Throughout this past summer, I fielded a wide variety of questions: “How does it feel to be a college grad?” “What’s the next big step?” “Oh, you’re moving to Ukraine?” “Will you be safe in Ukraine?” “Aren’t you nervous?” “Won’t you be cold?” “Did you buy a coat?” “Will you be able to contact us?” and my least favorite question is something along the lines of, “Isn’t Eastern Europe just a bunch of concrete buildings?” Now, I’m not saying these questions aren’t worth answering. People have their own perspectives on the world and more often than not, the perspectives of those who have never left the United States are, how can I say this nicely, extremely limited. And I recognize that I’ve been extremely lucky to have been able to travel as much as I have, but there is something ridiculous to me that anyone born after 1989 still sees Eastern Europe as a field of failed Soviet Architecture. Like please open a geography book or google any city in Eastern Europe.
Photo Description: Me trying to figure out how to sit in a heart
I could easily write paragraphs on the beautiful mountains of Zakopane or the gorgeous medieval architecture of Krakow. I could easily just post a slide show of the nature preserves and castles of Slovenia and Slovakia. Even in Ukraine, I could wait to write this until I’ve gotten the chance to visit the Dnieper Canyon or the Carpathian Mountain Rage but instead I am going to talk about my city, Dnipro (formally known as Dnipropetrovsk).
Photo Description: Dnipro’s Embankment which is the largest in Europe
Dnipro is that city, that when researched, sounds like that quintessential post-soviet city blockaded with gray apartment buildings and factories that once shelled out nuclear arms, and space race materials. Because of Dnipro’s military industry under soviet rule, it also was a closed city. I have, to be honest, when I first looked into my city assignment, I was a bit nervous. Besides the fact that Dnipro is so close to the Donetsk Region , I was worried about the mood of the city. As someone to spends a great deal of time outside I started giving into those stereotypes that have been instilled in my head. “Will it cold?” “Will it be gray?” “Will it be a city filled with concrete buildings?” But then something amazing happened, I clicked google images.
Photo Description: First image on google when you google Dnipropetrovsk
Now, I’m not going to bore you by explaining how I googled Dnipro for hours upon hours making lists of places I wanted to visit in the region and city, instead I’m going to talk about the small sliver of sights I have been able to see of this gorgeous city. Many of the things I mention, the parks, the music halls, and the embankment, will hopefully receive their own blog posts about them but in the meantime here’s a small taste of the city.
To start Dnipro, unlike many other European Cities, was not completely demolished during the Second World War. Walking down the streets with friends it’s amazing to me how many buildings they can point out that are well over two hundred years old. Walking through Dnipro is honestly like walking through a time capsule. One second you’re staring at a gorgeous newly built and modern building, and the next you’re looking at what must have once been a place and then a few blocks down is a soviet style apartment building lit up by gorgeous plant filled balcony.
Photo Description: Dnipro through the eyes of my iphone
And like any city, there are also abandoned buildings, but unlike the abandoned buildings of New York, the sidewalks around them don’t make me feel like throwing up. In fact, in my two months being here I have not smelled anything remotely similar to the horrible sewers of New York City. The walk paths normally cobbled stone and although broken in some places, they really do give the city some amazing character (I only worry when I see other women wearing their high heels on the road). There is also little to no litter in Dnipro. There are certain areas that are cleaner than others but I feel as though I’m constantly seeing people cleaning even the leaves from the city’s sidewalks. For a city with almost no recycling (something I hope will change throughout all of Eastern Europe), I’m honestly impressed.
Photo Description: Dnipro’s Abandoned Buildings from Google Images because my pictures don’t look as artsy
Link: More Abandoned Buildings of Dnipro, Soviet Dnipro
Within Dnipro, there are also a wide variety of parks to visit. The largest, Shevchenko Park, not only has beautiful walkways, lines of chess tables, a carnival, and a student’s palace but it also has a breathtaking view of the largest river embankment in European. I’ve honestly spent a good too many afternoons overlooking the river already, sketching, or reading. There is becomes easy to cross the river either by using the bridge or zip line to the island, Monastyrskiy, where you can admire a giant statue of Shevchenko and his dog, drink coffee at one of the cafes, visit the church or artificial waterfalls, or you can do what I did, wander into the back forest and stumble upon a bunch of teenagers making out.
Besides Shevchenko Park, there is also Lazaria Hlboy Park and Heroiv Garden, which has gorgeous fountains, games, and giant replicas of rocket ships. There is also Yuriya HaharinaBohdan Khmelnytsky Park, Novokodatskyi, and many others. There are ponds, and lakes and fountains scattered across this already river hugging city. The streets are lined with art displays, the philharmonic performances are inspiring and concerts that are played in the main square every other day, even on my laziest of days pull me from my apartment to go explore . Not to mention almost all of the streets within Dnipro are shadowed by looming trees. Even on a rainy day, it’s impossible to feel gray walking to my office, with these orange and yellow leaves shining down toward me, and brightly colored buildings encircling the streets.
I don’t know maybe it’s my Slavic pride that’s compelling me to write this. To defend Eastern Europe against that gray imagery that emerged from it during the Soviet Union, but I can’t help it. In these short two months, Dnipro has become my home. This city has made me feel loved and it’s people have welcomed me with open arms. Dnipro may have a giant Abandoned Hotel that was constructed during the Soviet era on the embankment, but it’s also painted beautifully with the Ukrainian tryzub, is apparently a great place to party, and stands across from the gorgeous church honoring John the Baptist that was actually constructed in 2007. It’s those surprising and crazy stories that really make this part of the world so unique. Its’ the clash of traditionally western and eastern European architecture, matched by menacing soviet buildings, and modern shopping centers that look like they belong on 5th avenue that keeps me guessing what I’ll discover next. It’s those strange mysteries that keep bringing me back to Eastern Europe and why every trip has been truly remarkable.
Photo Description: Dnipro’s Church for John the Baptist with the Abandoned Hotel in the back
But as the temperature drops, and I notice the first flurries of snow touch my cheek this morning I slip back to those summer questions; “Will I be cold?” “Will it be gray?” But as the sun dims I notice the store and shop fronts have already been lit by Christmas lights and I can’t help but feel warm.