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Saturday, 20 October 2012

Ukraine day 9 - Poltava to Kiev - another second cousin and some crime!


We wolfed down another early breakfast as we had another train to catch this morning. Mykhailo and Alexi met us downstairs and we pointed the mighty Mercedes van toward the Poltava railway station. It was nice of Mykhail to make the effort to get up early this morning and see us off. He didn't have to as his duties as our guide finished yesterday. I'd like to think he enjoyed his time with us, I know we enjoyed his company on this trip. He told us he'd continue digging and try and find some more about our family history. After all, there are two aunties that we still know nothing about. But that will be another story...

We said goodbye to the guys and it was actually a bit emotional. Mykhailo had done so much for us in such a short time. He felt like an old friend. I'm pretty sure I saw a tear in his eye as he said goodbye as well.

Goodbye Mykhail and Alexi. We really will miss you.

Our train, ready to roll.

The train trip was once again a very pleasant ride. Suzanne engaged in her favourite pastime as usual, sleeping, while I caught up on some blogging. You'd be surprised how hard it is to keep up with it. Each blog takes an hour at the very least, and when you're flat out touring it's very hard to find the time. And then you need internet access. (insert Suzanne . . . stop moaning, I have a solution Sime, don't do it, then you can spend more time with me : ) (Not moaning Suzanne, just telling it like it is) Anyway, the rural countryside was amazing and the autumn leaves of the Silver Birches were a palette of vibrant golds, browns, reds, oranges, and yellows, just like in dad's paintings.

Once we were in Kiev again out transfer driver picked us up and drove us back to Riviera on Podol, our hotel. 

The one and only Ukrainian girl photo I managed to snap off while Suzanne wasn't watching. Check out those shoes.

I hope Suzanne doesn't read this blog.

(Insert Suzanne...I do read it as you get me to check your spelling you numpty, and if I remember correctly I was the one who spotted the bum, I mean the shoes : ) 

You know what it's like when you lob at a hotel. All the rigmarole of organising your luggage, checking in, and making sure you don't leave anything in your transport. We'd been standing at reception for a few minutes when I noticed a family standing off to one side, the woman was holding a bunch of flowers. It had totally slipped my mind that Alla was going to meet us at the hotel. I walked over and asked if she was waiting for Mykolajenkos. There were lots of big hugs and we started the family reunion all over again.

Alla, Sacha, and their two daughters Alina (9) and Sophia (5) were all there. The girls were pretty happy as they got to have the day off school to go and meet their Aussie relatives. The family tree is really getting a workout. Of course no one spoke English so Lily was our translator. Those of you who know Lily will understand how funny that could be. ; ) At one point she stopped talking to Alla, turned to me and chattered away in Ukrainian. I let her go for some time before I said 'Mil ,(I've always  call her Milla) I can't understand Ukrainian". Then she turned to Alla and told her what had happened - in English. I guess you had to be there to see the funny side. I love my sister.

Sofia, Alina, Sacha, and Alla. (L to R)

The girls were really cool.

In all the excitement something terrible happened. Sacha had put his small briefcase down, and it disappeared. He owns a car yard and his case contained a sizable amount of cash, important paperwork, two phones, work, car & home keys, and all the usual cards etc. The Police were called and the hotel security camera footage viewed. It showed one man walk in and distract the reception staff while another sat down, after draping his coat over the arm of a chair. A few minutes later he picked up his coat, along with Sacha's bag, and calmly walked out of the hotel. About half an hour later the bag miraculously appeared out the front of her hotel with everything, except the cash, still inside. Apparently this is quite common. The Ukrainian Mafia follow tourists into hotels and steal things in the usual check in confusion. It put a big cloud over our happy day. The one person who seemed least concerned was Sacha, who continued to joke and laugh as we spoke.

The Police rolled up. Now I've spoken (admittedly at length) about the girls and the way they dress in Ukraine. Well now it was Suzanne's turn. She said to me "Did you see the Police when they got here?" I said no, because I had, and I thought I'd get in trouble if I said yes. The first one walked in. Tall, blond, wearing a short black skirt, stockings, and heeled, tall leather boots. Suzanne thought she was a stripper visiting the hotel. Then her partner walked in. She was the same except with dark hair. They sat with Sacha and took down all the details of what had happened. Maybe the theory here is if you are a criminal you'll give yourself up to be arrested and handcuffed by someone like these two. (Rex, Gary, you've got nothing on these two coppers.)

Meanwhile back at the family, Suzanne gave each of the girls one of her books. They loved them, but Sofia really wanted to be painted. We sat upstairs in the bar and started to explain to Alla how we all fitted in the family. She had no idea. I showed her my rough family tree and it all came together. She added Sasha, Alina, and Sofia to the tree. She knew of dad and told us her mother has a lot of photos. As with when we met Valya we wished we had more time to get to know everyone better and to find out more about the family, but like I said, a week ago we knew nothing so we couldn't plan anything. It's obvious we have to come back. Sasha said we should come back in winter and he'd take us skiing. I asked how cold it gets and he said minus thirty two! I suggested that I won't be riding the BM in minus thirty two. Oh yes, Sasha is a motorcyclist as well. He rides a Suzuki VL1500. Yahoo! A rellie that rides.

We get all of the niceties out of the way and Alla suggests we go to the Kiev archives to try and get a birth certificate for dad. At the first stop they search for dad's details but tell us that they don't have the records here, we need to go to another archive. We are now driving around Kiev in peak hour traffic. Sasha has to go back to work, so he called a friend to drive us around. He can obviously pull some strings. 

Next stop we are told, no we don't have them here, you need to go to Poltava. We told them we were there two days ago and they tell us again – go to Poltava. Bureaucrats! They are the same all over the world I guess. The bottom line is that no one knows where the records are for 1920. They will try to find 1911 and my uncle's records.

It was a little disappointing, but when I look at what we did get from this trip, I couldn't be happier. At the end of the day we now have sixteen new names for the family tree, with more to come, and we met some of our previously unknown relatives. It's bloody fantastic!

Obviously we had to have some food to celebrate. At last I

I could put my vodka drinking practise to good use. The previous night we had all decided to only have one course at dinner tonight because we were all eating far too much.

Yeah right. 

Alla ordered dinner for us. Not only did we get starters and two courses but some side dishes as well. Sasha had been working and showed up after dinner - with a huge torte. He explained that Ukraine was famous for it's torte. After a LARGE piece I can understand why. It was just heavenly delicious.

Torte anyone? Alina demolished a small piece.

After dinner Sasha explains that he has three cars with drivers downstairs to take us back to our hotel. What did I say about strings? Back at the hotel we all said goodnight and we promised to make a return visit. I don't think it will be during ski season Sasha. Sorry.

The gang. Me, Sofia, Suzanne, Alina, Alla, Lily, and Ron. (L to R)

So that's Ukraine. What a beautiful country, and I have relatives spread around it. I really want to come back here on the bike. I want to learn more about my relatives and our family. I Can't believe how lucky we were to meet our extended family, and we have Mykhailo to thank for that. 

If you have the opportunity to visit Ukraine, do it. You won't be disappointed, and if you ask nicely I might hook you up with my cousins who'll show you around.

I don't want to leave tomorrow.

(Sorry about the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, but it's late and I have been typing this quickly, trying to keep up with my thoughts).

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