When I first visited Ukraine in 1997, we were still young and inexperienced. I was a first-year student of ethnology, my first time abroad, who had declared independence only six years earlier and was just looking for her way in a post-Soviet reality. Soon it turned out that as a result of one spontaneous decision, my life will be associated with this country for many years, and I will not only notice its maturation, but also take part in it.
Ukraine was still only one of the many post-Soviet republics, to an outside observer it did not stand out anything special, and a person who found himself here by chance would have trouble guessing whether it was located in the main park of Zaporizhia or, for example, Vladikavkaz.
In 2003, then-Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma wrote a book called Ukraine Is Not Russia. The word “No” is highlighted in red on the cover, but the irony is that the book is written in Russian. A Lviv journalist, in the early 2000s, did not manage to meet the challenge of buying only Ukrainian products for a year, and could not do it – the same everyday objects are still used here as in other parts of the crumbling empire. Even films in theaters were shown exclusively in Russian. Daily life was a strange mixture of what was left of the Soviet Union and the new that was just emerging.
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The achievements of Ukrainians to date are often attributed to other countries, so it was not surprising that the world did not hear about them. Even at the Olympics in Lillehammer in 1994, when the Ukrainian representative, my colleague, figure skater Oksana Bagul, won the gold, it turned out that the organizers did not even bring the Ukrainian anthem – the Soviet Union or the Russian anthem was proposed instead . The Ukrainian national team did not agree to this and the award ceremony was delayed by about an hour. Registered search.
Katarzyna Oza, “Ukraine. Soroczka and pickled watermelons” – Wydawnictwo Poznańskie
Photo: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie/Wydawnictwo Poznańskie
Ukrainians chose the crisis because it is an opportunity for change
Almost everything has changed since then. Ukrainians created six unicorns (companies worth at least a billion dollars), built space rockets, invented WhatsApp and Grammarly, won the Eurovision Song Contest, and even danced to a Madonna clip. Designer Sharon Stone and Jessica Clark opened a store next to my home in Lviv. You can pay for a ticket on the Lviv tram by scanning a QR code, and life in Kyiv has become more expensive than in Moscow.
Ukrainians have also shown – just like the Cossacks of the past – that freedom is one of their most important values. The country experienced two major social and political revolutions, and the generation born in independent Ukraine has already grown up. A generation that has to live through hard times and make difficult and even dramatic choices is still searching for its own identity and a new definition of Ukraine. Therefore, at the time of writing this book, I made a conscious decision to use the forms “in Ukraine”, “for Ukraine”, although they have not yet become the linguistic standard in Poland. I think that such phrases that emphasize the country’s independence will make it easier for us to think of Ukraine as a neighbor and partner, and not something that was “our” previously.
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The Kyiv revolution of 2014, one of the revolutions mentioned above, was undoubtedly the experience of a generation. One of the typical participants in Medan was my colleague, the representative of Generation X, whom Wikipedia describes as “people born in the second half of the twentieth century, who do not know where to go, a society lost in the chaos of modern times, patterns created by fashion, in search of Answers to tough questions and the feeling of your presence. The X is meant to symbolize the unknown.”
Ukrainian Generation X found the meaning of existence, but it paid a heavy price. It was not expressed in money, because life at that time cost only eight hryvnia, like the value of a bullet. In those days, people died on the main streets of the Ukrainian capital. A quarter of the population participated in volunteer activities, and three quarters of the population participated in charitable projects. Maidan – today a word equivalent to protests, revolution – is, you might say, a Ukrainian specialty. During a meeting with Lviv students, the father asked Professor Francesc Longchamp de Pierre what they would choose, having the option of stability and crises. They chose the crisis because it is an opportunity for change.
The story of a country in constant crisis
My story about Ukraine is not proof. I did not try to be objective either in choosing the topics or in describing them. It is a story about a country in a constant state of crisis. About a country where life is often not easy and is not an obvious destination for immigration.
Most people I’ve spoken to don’t understand how they voluntarily choose to live in Ukraine, a country seen as poor and corrupt, and where you can see remnants of a bygone era at every turn. However, this country, which is viewed unfairly and stereotypedly as anti-Polish, has become my beloved homeland.
If you look closely at Ukraine, you will find that the stereotypes have nothing to do with the truth; Neighboring pockets of wealth and poverty, a new middle class is being created: open and kind people who do not part with their hands, but create a new reality here and now. Its traditions are not open-air museum or taste at all, but a living and creatively changing wealth, harmoniously coexisting with modern technologies and investments worth millions.
My story is about a country changing before my eyes, learning to use its enormous potential and moving forward despite the ongoing war. About modern Cossacks who love their country, although the word Ukraine means something different in each region and for everyone.
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