Rivne, Ukraine I

Thursday, April 21, 2011

If you're new to the blog, we're currently writing about our time Ukraine-- our first visit back to our home country since we left ~20 years ago.

From Novovolynsk (Yuriy's birthplace), we took a marshrutka to Rivne, my birthplace. Turns out Yuriy and I were born in Ukrainian towns about 100 miles apart (never knew they were so close). We immigrated 6000 miles from Ukraine to the United States with our families. Yet we still somehow landed close to one another! I grew up in Idaho, Yuriy grew up in Washington, 500 miles apart. And a few years ago, we crossed paths, fell in love, got married. Now we live 0 miles apart, and that's just the way I like it.

Yuriy and I stayed in Rivne at my dad's cousin, Luda's, house. She summoned her niece & nephew (around our age) to give us a tour on our first day. The four of us piled into a car and drove around town. They took us to churches, cemeteries, the main train station, a frozen lake dotted with fishermen, shopping centers in town, the brand new mall, their flower shop business (which they were very proud of), and finally dropped us off for a few hours to explore on our own. They were so hesitant to leave us, as if we'd get lost or stolen. We tried to remind them we had been in several countries already without knowing the language, and managed to get around... at least we could speak Ukrainian here.

I moved to the United States with my family in 1989 when I was just one year old. Thus I don't remember a thing about the city I was born in. I had such a wild mix of emotions to see the town that my parents lived in and started their family together (they grew up in smaller nearby villages). I couldn't tell if I was happy or sad. I was happy to see where my mom and dad originated from. I was happy to see the place that formed their lives, thoughts, style, and culture. I was happy and sentimental imagining my mom and dad walking these streets and shopping these stores in their younger years. It was nice to see people around who looked like them and spoke like them. However, at the same time I felt sad to see poverty and a country still recovering from it's Communist past and trying to grow into an independent country (since 1991). It felt like the modern world was just trickling into this place and they were trying to catch up. I tried to imagine what my parents' life would have been like if they hadn't moved to the US 21 years ago with their small kids in tow. I tried to imagine what my story would have been like growing up in Rivne and whether I'd have similar interests and aspirations. I got a glimpse of what our lives would have looked like when we visited my mom's brother and sister and their families in a village just outside of Rivne. But more on that later.

I never missed my parents so much as I did while we were in Rivne. I would have done anything to have them there with me as my tour guides, reliving their past and explaining everything I saw. Instead, it was Yuriy and I trying to figure out the country we were born in, but know little about.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? How did you feel visiting your birthplace for the first time?

Here's a small look at the place where I spent the first year of my life in a stroller.

- Julia

The main movie theater. And Taras Shevchenko standing in front.
The giant Christmas tree is going up in the center of town.
Our hard to miss tour guide (my dad's cousin's niece... I think).
I love Ukrainian Christmas decorations! Very old fashioned.
The central train station (we came here to buy tickets to Kiev).
The place was packed with waiting people, stray dogs keeping warm, and the occasional bird from outside.
Hot piroshki, drinks, and other snacks selling outside the train station.
Inside Luda's house (my dad's cousin)-- where Yuriy and I stayed the night. Her decor is so charming and so Ukrainian.
Luda's kids on their wedding days. 
"God is love"
"...go and sin no more"


  1. Great photos! I was almost got arrested when I was shooting in one of the restaurants in Lviv.

  2. Wonderful photographs. I can't imagine how it feels visiting your home town that you're not familiar with! I think it's lovely how both you and Yuriy can relate to how it feels and experience roaming these streets together.

    Also, I'm super excited you're getting closer to the Kyiv post! I have been waiting for that since you posted the wee teaser image and it's proved to me that I am more patient than I originally thought I was!

  3. That is just too cool that you were born only a hundred miles apart. I love that...I think it adds to that feeling of destiny, that "we were meant to be together" feeling. It's amazing what God has in plan for us! And these are some of my favorite photos of yours, I think...I just love them. Wonderful stories behind them.

  4. Just found your blog and have spent the last hour catching up. I LOVE your beautiful photos. I also live in Seattle and my husband and I were recently talking about takign some time to travel the world. Seeing your photos and reading your stories makes me want to do it..NOW. Only our pesky jobs are in the way. What an inspiration!

  5. Finally, at last this moment has come! I've been waiting for this post for a while now! In place of the statue of Taras Shevchenko, there used to be in my days there was a statue of the creator of the Soviet Communist Party, Vladimir Lenin. When it's cold out, those пирiжки, биляши and чебуреки are priceless. Soviet delicacy!
    Patiently waiting for the rest of the photos of your honeymoon in Rivne.

  6. This is awesome. I am surprised that the majority of the folks read the papers! some photos are just hilarious. (the babke)

  7. What an unusual experience for you, being in your birthplace, yet so totally unfamiliar. I love all the different head gear, you look so cute in that beanie.

  8. Yay, our hometown, finally! I've loved all of the Ukraine pics, but I'm also loving your writing here. Makes me feel all sentimental and nostalgic. It would be my dream to someday go back and visit again with both of our parents.

  9. "It felt like the modern world was just trickling into this place and they were trying to catch up." I couldn't have said it better myself. I see so much of Poland in your Ukraine posts. I feel like all of Eastern Europe is "trying to catch up" to the western world.
    Your cousin's drawer looks exactly like some of my grandma's furniture and what's inside is so alike as well. Also, my aunt has a similar inside garden, ha!

    I've yet to go to Munich, Germany, but I doubt I'll really get that feeling.. that this is where I spent my very first nine months. I cannot wait to visit, though!

  10. We in the midst of planning our own 6 month around the world honeymoon when we came across your blog, and we love it! We are now considering a stop in Ukraine as a result :)

  11. I visited Rivne, Ukraine a few summers back and looking through your photos brings back some good memories. Love your photography! )

  12. whats on the ground in the last picture between the two pots with the bird on them?

  13. i love this story julia.

    some of these pictures look like they're out of a film. incredible.

    great great post.

  14. So nice to hear your responses to a personal post. I love to hear how you can relate or the things that caught your eye. Thank you!

    [re]becca- What an eye! Its a stuffed toy puppy. I didn't even notice it got into the photo!

  15. Haha the expressions of some of those Ukrainian grandma's made me chuckle. I'm from Rivnenska Oblast too. I also fell in love with some of the Christmas decorations at the baazar! I was able to bring some back to USA.Great photos, thanks for refreshing my memories :)

  16. just discovered your blog..so beautiful and inspiring ;)
    hugs from lille,france. (if you stop by i'll take you around to see the city) :)

  17. love this post, brought a smile to my face. My mom has the same tea set(the red-orange w/ gold trim) displayed in her china cabinet as well. My parents brought it with them when we immigrated to US in 1989 from Korosten, Ukraine. My mother says its all mine when I get married :)
    Love your blog and pictures, keep up the amazing work. God Bless

  18. Great blog really interesting. My Grandfather was Ukranian from Rivne. I have always been fascinated by this country although sadly my grandfather died before I was born. He came to the UK during the Second World War and never went home due to the hard time. I hope to make it there one day!!!