Diary Entry Ky’iv 17 4 2000
This morning, I went with Natalya, my translator, to the ‘Lavra’ Monastery, the shrine of the ‘Cave’, where the golden onion-domes and crosses of the Pechersky monastery blazed a brilliant welcome over the banks of the Dnieper, visible for miles around from the fields and forests.
Fearladen mysticism, the claustrophobic hell of stumbling through these dark underground passages, filled with the ‘incorruptible’ mummies of the orthodox saints. This is surely religion at its most iconocludic, airless and oppressive.
I finally lost patience with it all, and demanded that we just sit in the wonderful vegetable garden of the monastery. This is a sloping field full of bee-hives, which looks down across the wandering sandbanks of the Dnieper to the city centre. I needed fresh air, something natural and green, untouched by superstition and organized ignorance.
I tried to explain my problem to Natalya, that whatever my religion, my moral outlook tends towards the Lutheran. She carefully explained the same old dogma, the official line, the party line even, that the protestant dispute was with the Catholics, that they had no argument with the orthodox position. I gently pointed out, or tried to point out, that Luther would have had QUITE a problem with the idolatry on display around us. I think that she was surprised and not a little offended by my vehemence, but then, I am more than a little offended at seeing people who have little, being induced to give themselves, and the remains of their property, over to superstition. Communism may have gone, but the cult of one personality has merely been replaced with another, older one, as women, old before their time pay to shuffle along line and kiss a statue’s feet, herded by unctuous black-robed young prelates.
Afterwards, we went off to the Café ‘Butterfly’, where I was relieved to see that they owned a very impressive looking espresso machine. Unfortunately they just didn’t know how to use it, and the coffee was the familiar black paint institutionalized by the Soviets. After the meal and drinks, I asked Natlya how much I should tip (it was not what a fat western capitalist would think of as a fancy place)? “I don’t know,” she replied quietly. ” I have never been anywhere quite like this before.” A reality check, for me, fat, privileged western capitalist.
Earlier in the day she had told me that her great dream was to see mountains. She hoped one day to see the Carpathians. She had only left the Ukraine once, when she was eight, and her parents had taken her to visit their relatives in Moscow. But she remembered nothing about that trip. But I got into far deeper trouble when I suggested that the Hetman Mazeppa might not have been quite the Ukrainian Patriot which is cracked up to be. That did not go down at all well.
Diary Entry Ky’iv 17 4 2000