Family dinner in Ukraine.
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Things I Ate in Ukraine

One of the things I’m most proud of in my culture is the sharing of food. My mom instilled in me the love of cooking and eating and not being afraid to try new flavors. Robert likes to tell the story of the first time he came to my parents’ house for dinner and my mom continued to fill his plate with food every time it was empty. Food is how we show love.

One of the central activities of my visit in Kiev was shopping for, cooking and eating meals as a family. The kitchen in my aunt’s house was the central area where everybody stayed up late talking and joking and of course, gathered for meals, snacks, drinks and nibbles.

My first night, and almost every night following, we had cake. The Roshen brand of cakes in Kiev are so good. My mom bought one once in the states, which was imported from Ukraine, and it just wasn’t the same.

Left to right: “Smetanyk,” a sour cream cake, and “Kyivsky” cake named after the city of Kiev/Kyiv. This cake has two light layers of meringue with hazelnut, chocolate glaze, and a buttercream icing. Easily my favorite cake.

Left to right: “Smetanyk,” a sour cream cake, and “Kyivsky” cake named after the city of Kiev/Kyiv. This cake has two light layers of meringue with hazelnut, chocolate glaze, and a buttercream icing. Easily my favorite cake.

The next day, we went to a membership bulk store called Metro. My mom and I wanted to buy everything! The aisles of tea, chocolate, bread and cookies were amazing!


Obolon brand of beer. I liked the label of the traditional red embroidery. We chose a few beers to try. Slavic beers tend to be high alcohol and very low in price (50 cents).

Obolon brand of beer. I liked the label of the traditional red embroidery. We chose a few beers to try. Slavic beers tend to be high alcohol and very low in price (50 cents).


Bottles of kefir, a fermented milk drink. It has become popular in the states, but again, does not taste as good in the states as it does in Ukraine.

Bottles of kefir, a fermented milk drink. It has become popular in the states, but again, does not taste as good in the states as it does in Ukraine.


Very happy to sample different types of black and rye bread, with and without caraway seeds.

Very happy to sample different types of black and rye bread, with and without caraway seeds.

When we came home, my aunt started preparing the dough to make vareniki, also called pierogis. These are filled dumplings of Eastern European descent. My mom usually made them with mashed potatoes inside. My aunt prepared them with sour cherries. I think I ate a dozen, or at least I wanted to!

Cherry vareniki with a little bit of honey.

Cherry vareniki with a little bit of honey.

The next day, we went to a Roshen factory store. Roshen is a confectioner that is owned by the current president of Ukraine; how interesting is that? It was also previously called the Karl Marx Kiev Confectionery Factory. At any rate, it was like we were all Charlie visiting the Chocolate Factory.

The refrigerated cakes section. The boxes are so pretty. It was tempting to want to try them all.

The refrigerated cakes section. The boxes are so pretty. It was tempting to want to try them all.


My cousins and I next to the cakes and eclairs. Yum.

My cousins and I next to the cakes and eclairs. Yum.


Pink zefir in bulk at Roshen. Zefir is sort of like a marshmallow, but better. It’s made by whipping together fruit puree, egg whites and sugar.

Pink zefir in bulk at Roshen. Zefir is sort of like a marshmallow, but better. It’s made by whipping together fruit puree, egg whites and sugar.


Robert loves orange jelly slices so I made sure he got a bag of these.

Robert loves orange jelly slices so I made sure he got a bag of these.


“Cherry Queen” cake from the Roshen store. It was sort of like a Black Forest cake.

“Cherry Queen” cake from the Roshen store. It was sort of like a Black Forest cake.

For breakfast, my aunt made pancakes called oladi. They are made with kefir in the batter and they get really puffy and doughy as they cook. We usually top them with sour cream and sugar.

Oladi pancakes browning in the pan; my aunt is not afraid of oil!

Oladi pancakes browning in the pan; my aunt is not afraid of oil!

For dinner, my cousin went down in the cellar to take out a jar of tomato juice and pickles. My aunt and uncle have a farm where they grow a lot of produce and can it for the winter months. We had a simple dinner of potatoes, pickles and bread.

Herbed potatoes with pumpernickel bread and homemade pickles. The small jar has “adjika,” which is a spicy sauce.

Herbed potatoes with pumpernickel bread and homemade pickles. The small jar has “adjika,” which is a spicy sauce.

The following day, we made the hour-long bus ride to the country where my aunt and uncle have a house. It is next door to the house where I grew up. My uncle was there keeping an eye on the property and he met us. Although it had decided to snow lightly, my uncle wanted to have an outdoor barbecue. The small village was so quiet and peaceful, especially with the fragrant smoke of the outdoor fire and light dusting of snow. And the air was so crisp and clean.

My uncle grilling some pork skewers.

My uncle grilling some pork skewers.


Proudly displaying the finished skewers.

Proudly displaying the finished skewers.


The finished dinner. My aunt fed us so well. I think this picture exemplifies a simple, country feast.

The finished dinner. My aunt fed us so well. I think this picture exemplifies a simple, country feast.


This was one of my favorite things I ate: home-canned tomato juice, black bread and a sprinkle of seasoning salt in unrefined sunflower oil. The oil was so thick and had a flavor of its own. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest sunflower oil producers.

This was one of my favorite things I ate: home-canned tomato juice, black bread and a sprinkle of seasoning salt in unrefined sunflower oil. The oil was so thick and had a flavor of its own. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest sunflower oil producers.

Dinner the next night consisted of borscht, the famous Eastern European soup made with beets and cabbage. In addition to the soup, we had vodka, black bread, roe and “salo” pork fat.

Sour cream for the borscht soup, salted fish, vodka, bread, “salo” pork fat, and roe.

Sour cream for the borscht soup, salted fish, vodka, bread, “salo” pork fat, and roe.


Red beet borscht soup with an eggplant dip and a layered crepe dish.

Red beet borscht soup with an eggplant dip and a layered crepe dish.

One of my cousins wakes up so early for work—like 4 a.m.—and returns home around 10 a.m. On her way home, she would pick up some cookies or pastries for us to try. My mom and I had been requesting these walnut shaped cookies called “oreshki.” The next day, she brought these rolled waffle straws and various pastries.

Oreshki cookies filled with boiled sweetened condensed milk (dulce de leche).

Oreshki cookies filled with boiled sweetened condensed milk (dulce de leche).


Rolled wafers with caramel and cream, coffee cakes, poppy seed rolls and cheese muffins.

Rolled wafers with caramel and cream, coffee cakes, poppy seed rolls and cheese muffins.

Our last meal, we (by “we” I mean my aunt; she didn’t let my mom or I help the entire time) made a giant salad and fried potato pancakes called “deruny.” They were so good. When I try to make the oladi or deruny pancakes at home, they never come out very good. I think it’s because I’m scared to use too much oil.

A giant SPACEBA (thank you) to my aunt, uncle and cousins for all the cooking, shopping, chopping and preparing they did during our visit.

Salad and potato pancakes topped with sour cream, of course!

Salad and potato pancakes topped with sour cream, of course!

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Colorful embroidered dresses and flower crowns.
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Kiev Bazaar

I love perusing local markets whenever we travel—farmer’s markets, craft fairs, bazaars, souks in Egypt, flea markets, night markets. It’s even better if they are happened upon spontaneously. Some of our best meals while traveling have been at outdoor markets in Rome, Bangkok, Tokyo, Taipei, Berlin and Brussels.

While staying with my aunt in Kiev, Ukraine, we went several times to the local bazaars to look for souvenirs, clothes, household items, vegetables, and even wedding veils. It was definitely one stop shopping.

I was reminded that in a lot of parts of the world, people don’t go to a grocery store or a department store to buy the things they need. Going to an outdoor market and haggling for the best price is a daily occurrence and one of the best ways to experience a culture as a tourist.


I liked the texture of these knit shawls. I can’t imagine how much work it would take to make one.

I liked the texture of these knit shawls. I can’t imagine how much work it would take to make one.


2 Wool gilets and fuzzy slippers. My mom bought wool socks for the whole family and a warm vest for me. I am a crybaby when it comes to the cold. Thanks, Mom!

Wool gilets and fuzzy slippers. My mom bought wool socks for the whole family and a warm vest for me. I am a crybaby when it comes to the cold. Thanks, Mom!


My cousin with me while I tried on a mink hat. It was very warm but… poor mink!

My cousin with me while I tried on a mink hat. It was very warm but… poor mink!


Rows of colorful embroidered linen shirts. Some are embroidered by machine and the ones done by hand are more expensive (and rightly so!).

Rows of colorful embroidered linen shirts. Some are embroidered by machine and the ones done by hand are more expensive (and rightly so!).


My sister is getting married so we checked out the multiple aisles of wedding dresses and accessories. The dresses were about $100.

My sister is getting married so we checked out the multiple aisles of wedding dresses and accessories. The dresses were about $100.


One of the many aisles of the market, thankfully with a roof for the winter weather.

One of the many aisles of the market, thankfully with a roof for the winter weather.


Souvenir t-shirts. The ones in yellow and blue say Ukraine and display the three-pronged crest.

Souvenir t-shirts. The ones in yellow and blue say Ukraine and display the three-pronged crest.


These meat pies were baked in a clay oven. The dough is thrown against the walls of the oven and sticks to the side as it bakes. This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like it.

These meat pies were baked in a clay oven. The dough is thrown against the walls of the oven and sticks to the side as it bakes. This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like it.


Bags and bags and bags of onions. My aunt says that people stock up and keep them in their cellars. This guy’s wife is probably telling him over the phone how many onions she wants.

Bags and bags and bags of onions. My aunt says that people stock up and keep them in their cellars. This guy’s wife is probably telling him over the phone how many onions she wants.


I thought it was funny this vendor had a couch in his watermelon truck.

I thought it was funny this vendor had a couch in his watermelon truck.


Everything you can imagine, pickled, brined or fermented and for sale!

Everything you can imagine, pickled, brined or fermented and for sale!


These look like colorful, waxy candles, but they are actually like dried fruit roll-ups.

These look like colorful, waxy candles, but they are actually like dried fruit roll-ups.


Every variety of shallot and onion imaginable.

Every variety of shallot and onion imaginable.


These winter pears were so juicy. There were lots of signs that said, keep your hands off!

These winter pears were so juicy. There were lots of signs that said, keep your hands off!


Trays of cranberries just in time for the holiday season.

Trays of cranberries just in time for the holiday season.


Peppers, onions, beets and more for sale in bulk.

Peppers, onions, beets and more for sale in bulk.

Patriotic statue at Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine
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Kiev City Tour

When I was in Ukraine, my cousins took me on a city tour. We covered a lot of ground and it was one of my favorite days of the trip. When Robert and I travel, we long for the local experience from a local’s perspective. I was lucky to have that on this trip, probably more so than any other travel I’ve done. My cousins knew where to go, how to get there, where to park the car, how much things cost, what to eat and drink, etc. Those things are important when you’re a tourist and can make or break your trip. I didn’t have to do an ounce of planning or prep. Thank you, family!

In a car ride earlier that week I had spotted a “Lady Liberty” type of statue in the city center. We started the tour there in the memorial complex of National Museum of History of Ukraine in the Second World War. The statue is called Mother Motherland and she towers over the area that includes the museum and the nearby famous church, Pechersk Lavra. Mother Motherland has Communist roots (“Mother Russia”), as do most things in Ukraine because Ukraine has only been independent from the USSR since 1991.

Mother Russia watches over the city.

Mother Russia watches over the city.

The last time we were in Ukraine, in 2004, I remember seeing a lot more statues of Lenin and Stalin and the like. This time around, I learned that the Ukrainian parliament outlawed Soviet and Communist symbols in 2015. Because this particular statue is a part of a World War II memorial, it’s allowed. Her shield has the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union. Especially with the current conflict with Russia, I don’t know how modern Ukrainians make sense of the horrific legacy of Communist dictators. The reminders are everywhere. The trips back to Ukraine always foster a sense of gratefulness and survivor guilt—my parents were able to leave when so many couldn’t.

View of Kiev across the Dnieper River from the top of Mother Motherland.

View of Kiev across the Dnieper River from the top of Mother Motherland.


Sculptures in the Alley of Hero Cities depict the 1941 German invasion and terrors of the Nazi occupation.

Sculptures in the Alley of Hero Cities depict the 1941 German invasion and terrors of the Nazi occupation.


A cat resting in the alley of statues.

A cat resting in the alley of statues.


An artistic map of Ukraine with red poppy flowers. Ukraine chose the flower as a remembrance symbol for World War II victims.

An artistic map of Ukraine with red poppy flowers. Ukraine chose the flower as a remembrance symbol for World War II victims.


A military tank painted in the colors of Ukraine’s flag, blue and yellow. The blue represents the sky and the yellow, fertile fields of wheat.

A military tank painted in the colors of Ukraine’s flag, blue and yellow. The blue represents the sky and the yellow, fertile fields of wheat.

Next, we walked to the nearby Pechersk Lavra Orthodox Christian church. It’s also known as Kiev Monastery of the Caves because of the underground caves containing the catacombs of male monks buried there. We did not go inside because it was a sunny day and I’m not a fan of dark, enclosed spaces. Too much to see on the outside!


Leaving the WWII memorial complex, you can spot the domes and bell tower of the Pechersk Lavra church.

Leaving the WWII memorial complex, you can spot the domes and bell tower of the Pechersk Lavra church.


Entrance to the Cathedral complex and park of Kiev Pechersk Lavra.

Entrance to the Cathedral complex and park of Kiev Pechersk Lavra.


The Monastery of the Caves church and the Great Lavra Belltower behind it.

The Monastery of the Caves church and the Great Lavra Belltower behind it.


One of the entrances to the Pechersk Lavra. The colors in this picture remind me of Rome.

One of the entrances to the Pechersk Lavra. The colors in this picture remind me of Rome.

We kept walking through some cool downtown districts. The buildings very much reminded me of Prague with their pastel exteriors. We came upon the Memorial in Commemoration of Famine Victims in Ukraine, also known as Memorial to Holodomor victims. There is an exterior statue called the Candle of Memory. Underground, there is a Hall of Memory museum that contains artifacts and a book of names of people who were lost in the famine. My cousins found some of the names on their family’s side.

This statue, named the Bitter Memory of Childhood, is dedicated to the most vulnerable victims of starvation—children. The little girl is holding five stalks of wheat because that is all that was allowed. Picking up wheat left on the collective farm fields after harvest was considered a crime and was punishable by imprisonment or death.

This statue, named the Bitter Memory of Childhood, is dedicated to the most vulnerable victims of starvation—children. The little girl is holding five stalks of wheat because that is all that was allowed. Picking up wheat left on the collective farm fields after harvest was considered a crime and was punishable by imprisonment or death.

One of the horrific legacies of the Communist era was the man-made famine imposed by Stalin in 1932-33. Holodomor means extermination or genocide by hunger. In order to stomp out the Ukrainian independence movement, Stalin sent his soldiers to take every ounce of food away from Ukrainian people. By the end, more than 4.5 million people died (the actual number is probably higher). Most of those were children; two-thirds of children did not arrive to school in September 1933. And not because of some agricultural or natural disaster, because of the actions of one dictator. I was teaching “Animal Farm” to my students and I tried to explain it to them, but no one can really explain it or make sense of it, can they?

Inside the Hall of Memory museum, there is an art project called One Grain One Man. It uses grains of wheat, Ukraine’s greatest source of wealth, to visually depict how many people died during the famine.

Inside the Hall of Memory museum, there is an art project called One Grain One Man. It uses grains of wheat, Ukraine’s greatest source of wealth, to visually depict how many people died during the famine.

Next on the, “In a complicated relationship” front is the Friendship of Nations Arch dedicated to the unification of Russia and Ukraine within the Soviet Union. In light of the current war in East Ukraine and those de-Communist symbol efforts, the rainbow arch is going to come down. Behind it lies a beautiful panoramic view of Kiev along the Dnieper River.

Side view of the friendship arch.

Side view of the friendship arch.


Views of Kiev and the Dnieper River.

Views of Kiev and the Dnieper River.


This city landscape includes the golden St. Nicholas “on the water” Church to the right.


My cousins and I with this “Masha and the Bear” bear. It’s funny because one of my cousins is named Masha.

Last, we made our way to the city center’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti or “Independence Square.” Ukraine’s independence movement and political rallies started here in 1990 and it was the site of the October Revolution in 2004 and 2014’s Euromaidan, or “Ukrainian Spring.”  The last conflict started when Ukraine made moves to join the European Union. But, of course, Russia opposed it and started the conflict that is still occurring in East Ukraine.

These signs showcasing 25 years of independence were all over town.

These signs showcasing 25 years of independence were all over town.


Views from Maidan Nezalezhnosti, “Independence Square.”

At this Independence Square, more than 100 protestors died in February 2014 as a result of sniper and open shootings on unarmed protestors. There is a memorial to their deaths including pictures of all the deceased.

A cross stands to commemorate the deaths of the Euromaidan protests in 2014.

A cross stands to commemorate the deaths of the Euromaidan protests in 2014.


Memorial for killed Euromaidan participants at Heroes of Heavenly Hundred Alley.

Memorial for killed Euromaidan participants at Heroes of Heavenly Hundred Alley.


Bracelets of yellow and blue and flowers left at the memorial.

Bracelets of yellow and blue and flowers left at the memorial.


The sign on Independence Monument states “Patriots Liberation Headquarters.”

Despite its tumultuous past, I felt very safe the whole time I was in Kiev. Both my mom and I were very surprised to find a modern Kiev unlike the one that we remembered from 10+ years ago. The city is beautiful and very affordable for travelers. There is no conflict in Western Ukraine where Kiev and Lyviv are located. There is no visa required for U.S. travelers. If you ever find yourself in Europe, add a couple of days in Kiev.

Pirogovo Open Air Museum in Ukraine
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Ukraine’s Pirogovo Open Air Museum

Earlier this November, I had a chance to visit my family in Kiev, Ukraine. The last and only time I returned to my country of birth was 12 years ago in 2004, when I was a college student. From Cairo, Kiev is only about a five-hour flight so I knew I had to take advantage of the proximity.

During the week, my mom (hi, Cascadian Val!) and I stayed with my aunt and uncle and their three children. One of our tourist outings was to the small town of Pirogovo (Pyrohiv) outside of Kiev to see the Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine.

According to the introductory sign when we entered, the open air museum contains an outstanding collection of traditional Ukrainian farmsteads of the 1960s-1970s representing every region of Ukraine. We walked from one region to another.

To the left, there is an Orthodox church, the Dniprov region and the Carpathian region. To the right, is the singing field and mid-20th century village.

To the left, there is an Orthodox church, the Dniprov region and the Carpathian region. To the right, is the singing field and mid-20th century village.

Each area has a different type of architecture reflecting the climate of the area—Polissia, Carpathian Mountains, Western forests, Central forests, Eastern forests and Southern Ukraine. In total, there are 47 homes or structures that were reconstructed post-war and brought to this museum. Some of the structures include the main residences, garages, summer kitchens, barns, sheds, cellars, storehouses, chicken coops, wells, etc.

The green-domed Zarubincy village church is from the Cherkassy region and was built in 1742.

The green-domed Zarubincy village church is from the Cherkassy region and was built in 1742.

Construction of the buildings on the museum territory was carried out by local craftsmen from the regions in order to preserve building features authentic to each place. All of the structures are located along a central road, depicting the appearance of a traditional street in post-war, Socialist Ukraine.

This 19th century home has kalyna hung over the doorway. Kalyna is a red berry similar to cranberries and is a national symbol of Ukraine.

This 19th century home has kalyna hung over the doorway. Kalyna is a red berry similar to cranberries and is a national symbol of Ukraine.

A sign explaining the origins of the home. The home and a kalyna tree are in the background.

A sign explaining the origins of the home. The home and a kalyna tree are in the background.

We were able to see into the interior of some of the homes. This is the kitchen and main living area. It has the traditional red embroidered linens and flowers and herbs drying on the walls.

We were able to see into the interior of some of the homes. This is the kitchen and main living area. It has the traditional red embroidered linens and flowers and herbs drying on the walls.

A caretaker sweeps the front of one of the village homes. This one had a fresh wheat thatched roof.

A caretaker sweeps the front of one of the village homes. This one had a fresh wheat thatched roof.

More village houses with thatched roofs.

More village houses with thatched roofs.

As we walked around, we spotted some snack stands, beer gardens and restaurants. Admittedly, in November, there was not a lot of activity. My aunt says that it is a very popular place to come in the summer with a picnic. There are many festivals and weddings held on the museum grounds. You can also rent a bike and ride through each of the villages.

The restaurant “Shynok” boasts home-cooked meals.

The restaurant “Shynok” boasts home-cooked meals.

Some of the grab and go snacks.

Some of the grab and go snacks.

The “Baltika” beer garden.

The “Baltika” beer garden.

On top one of the hills, near the “Carpathian region,” stand several windmills.

View of all the windmills on the hilltop.

View of all the windmills on the hilltop.

This windmill reminded me of the story “Baba Yaga,” a Slavic folktale about a witch who lives in a chicken-legged hut.

This windmill reminded me of the story “Baba Yaga,” a Slavic folktale about a witch who lives in a chicken-legged hut.

It was a fun day spent wandering through the grounds from one village to another. My mom and aunt reminisced about what their parents and grandparents house looked like during this time. At the end of the trip, my mom said this was one of her favorite experiences.

Can you guess what these are? My aunt says they are bee hives.

Can you guess what these are? My aunt says they are bee hives.

The last of the fall flowers and foliage.

The last of the fall flowers and foliage.

Dasvidaniya (goodbye) until next time!

Dasvidaniya (goodbye) until next time!