Ukraine is in the news right now, fighting for her freedom. I spent a couple weeks in Ternopil, Ukraine, and I’d like to share some thoughts with you.
In July, 2008, I boarded a 767 with my son Jim en route to Ukraine where he would marry a lovely woman named Olya.
It’s Saturday morning when I awaken in Ternopil. The sun is shining and I feel as if I’ve lost a day. I talk myself through taking a shower, fixing my hair and getting dressed. The toilet flushes with gusto.
There’s a park that goes all the way around the hotel. The trees are huge, moss-covered beauties. Ternopil Lake sits behind the hotel in great majesty. From my third floor window, I can see the park, crowded with children feeding and chasing pigeons, babies in strollers, women in bridal gowns, photographers, bicyclists, lovers, Gypsies and statues. (I must have looked poor as the Gypsies never approached me!) Lunch is pork sausage with mushrooms and cheese.
The streets are like alleys. Little cars speed every which way. Sunday morning I want to go to Mass. The office personnel can’t understand my questions. Finally, a man speaking Spanish waltzes by, giving me directions in his language; one word I understand, the Spanish word for left.
I step into the Ukrainian sunshine and instantly hear music. I walk towards it, through a lovely park. Across the street stands an old cathedral, doors open, music pouring out like a waterfall. Hundreds of voices harmonize into music as beautiful as heaven’s must be. No piano, no organ, no instruments, only human voices and everyone singing. Tears come when I understand two words: Alleluia and Amen.
Everyone stands, shoulder to shoulder in this huge cathedral. Men stand on my right and women on the left. A few benches in back hold the elderly. Icons and paintings fill walls that seem to rise to heaven. I stand 90 minutes, but no priest ever comes with Communion. Next time, I’ll try to be a brave, red-faced foreigner and make my way to the front.
That week we walk around the shops. A lady named Mariya who knows Olya makes beaded necklaces. She’s selling them on a street corner. I pick one, costing about $10. In a grocery store there’s fruit that is small, but looks good: apples from Ukraine, apricots from Spain, oranges from Greece.
One time, I sit on a bench in front of the church when a small, elderly woman walks up to me. She says something, stands for a moment sort of talking to herself, then walks out of sight. Soon she returns, sits next to me and somehow we communicate. I think she says her husband died a long time ago. She seems sad and I put my hand on her shoulder. We sit a long time. I offer her my bottle of water. She declines. Then I stick a hundred Ukrainian bill into her huge bag. She’s pleased.
I could write much more, but I want to sum up my feelings. I feel like a sister to Ukraine. Although she is an ancient country, in freedom she still wears diapers. Cold, angry Russia crouches in bushes to her east and north, waiting to eat her alive.
Walk the streets of Ternopil. Women as pretty as movie stars pass quickly, en route to somewhere. They work hard. The woman (schinka) believes her body is important. They’re not quick to smile at others on streets, yet if you attempt their language, they may giggle. They aren’t being rude or unkind; they’re enjoying the sound and freedom of their language. They remember a time when they would be sent to Siberia for speaking the wrong language.
T-shirts read: Freedom or Death. Like our Patrick Henry, Give me liberty or give me death. I want my country to help her fight for the right to be her own country, to choose her language, money, song, and religion. They say there’s no crime, no robbery, no killing in Ternopil. If anything ugly happens, the Russians from the east did it. I don’t know what the story behind the story is, but I know I want them to be a freed country.
Until freedom flows….
Mary ZACHMEYER, Iowa, USA.
Ці чудові, теплі спогади Мері Закмаєр (Mary Zachmeyer), жительки США, зі штату Айова і моєї чудової свекрухи. Вона була в Україні, зокрема в Тернополі та у Львові. Мері – письменниця і поет. Їй дуже сподобалась Україна. Зараз, коли Україна бореться за свободу, Мері молиться за нашу державу і народ. Вона розповідає своїм друзям і знайомим про Україну: дуже емоційно, гарно, правдиво.
Цю статтю Мері написала для американської газети.
На фото: Мері Закмаєр на весіллі у Тернополі.