before the world wars ukraine, along with most of europe, had a thriving jewish population. if it hadn’t been for watching ‘fiddler on the roof’ (which is set in ukraine), i don’t think would have believed there was at one time such a rich jewish culture in a country strictly ukrainian christian orthodox. after the war, not much remains of the jewish people that once made this land their home besides road side memorials and stories told by the elderly.
during my training in northern ukraine, i was told that the bridge i frequented was the site of a mass killing of jews. it was difficult to think of that beautiful tree filled ravine as the site of such terror. even my village in the south east of ukraine wasn’t spared from the war. my middle of no-where village was the site of a large war attack and the killing of 12,000 people, mostly jews.
my landlady told all of this to me over one of our tea sessions when i asked about a jewish road side memorial, just on the outskirts of our village. she spoke with sadness in her eyes about the village being completely destroyed. everything was bombed. and they were left with nothing.
people from other towns and cities said they’d never be able to rebuild, there was just too much to be done. but the village rebuilt. they started over. and within 20 years they had done it, despite all doubts. my village isn’t what i would consider the prettiest — but the lack of old traditionally charming houses and tall aged trees is a reminder of where this village has come from.
if there’s one thing to say about ukrainians, it’s that they are a resilient people. their history is long and often tragic at that, but they seem to triumph despite all difficulties. ukraine has seen change since the wars and declaring independence from soviet rule — slow change, but change all the same.
with a country that is still mostly divided in half by those for ukrainian independence and those for soviet rule, run government that the people have no trust or faith in, uniting and moving in one direction will take time. i try to understand this when i face issues that i thought the past should have rendered change by now.
there still exists a frighteningly strong undercurrent of cultural intolerance in ukraine. one that springs forth skin heads, racism, and hate groups. but ukraine certainly isn’t the only country that suffers from this. there are parts of america for which the same could be said.
one of the most difficult things i think i’ve faced in ukraine is racism. not directed at me, i’m often able to go incognito, but what i’ve heard and seen. it’s not uncommon for people to use the ‘n’ word for talking about black people. i do understand that for americans there is certainly a lot of cultural history packed behind that word, which makes it what it is, something that ukrainians will never know or maybe understand. but still it’s something i refuse to get used to.
there’s boy in my 11th form class, probably of tartar background (from turkey). he’s a sweet young man, but does poorly in class mostly likely because he is constantly ridiculed for looking slightly different from everyone else. his classmates call him ‘black boy’, even though he’s a far cry from actually being black. the other english teacher just shrugs her shoulders and says that it’s sad.
i try to stop, prevent, and make repercussions for any hatred towards him, but change, if any, is slow and there are thousands of other kids like him. kids here, especially in villages, or even just in ukraine in general, haven’t learned much about cultural tolerance because they just aren’t exposed to it. and are rarely taught it from their parents. hatred and intolerance comes from fear and ignorance. most everyone here looks fairly the same, acts the same, and think the same — with thanks to years of only knowing soviet rule.
but it’s the year twenty twelve. and as the newest generations grow-up, having never known soviet times, i can only hope the best for them. that they will better ukraine and have learned from its past, never to repeat history again. that they will see and experience the world with open eyes, open hearts, and open arms.