|From:||John Zaitseff <J.Zaitseff@zap.org.au>|
|To:||Many interested readers around the world|
|Date:||Thursday, 25th August 2005 at 01:02:21 EEST|
|Subject:||An update from Ukraine|
It’s hard to believe that just two weeks have passed since I last wrote to you! These two weeks have been so busy that my time in the children’s camp in Schokina almost seems like a lifetime ago…
After catching the overnight train (and being woken up at 3am by rather irate passport control officers for “passport inspection”), I arrived in Mariupol on Wednesday 10th August. This was my first time in Ukraine: a significant event for me, as I was at last in the land of (at least some of) my forefathers. Perhaps I should have bowed and kissed the station platform, like some long-lost pilgrim. I chose, instead, to drag my bags out across the railway tracks to meet my hosts, the Franchuk family.
Vladimir and Lydia Franchuk, as well as their daughters Sveta and Adelina, have been wonderful hosts and have become excellent friends. Vladimir is the pastor of a reasonably large church in Mariupol, a leading historian for the Pentecostal movement in Russia and beyond, and a great teacher with a keen sense of humour. Incidentally, he celebrated Perestroika in prison, as he was one of the many pastors that had been imprisoned by the Communist government for his faith. His father and both grandfathers were pastors as well, and had also been imprisoned for their faith.
I spent the first few days in Mariupol simply unwinding and relaxing. Not that that was helped by being informed, immediately on arrival, that “you’re one of the main speakers tonight”! Wonder of wonders, I didn’t even take many photographs, not even when we went down to the Azov Sea for a swim. I did manage to speak three times on one day (Sunday), but, in the main, I rested.
Sunday afternoon (the 14th) was really the start of our travels. First, it was up to Volnovaha (about 60km north of Mariupol) to speak in their church and to meet new friends. Then, further north to Donetsk at 4am the next morning, to send some other friends off at the airport. While in Donetsk, I was invited to a guided tour of an institute specialising in artificial intelligence, philosophy and religion (quite an interesting combination, actually!). Finally, back down to Mariupol to pack for Crimea, ready for an early morning departure.
Yes, the famous Crimean peninsular. I can now say that I have been there, and that its fame is well-deserved. We spent one full day travelling down to Bakhchysaray (a distance of only 410km, it is true, but the roads are not all that good in this part of the planet!). We spent part of the next day looking through the Khans’ Palace, a 16th century complex built for the descendants of Jenghis Khan’s westernmost hordes. In addition, the 9th century Uspensky Monastery and 6th-to-19th century cave-city Chufut-Kale (“Jewish Fortress”) were well worth seeing. And standing near the edge of 200m cliffs in Chufut-Kale with absolutely no protection was quite… interesting for me, shall we say…
Next, it was off to Sevastopol and the ancient Greek city of Chersonesus, founded in 422 BC and destroyed by the Tatars in the late 14th century. The highlight of these excavated ruins, at least for me, was seeing the spot where Volodymyr of Kiev was baptised in 988 AD, thus choosing Orthodoxy as the national religion of ancient Rus and substantially influencing the history of Russia and Ukraine for well over a thousand years. The ruins of a 6th century church were also interesting.
Thursday saw us exploring legendary Yalta on the Black Sea. Was the water ever so warm and clear! And were there so many people, like “slabs of meat on a barbeque”, as Hercules Poirot was supposed to have said: not a square yard of pebbled beach was left! We travelled by ferry to Livadia Palace, where the famous 1945 conference between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin was held. From there, we continued on to Swallow’s Nest, a fairytale-like castle built in 1912 on the top of a sheer cliff. The castle is now an overpriced restaurant, but the views are certainly nice!
A further bus-ride saw us at the base of Mt. Ai-Petri, waiting for 75 minutes in the 35-degree heat for a cable car to the top. This “cable road”, as it is called, just has to be one of the most spectacular cable car rides I have ever been on, and the views from the 1234m-high Mt. Ai-Petri are breathtaking. Just be prepared for very long waits and the need to cross certain palms with silver to take on a guide you might not really need… or else travel up by bus on serpentine roads and come down by cable car. By the way, I have to admit that I was rather disconcerted to see 700m sheer cliffs “guarded” by a thin water-pipe railing and lots of children running around nearby, or even progressing beyond the railing to look over the edge! I had to literally pray for courage to even come up to the railing, let alone look over the edge, but a love of photography conquered that fear, at least for the time being…
The Nikitsky Botanical Gardens, Alupkinsky Palace, Foros Church and Baydarskie Vorota were our last stops in the Yalta region. In particular, the 1892 Foros Church is built on the edge of a 400m cliff; it can be seen “as on the palm of your hand” from the higher-up Baydarskie Vorota (a stone arch built in 1848 across the road at the top of the 527m pass).
Somewhat sadly, we left Crimea on Saturday for our 480km journey to Odessa—another full day’s drive across flat fields stretching to the horizon with few trees and almost no hills. Odessa, on the other hand, was quite interesting and certainly quite pretty. I had the opportunity of speaking in one of the churches there, then of walking around the city centre. For me, the highlight of being in Odessa was visiting some of the places that Ivan Voronaeff lived in and worked in as a pastor from 1921 onwards—thereby starting a world-wide movement from which all Russian Pentecostal Christians can trace their roots. And, what is more significant for me, Voronaeff’s ministry started a literal missions-based move from Odessa to the Ural Mountains to Kazakhstan to north-west China and finally to Australia, Canada, the United States and South America. My parents and grandparents were part of that move of God; you can imagine my feelings when I, the inheriter of such a rich history, was able to come back to the place from which it all started and continue God’s work, even if only in a small way.
And so the five of us left Odessa on Monday morning for Kiev, some 490km to the north. Apart from stopping for a number of hours at the splendid 200-year-old Sofiyivka Park in Uman, half-way between Odessa and Kiev, the journey was quite uneventful. We arrived in the capital of Ukraine that very evening, eager to spend the next few days looking around the city. That, at least, is the current plan!
Thank you for your prayers for me; I very much appreciate them. I am doing quite well, both physically and spiritually, but I still have a somewhat persistant cough. If you can, I would also appreciate you praying that the final week or so of my travels will work out well. My current itinerary is:
I look forward to either hearing from you or seeing you soon!