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Sunday, February 12, 2006


Even Though I am Currently in Ukraine,

You would hardly know it based on my posts. In the two weeks I've been here, I've been in such hotspots (and boy, do I ever use the word "hot" loosely) as Kherson (east of Odessa), Poltava (between Kyiv and Kharkiv, in central Ukraine) and Uzhgorad (on the border with Slovakia and Hungary). Lviv, Vinnytsya, Zaporizhzhia and Dnipropetrovsk are on the agenda for the coming weeks.

I put these photos in the "mildly interesting" category.

Frigat Hotel in Kherson

Let's pause for a moment to extol the virtues of Intourist hotels. Moment passed. This is the Frigat hotel in Kherson. To its credit, it was the only operation in Kherson that weekend that had running water. To its detriment, it had very little heat. Kherson, which sits at the mouth of the Dnipro where it empties into the Black Sea, was a shipbuilding center from the time of Catherine the Great. If you look carefully, the Frigat displays architectural details reminiscent of a ship. Hardly redeeming. Inside, it had been remodeled, but by people who saw nothing wrong with the original. If you have never been inside an Intourist hotel, they are generally as charming as a mental institution, with low ceilings, a lobby filled with whores, a casino, exposed water pipes and magenta-haired dzurnas, or floor ladies, who monitor comings and goings on each floor. They also have a distinctive smell of mildew, cold cement and cat pee.

War memorial
Kherson War memorial

As critical as we may be about their hotel design, the Soviets really excelled at large public spaces and war memorials. This long promenade slopes down toward the Dnipro, where it ends with a war memorial/homage to the shipworkers combo. Very creative. Very icy, too.

cold accordian man
Uzhgorad Musician

Uzhgorad has a high degree of civilization, owing to the fact that it's right next to Hungary and Slovakia and lots of its residents work in Europe. Uzhgorad sounds weird but it just means city on the Uzh River, which runs through the center of town when it is not frozen solid. The Uzh river is the habitat of a non-poisonous snake that eats frogs and swims in a "z" pattern. There is an outstanding small hotel there (by western standards, even) and a bar that has live blues and serves excellent spicy Hungarian fish soup. It would have been even better if the snow hadn't been knee deep.

Who knew? The New York Times shared some typically trite insights and dull writing about Uzhgorad just a few weeks ago.

Kherson Guard

poltava church
Poltava Church

Give the people what they came for. Gold onion-domed churches. And snow. Poltava is interesting because it's sort of in eastern Ukraine, which tends to be more pro-Russian. But, interestingly, Poltavans are reputed to speak the purest Ukrainian in the country, owing to the large number of writers who hail from the city.

Hmmm... winter is probably not the best time for photographing Soviet towns. Though they might have considered the fact that it's winter for half the year or more in most of the USSR before using those designs.

I love your accordion player.
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