fresh, new year!

This is pretty much what our yard looked like through most of February and the beginning of March!

This time of year can also get pretty dusty, if it doesn’t rain.  The snow is gone, the ground has dried, yards and fields are cleared, and only a few flowers are starting to push up through the dirt.  But, again, I don’t mind!  So long as it’s not snow, ice, or mud that I have to trudge through to get to school every day, it’s all good!

April first marks the anniversary of our arrival in Ukraine!  It’s hard to believe, but we’ve experienced a whole year here – we know what each season brings; we know what to expect.  Obviously anything can still happen, but it’s nice to be in somewhat familiar territory.  Now, for comparison: a few pics of our backyard through the 3 seasons we’ve experienced while living in our town.

After just moving into our apartment in August, our backyard looks pretty green.
Alex plays with the neighbor boys in September, and some wild flowers are all that remain as fall approaches.
A couple of cats wander through our first snow in early November.
December offically brings winter to town with a snowstorm.

Winter Wrap-Up: Language Refresher

One fun thing we did at the end of January was attend a Peace Corps “language refresher.”  It was a 4-day long Russian language training with other PCVs from our group and the previous group in the northeastern city of Chernihiv.  We managed to make a 9 day trip out of it, including a weekend in Kyiv with our cluster-mates, a visit with our host family, and another weekend seeing the sites in Chernihiv.  The biggest problem was that we wound up doing all this during the coldest week of the year; the high temperatures averaged around 0〫F!  Nonetheless, we had lots of fun with our friends and really enjoyed exploring a new city.  The training itself was really helpful, and, of course, we always have a good time with other PCVs!

Toilet Water
Umm...? Visiting Kyiv's Museum of Water with Ben and iea.
Sewer Rat
Alex gets cozy with the sewer rats.

In the kids' area of the museum, Alex finds himself trapped by our friendly guide.
Posing in front of Kyiv's Puppet Theater.

You know you're jealous of our incredibly awesome winter hats.
National Opera House
Attending a ballet at Kyiv's beautiful Opera House with fellow PCVs Jake and Alicia.
Iea hijacks a cute photo with our host-mom Natasha and puppy Belka.
Chernihiv Church
Alex relaxes on a bench in front of one of Chernihiv's beautiful churches. Would you say that's a lot of snow?
Emma plays with the cannons in the park.

Alex has a heart-to-heart with Ukraine's famous poet, Taras Shevchenko.
Ice Fishing
Look closely - a couple of guys are fishing through the thick ice on Chernihiv's river.
Funny Shapes
Emma studies the funny shapes someone made out of thick layers of snow/ice.
This church is built into the hill, under which is an extensive system of ancient catacombs. Monks lived here, either to seclude themselves and practice their faith, or to hide from those trying to rid the country of the church's influence.

Winter Wrap-Up: Kids on Sleds

Spring finally appears to be on its way (although we still have inches of snow and ice on the ground in places), the sun shines brighter and longer each day (the vernal equinox is tomorrow!), and everyone’s spirits are slowly lifting in anticipation of warmer weather (anything above 40 is considered warm these days).  So, it’s time to get you caught up on winter in Ukraine.

First in our Winter Wrap-Up series: Ukrainian kids.  We have come to the conclusion that kids in Ukraine are the cutest beings on the planet.  Ukrainian parents don’t let the winter stop them from taking a stroll with the kids.  If the temperature drops below 60, they just stuff their children into enormous coats, hats with ears, and baby carriages with enough padding to protect the kid from a 7-story drop.  Picture Ralphie’s brother Randy in A Christmas Story, and you have the right image.  These kids can barely manage to waddle along next to their parents, so out come the sleds.  Words cannot convey the appropriate amount of cuteness, so please sit back and enjoy our pictures.

Winter Gear
This typically dressed Ukrainian kid was hanging outside our apartment on January 9th with Grandma. (FYI, the ground hasn't been clear since then, and even that was just a brief spell.)
Budapest Kid
The first time we really took note of kids on sleds was in Budapest. You can tell this kid's not in Ukraine because she can move her arms.
Funny Kid
While talking to Luda outside the Lyceum on voting day, this little gem was getting ready to go.
Funny Kid 2
Off he goes, down our town's main pedestrian drag.
Chernihiv Kid
In front of the skating rink in Chernihiv's downtown square, we caught sight of this little one enjoying a nice ride.
Since Chernihiv has some small hills, the kids actually got to ride down, instead of just being pulled around everywhere.
Hills 2
The hill beside one of Chernihiv's famous churches provided an afternoon of fun for these kids and families.
Lyceum Hill
The only hill in our town (covering two huge water basins behind the lyceum) attracts school kids in the winter, who don't need sleds to slide down the side.
Alex tries sliding down the ice patch left behind by the students. Unfortunately, he just doesn't quite exude the same amount of cute.