In 2011 I finally achieved what I set out to do in 2007. I completed a historical memoir of my father’s life, ‘Sliding on the Snow Stone’, and it was published by That Right Publishing. It’s a chronicle of one Ukrainian man’s journey through the terrors of his childhood, and of life under a Soviet regime. The arrival of World War Two brought Nazi brutality with it, and he was forced to leave his beloved Ukraine. It’s an epic story laced with a strong dose of defiance.
A year later, in August 2012, I decided to make a long overdue journey back to my father’s old home. To retrace some of his steps; to breathe the same air and drink in the sights and surroundings. I resolved to keep a diary of my visit, with as many photographs as possible. This series presents a history of my trip in snapshots, both visual and lyrical.
Does a travel diary begin as soon as the airline tickets have been purchased? Personally speaking, as soon as I’d bought the tickets, I definitely felt as if I’d taken the first step.
And I paused to think about how people in Ukraine might view me and the land I’d be traveling from, Britain. What springs to mind when Ukrainians think of Britain?
‘Wayne who?’ That’s what the godparents of Ukrainian footballer Andriy Shevchenko said in a newspaper interview just before the 2012 European Football (Soccer) Championships in Poland and Ukraine. Stefan and Vera Pryhodko live a simple life in a remote village of Ukraine, which is clearly far removed from the celebrity-obssessed culture of the West. They’d never heard of Wayne Rooney.
It was something I thought I might like to explore during my visit to Ukraine: Is the Western way of creating idols from television and popular culture seeping into the Ukrainian lifestyle? Or are Ukrainians less easily influenced by advertising and consumerism? It was certainly a question that would burn a hole in my travel diary.
I followed the Euro 2012 Football (Soccer) Championships in Poland and Ukraine quite closely, and it was, without doubt, something of a success for the hosts. It was well organized, colorful and entertaining, with even the heavens contributing to the pyrotechnics when a lightning storm caused the match between Ukraine and France to be delayed.
There were some incidences of crowd trouble, which some commentators were fearful of, but in Ukraine itself there was no evidence of overt racism or of hateful anti-Semitism. And that makes me wonder why television programmes like the BBC’s Panorama edition, ‘Stadiums of Hate’ endeavored to broadcast such a distorted message? The programme showed images of right-wing football supporters, in Ukraine, chanting hate slogans and making monkey noises at black players. Now, that behaviour is completely unacceptable, but further analysis of the broadcast suggests it was constructed to convey a certain message. I seriously doubted whether my Ukrainian adventure would find me witnessing such scenes.
It’s ironic that for so many decades the West denounced the Soviets during the Cold War for their use of propaganda, when the art of propaganda is alive and thriving right here in Britain.
So, Ukraine were due to play England needing a win to qualify for the quarter-finals, and it was observed that England had the stronger team which would be further strengthened by the return of Wayne Rooney. So, the experts predicted a comfortable win for England. Or was that simply just more propaganda?
Well, England won narrowly 1:0, but ultimately Ukraine triumphed by hosting the championship, and can go on to even greater things. Arriving in Ukraine not so long after such a wonderful event would be a perfect platform for my visit to Ukraine, and I resolved to keep the pages of my travel diary full, with plenty of photographs and anecdotes.