Snapshots from the Heart of Ukraine (7)

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.

In a country the size of Ukraine, transport is an important part of everyday life and without it I certainly wouldn’t have been able to see as much of Vinnitsya and the area around it. During one of my walkabouts around the town with  Wolodko he pointed out the car in the photograph: a ZAZ Tavria. Manufactured by the Ukrainian car industry, this model dates from the seventies and although they weren’t held in high esteem by Soviet citizens, it was good to see those old cars still racking up the miles.

We talked about Soviet times now and again. Often our discussions would end with Wolodko shrugging his shoulders in that stoical, fatalistic Ukrainian manner and say there were good and bad things about the Soviet era. Eventually, it occurred to me to ask him specifically what the bad things were.

‘Well, you couldn’t buy a car. Or if you did want one, you’d go on a waiting list to get a Lada. That could take ten years, or you might not even get one,’ he replied.

Bad news for serious petrol heads or classic car enthusiasts. The Soviet era would definitely NOT have suited Jeremy Clarkson.

Most days, Wolodko drove me around in his Toyota van/minibus, a sturdy vehicle which has transported two and a half tons of meat from Poland to Ukraine on occasion, and it was from this vehicle I explored every corner of Vinnitsya.

After communism, many people found ways to make a few dollars here and there. A word that was integrated from English into Ukrainian almost immediately was ‘business’ which is written бізнес, as the free market economy exploded. My visit took place during a time when Ukraine was becoming a haven for traders and business people, with the country still finding its way in both a political and economic sense.

There were many different cars to be seen around Ukraine. Japanese cars were everywhere, the Hondas and Toyotas were very popular, but there were many other models too.

But, whenever a Mercedes appeared, that’s when Wolodko really purred in admiration, in appreciation of a classic icon of affluence and quality.

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