Blog 3 Peace for Ukraine

The road from Demyanovka 1942

It seems not much has changed from 1942 – Ukrainians are evacuating yet again!

Nezhin to Luhansk

Nezhin is not far from the birthplace of one of Ukraine’s literary giants – Gogol. He had his high school education in Nezhin. Some of his writing contains quirky village folklore with supernatural twists. some say he was mad – in modern terms he would have been on the spectrum

Gogol-Ukrainian born

My local book shop proprietor, in Victoria Park, realised I was obsessed with Russian literature. I was buying anything and everything by the usual greats of the last century, because I was trying to catch up with my heritage background on my fathers side.

He told me that Gogol was his favourite Russian writer. I corrected him – you mean Ukrainian! I knew that much from my Ukrainian mother. Still controversial!

From my mother I already knew of Taras Shevchenko-Poet- Laureate. A man of many talents not only writing. He wrote about his country Ukraine even though he had spent time in St. Petersburg. Artistic people crave education and Taras Shevchenko was no different. But he knew which country he was from-Ukraine

So in 2013, I found myself travelling to Nezhin – sitting in the back of a hired van, sandwiched between my two grandchildren with my son and daughter-in-law in tow, to experience an Orthodox Easter in the country of their heritage. We stayed in Nezhin for two nights exploring the town and surrounds.


The Hotel we stayed in was not flash! It became a very low bar marker. Now whenever talking about accommodation that any of us has experienced we always ask was it as bad as Nezhin??!!

While there, I chatted to another traveller who was from the USA. He was on a grant to write a biography about Gogol. Quite mad he motioned by pointing to his head and circling his pointer finger.

The next morning at a cafe for breakfast we bumped into Roman again and resumed the conversation.

Apparently Gogol, like other Ukrainian literary figures also studied in St.Petersburg. All the Russian and Ukrainian literaty gravitated to that City – it was the place to be. One could say that St. Petersburg was the Paris of Russia. It was here that to differentiate from the writers of nobility, Gogol discovered that writing about peasant folklore was popular and people wanted to hear more

He became an overnight success with the publishing of his book : Evenings on a farm near Dikanka. The Russians were charmed by this Ukrainian born in what the Russians called Little Russia. From a modern day point of view when I heard that term Little Russia, I regard it as a snub to Ukrainians and towards Gogol, who they always claimed to be their own.

Taras Shevchenko memorial statue at Kaniv 2013
A portrait of Taras Shevchenko a favourite image. He painted as well as wrote
Kachanivka Estate in Chernihiv Oblast. A place where Gogol, Glinka and Taras Shevchenko had connections.

The American writer also asked us where we were heading in our trip We wanted to get to Luhansk in the East. What the hell are you going there for?! It’s the Industrial sesspool of Ukraine he said. We told him we were hoping to visit my husband’s lost extended family.

A week later after we farewelled our son and family – they were continuing onto Norway, we travelled to Kharkiv on a very modern fast train.

More on Kharkiv in another blog

The road we travelled from Kharkiv we will never forget for two reasons:

The road from Kharkiv south is a major 6 laner. It’s signposted to end at Rostov on Don (in Russia).

Spooky I thought!

The first reason I will never forget this highway, is that it is a driver’s nightmare! Potholes are everywhere and huge trucks just lumber away at 130kms. My husband was driving. I felt extremely unsafe as we had a journey of 300kms. So I told him to pull over, where I got out a bottle of beer; drank it all and then told him I can cope – drive!!

The other reason this highway left a mark on my consciousness was later on the 17th July in 2014, flight MH17 was shot down over this region in Luhansk. I remember seeing on news channels the transport vehicles travelling that same road taking the bodies of Australian citizens to Kharkiv. It became very real and my emotions were heightened!!

Industrial Sesspool Luhansk

View from our Luhansk Hotel

The photo from our Hotel is reasonably “nice”. This Hotel was the 3rd we tried. The two other ones were much much worse than Nezhin!! One of the hotels were like chookpens – reserved for groups of young lads who come for football game weekends the lady at the desk told us. She said they usually were too drunk to care!!

 Really not a good place to stay!! 

The next day we set off for the village of Rafailivka. My husband had never met or known his Aunty or her family. She was his mother’s sister and he had only seen them on photographs. It was a trip of anticipation for us.

The countryside in the region of Luhansk is ugly, flat with huge slag heaps everywhere. It’s a mining area. We had to travel for 50kms along this ugly landscape. But we continued in our effort for our re-union.

A wonderful family it was that we found in Rafailivka – very hospitable, with fabulous simple food, home grown cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes. The weather was warm – we ate Al-Fresko and all seemed well. Aunty Nadia even sang, which was a common tradition of the older women using high pitched intonations in their voices. I noticed the young girls just smiled shyly. I recalled my mother and her sister singing like that when I was a child.

Rafailivka – lost family’s village in Luhansk Oblast

But after the niceties they told us how hard their life was. Originally this family lived in the west of Ukraine near Lviv. After the Wall came down in 1991, they came to Luhansk looking for work. The two men in the picture had always worked in the mines-both had black lung disease. Their poverty was obvious! It was spring and quite warm, so Yarra’s Aunty showered outdoors with a bucket suspended on a rail. We asked her what did she do in winter. A bucket indoors she said.

We marvelled how welcoming and cheerful they all were. We asked them what they thought of Ukraine and Russia.

They told us that they lived in Ukraine but their country had forgotten them. They said that the government in Kyiv was too far away. This was 2013 and in hindsight we can now see a lot of seeds of dissatisfaction being sown towards the government in Kyiv. They told us that there were people in local government who wanted Russia to help them. My husband and I have travelled in Russia and know that these small towns far from the huge cities are very poor in both countries. The Russian government does not pour money into out of the way places. Putin does not care! Moscow looks well stocked and glamorous. The outlying areas are totally neglected.

The reality for this family was similar. Since Ukraine ousted Viktor Yanukovich the Ukrainian government have started to improve their country – trying to diminish corruption, embracing dimocracy. Their social structures are inclusive of the gay communities and minorities. But for this family , so far from Kyiv it was not enough.

Me with the lost family from Luhansk

Putin has used people’s misfortunes to create divisions – for his megalomaniac gains

I have always felt that Ukraine will never have peace until the Russian people have got the head space to take on a new psychology. This takes time and now with this war they again will be set back. It might be quiet in Moscow for the moment.

But it is murder in Ukraine!!!😢😢😢😢😢😢😢💛💛💛💙💙

Until all Russian people wake up to their monster Leader, they will be in a loop of destruction yet again.

Just like what Putin did in Chechnya, and in Georgia – Ukraine is being sacrificed for his crazy revenge!!

Memorial for MH17 – from the Exhibition: The leaving of Ukraine through Bloodlands 2015