Archive for Kharkov

UKRAINE: SURPRISES AND SADNESS WHILE FINDING ROOTS

Posted in News, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on July 7, 2014 by klustgarten

 

kiev downtown, main street

Kiev, Kharkov, Zhitomir—-May, 2013:   On assignment to produce a video for Xado, a global corporation headquartered in Kharkov (aka Kharkiv), founded from the ground up by a self-made Ukrainian businessman with a typical American story of hard work and perseverance. In Ukraine’s second largest city, I found that hospitality and professionalism were outstanding.

To reach Kharkov I had to land in Kiev (aka Kyiv), a gorgeous European capital famous for stunning, trendy women, fabulous food and picturesque historic architecture.

Kiev downtown 1

If your ancestors are Ukrainian — and mine are–you are considered family in this country and receive the royal treatment like a long lost cousin finally coming home.  I was embraced by the family of a Ukrainian friend of a friend in Florida like I knew them all my life. Members  met me at the hotel in Kiev, showed me unforgettable sites, made a special dinner in my honor and gave me delicious gifts to take home with goodbye hugs and tears at the airport.

Alina & father, dessert at Alina's       dinner , K at Alina's apt

Wherever we went, I was introduced to people in Russian or Ukrainian and when they learned that I’m from America with roots in their country, they lit up and gave me offerings, like food throughout the   market.

 

Besarabsky Mkt, woman offers vodka & white bacon 2

I was overwhelmed by Ukrainian hospitality, generosity and kindness for the brief, intense two days there.  I felt reunited with my Kiev family from a past life; how else to explain it?

Sasha, K at airport

After the video shoot, I took a detour for a couple of days to Zhitomir (aka Zytomir), the city where my maternal great grandparents and grandfather were born.  In my lifetime, I never thought I would see “the old country” of my ancestors.  As with others who take a journey to their roots, it was an emotional and enlightening experience.  A cousin, keeper of the family history, found the name of their homeland so I was able to arrange a visit.  With Bubbie, Zadie and Grandpa  long gone, much research went into the preparation and many questions were answered during the visit.

 

Zhitomir contained one of a few thriving Jewish communities in “the Pale” under the anti-Semitic Russian empire, which included “the Ukraine.”

synagogue Brodskiy

When sanctioned pogroms became massive and violent, peaking around the turn of the 20th century, many Jews fled in a mass migration out of Russia to America as steerage class on ships. My ancestors were among those landing at Ellis Island.

 

Ilya, assistant to a Hassidic rabbi in Zhitomir, gave me a tour of the community where my ancestors probably lived.  It was destroyed by the Nazis in WW II.  I saw the destruction, rebuilding without government remembrance and the renewal of a Jewish community taking roots under the rabbi’s guidance.  There is a community center, orphanage, award-winning school today doing remarkable work with few funds.  So far, this fragile community is surviving in the current unrest.  I mailed a few souvenirs to my cousin in appreciation for finding the name of the city.

zhitomir, classroom 2     zhitomir jewish children's home lobby

 

Upon returning home, I put together a PowerPoint presentation  entitled “Journey to My Roots in the Ukraine.” The 45-minute presentation with 98 photos  includes the  research and more extensive findings that apply to most of us with Ukrainian roots.

 

The night before I gave the first presentation, my cousin passed away. I dedicated the presentation to her with gratitude.  I journeyed to Ukraine to produce a video and found my roots and a new family along the way.

family, K, outside museum, water tote

To view the full Ukraine Web album:  www.picasaweb.google.com/hawaiikaren