Auspicious arrival

Aug. 25
What a lovely day! The sun is bright, the sky is blue, and we have arrived in a sparkling Ukraine, even more beautiful than we remember.

Here are Zachary (left) and Adam in downtown L’viv.

Our flight from Charlotte to Munich was quiet and painless – you would have thought we were in First Class, the way the flight attendants pampered us. If it hadn’t been for the passenger in front of me who pushed his seat back into my lap, I might have slept. Zachary watched movies all evening. I did take his suggestion to watch Kung Fu Panda 2 and found it surprisingly good for a sequel — with an identity theme and an adoption angle. Its message: whether your life starts out well or not so well, the beginning is only part of the story. Only you are responsible for the rest–the middle and the end–of your own story. Here was a particularly appropriate message for the boys as we began our Ukrainian adventure. I wish Adam had chosen to watch it too, but he was more interested in something faster and more furious. (I have chosen to ignore anything fast or furious for this trip.)

Morning came much too early, especially for Zachary, who put his head down as the lights came on in advance of breakfast service. He slept through it.
We spent such little time at the Munich airport that I hardly had time to shop. Then onto a little regional jet to L’viv, over the red roofs of tiny German towns surrounded by patchwork fields, then Czech and Polish towns with fields like ribbons of different colors of green. We descended through fog to L’viv, identified by the large Cyrillic letters on the red-roofed baroque-looking building we taxied past. In a few minutes we finally stopped in front of an ultra modern glass terminal, still under construction. We descended from the aircraft by roll-up stairs. We were met by airport buses and driven back to that baroque building, where we were the only group arriving and so the only group going through customs and immigration.

We passed through last; I didn’t want to cause a back-up with my atypical visa. We thought our worst fears had come true when, sure enough, one of the immigration control officers started to gravely discuss my visa. A fellow officer called to translated said that my visa would open only after 90 days. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant. After a brief misunderstanding, during which four other immigration officers seemed to argue on my behalf, I realized that the English translation of the immigration officer’s remarks were not as sinister as they seemed. He was simply confirming what I already knew — that I had to apply for residency when I had been here 90 days. Smiles all around. We passed into the customs are to find our luggage.

We accounted for all of our eight bags, present and (amazingly) intact. Danke schoen, Lufthansa! The customs official actually smiled when she questioned us about our belongings and welcomed us through to Ukraine! Especially at my reaction when she asked how much money the children carried! (“None!”)

Two representatives of the Ukrainian Catholic University met us on the other side of customs with a big van, room enough for all of us and all our luggage. Oxana is in charge of all of UKU’s international guests. Her colleague is the secretary in the Journalism department where I will teach. They delivered us to the university’s guest house, where we plan to stay until we move into our new apartment. Here she is on the right.

Oxana took us to lunch, after which we slept the afternoon way, despite heavy construction next door.

In the evening we met our temporary roommates, Maria from the Pacific Northwest, and Mark from Toronto.

Aug. 26
We all woke up late. We tried to connect to the internet, but it seems to have broken about two weeks ago. Now THIS is more like the Ukraine we expected!

I got ready to meet my new colleagues at UKU, the main building of which is located across the street. I remember that appearances are everything, and spent some time ironing my suit. At the bottom of one bag, I found some shoes that would do for today. I realized I packed for the fall, but did not even consider packing so I could find things easily during the first transitional week. The kids have unpacked everything! I am getting close!

Bill and Adam walked me to the main door of UKU where we met Oxana. She added the rest of the family to the lunch invitation, so dad and Ad went back to collect Zac. (He seems to be suffering the most from jet lag.)

In the meantime, Oxana showed me around the building, especially the new chapel, where the university iconographer is creating frescoes on the walls. The left side of the church depicts a large group of traditional martyrs. The left side depicts martyrs of Ukraine. I will enjoy meeting the iconographer and interviewing her about her choices.

We met all my boys at the front door and went upstairs to meet a vice rector, Taras, and my new boss, Ihor Bilinsky, the head of the new (starts next week) M.A. program in Journalism. They took us to lunch around the corner, where we ate royally. The Journalism program will be inaugurated formally two weeks from now as part of the school’s opening celebrations. Pan (i.e. “Mr.”) Bilinsky has invited particularly interesting speakers. In addition, the school is eagerly anticipating the first visit of the new head of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, who is an alumnus. His investiture is a great source of pride, as you can imagine.

After lunch, we said our farewells to Taras and Ihor. Zachary opted for bed. Meanwhile Oxana took Bill and Adam and I to see two apartments between which she hoped we would be able to choose a suitable residence for our stay. The first apartment was gorgeous, but it was located quite a ways out of downtown in one of the old Soviet-style apartments we got to know so well 13 years ago. Further, the space was compact (read cramped), and I would have had to sleep on a pull-out couch in the living room. I was not inclined toward staying here.

Then we went downtown to see the second apartment. While it was empty, so it looked even larger than it is, but it is huge. It is in a charming older building about 10 minutes from the second university where I will teach, and about 10 or 15 minutes from the school where Adam and Zachary will attend. Location, location, location! The rent is $50/month more. No satellite. No TV. But we’re getting a brand new fridge and brand new washer. Could be worse.

There’s a 24-hour internet cafe on the ground floor of the building. There is 24-hour security. That sounds pretty good. There is an art supply store in the basement.

The former tenants used it as an office. They left their fish – we could have kept them (Bill asked for them with butter — they are in the kitchen, after all), but we decided that pets weren’t a priority right now.

The apartment has no doors – it’s a shotgun apartment with one hall connecting all the rooms. It has high ceilings. And did I mention it’s a third floor walk-up? Who needs a gym?

“I do!” says Adam.

(Well, as you can see below, it looks as though some L’vivians have found gym access! I guess I’ll have to chaperone Adam…)

With a successful real estate hunt completed in such a short time, we took Oxana out to dinner near the main market at The Gas Lamp restaurant, which features a fifth-floor terrace (feeling those pounds meltng away already!).

When we got home, Zachary had just awakened. We showed him the photos, and he seemed to be pleased.

Now Bill is watching a Russian variety program on television that reminds us a bit of a Saturday Night Live with the Living Color dancers (Were young men members of that group? If there were, I’m sure they would have worn more clothes…) without sets – more like watching Wayne & Shuster or Stiller & Meera, who created their environments as part of their presentations, for those of you who can’t remember. It’s more difficult to understand the language without some context, but there is time for that. We have made a great start.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Auspicious arrival

  1. I am so excited for you guys. Definitely an opportunity of a lifetime! Savor every moment.

  2. Sounds like a good start! I hope everything continues to go smoothly for you and your family. How exciting!

  3. Marie C. Hebert

    Great to read that the trip over was uneventful and, best of all, you’ve already found a great place to call home! 🙂 Very nice to see pics along with your posts. Keep’em coming. Have fun settling in, will be looking forward to future posts and should you be reachable via e-mail, feel free to let me know.
    Hug to all.
    /m

  4. JA May

    … Hey ALL of you look GREAT! The photos are lovely too!
    It is so nice to see you traveled to L’viv so smoothly and are settling. Be as generous with your time to transition as possible.
    Tell Zach his time zone adjustment is shared… We returned from Greece yesterday and all 4 of us woke up around 9:30 Greek time (2:30a Toronto), so we’ll be all ‘yawns’ this afternoon.
    Thinking of y’All… JAxox

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