From one of the secret capitals of Europe, Weronika and Agnieszka report back on their trip to the Ukraine in July to look at one of the bridge-building projects in progress.
Chernivtsi – a Ukrainian city in the far south, near the border with Romania – has been to us like secret gem hidden from sight, an almost legendary place known for its multicultural heritage, great poets and artists, numerous cafes, bookstores and breathtaking architecture that we heard of a lot, but never visited. It was our lucky fortune that we started the Borderland School partner visits from the Dzestra Talks project, which has been taking place here in this city. Although not one of the seven legendary hotels situated on the city’s central square operates anymore, Chernivtsi residents proved to be very hospitable. Dzestra Talks coordinators Natalia Yeromenko and Zhan Pobezhan welcomed us very warmly and made our trip worth every minute we spent on the over seven hours train ride from Lviv.
On the first day we got invited to their small but cosy and tastefullly decorated office where all the necessary formal procedures were taken care of efficiently and smoothly. We collected the financial documents, very meticulously gathered by the team and went through the financial report. Then we had the chance to discuss the developments of the project in the local cafe over a “banush” – one of the many regional specialties.
There was also a time for us to get to know the place itself. Jura – one of the volunteers of Dzestra Talks – was our guide and it turned out we got the best man for the job. He proved to be someone who you would imagine the real Chernivtsi citizen to be like: speaking several languages, knowing even the strangest details, drawing from his sleeve interesting stories for every occasion and inventing one when there seemed to be none to tell. During our trip we got to see Paul Celan’s birthplace (when the city was then part of the Kingdom of Romania), entered hidden yards accessible only to those in possession of a passcode, went bookhunting in little bookstores and used bookshops, and stopped by at Meridian Czernovitz poetry reading, right on the pavement of a famous street named after Olha Kobylanska, on of the most revered local writers.
On our last day we were already so grown into the place that we ventured by ourselves for a trip to the former Jewish quarter – it’s worth noting that Chernivtsi has a community of around 10,000 Jews living there. We also managed to understand most the lecture of held in Ukrainian in the framework of Dzestra Talks – this time, on their third meeting, the team hosted Juriy Fyluk, a very interesting young entrepreneur from Ivano Frankivsk who advocates locally for a socially responsible business. As we learned during his talk held in Literatur Cafe on the main city square, what started as an ice cream stand is now a chain of club-cafes, each with different profile, that are also a centre of local activism and cultural events. Juriy’s lecture under the title “When business is not enough” concentrated on how business may play an proactive role in local development and support the sense of responsibility for the common space, that is not only a touristic site but also a living place for the inhabitants. (The video of his talk in Ukrainian can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_18IqfytFeQ&feature=youtu.be) . This is reflected in the initiative “Warm City” that Juriy started and develops with local activists in Ivano Frankivsk. Many participants, mostly young local activists came to listen to Yuriy and ask him how many questions that continued well into the less formal meeting afterwards in “Kanapa” Cafe.
Natalia, Zhan and Jura unveiled many secrets of this marvellous city before us and showed us its heart, bustling with life and interesting, active people. It left us hungry for more.