Back some decades ago before there was Facebook, e-mail or even the Internet, communicating with relatives in Ukraine was more than just a little problematic. During Soviet times, it would take months for an exchange of letters to take place, and the content was quite restricted by the fact that everyone assumed that the Soviet authorities were monitoring all correspondence with the outside world. Few people possessed cameras, so photos were rare and consisted of posed scenes where no one smiled and all the folks in them looked either scared or constipated. Candid shots of people enjoying themselves were as rare as a Banderivets at a Komsomol meeting.
It is no surprise then that I knew next to nothing about my family in Ukraine. It was almost as if they were abstract fictional characters and not real people. I knew that they existed, but they might as well have been creatures from another planet. Even if I had wanted to initiate closer and more frequent communications or relations with them, it just wasn’t possible. The Cold War made sure of that.
Fast forward to today, and I would not be exaggerating in saying that things have changed dramatically. In fact, I would say that I probably communicate and know more about my friends and family in Ukraine than many of those on this side of the world. As testimony to this, I offer this brief summary of some of my online activity over the past several weeks, which as you will see is rich with contact with the old homeland.
My cousin-in-law Volodya sent me a picture of his daughter setting off for her first day at school with a bouquet of flowers for her teacher. My cousin Mariyka, who is a nun, sent me a picture of her with some of her fellow nuns on a pilgrimage to a local holy shrine. My cousin Olya sent me word that she is now working in Germany as a personal support worker, since there are no jobs to be had in the “selo” (village), or anywhere in Ukraine for that matter. Another cousin, Yulia, posts enchanting pictures almost daily from Naples where she is working. A young cousin, who shall remain nameless, has been sending me details of his combat experiences while serving on the front lines in the Donbas. My cousin Slava in Lviv posted some pictures of her with some of her friends at the “U Pani Stefy” café. She also posted the tragic news a couple of weeks ago about the passing away of another of my cousins, Mariyka, in my father’s village of Sokoliwka. I regularly follow Andriy, a resident of Sokoliwka, who posts his distinctive six line poetic and often melancholy verses weekly on Facebook. Marianna, a cousin who is originally from Sokoliwka but now lives in Lviv, recounts in a lengthy post how she has been going through Gestalt therapy to try and overcome the psychologial and emotional side effects of a failed marriage. My cousin Nadiya who lives and works in Warsaw, sent me pictures of how fall looks like in the Polish capital.
But this is just the start. My old drinking buddy from my Kyiv days, Roman, sends me updates of the hedonistic goings on at the Knaip Club Cupidon In Kyiv where he likes to hang out. On a more somber note, my FB friend Kateryna Yushchenko posted a moving eulogy on the passing of her close friend and “kuma”, Lida. My friend Ihor Ostash, a former Ukrainian ambassador to Canada, is now posted in Lebanon, from where he recently posted pictures of his efforts at making Lebanese “varenyky”. My friend Tatiana who is a professor at the National Bank of Ukraine’s teaching institute, posted pictures of her starting a new teaching semester. My friend Myshko who plays in a rock band named Koralli in Ukraine posted a picture of a cute “selo” he came across by the name of “Terpinya” (Patience). My friend Marko, who I met when he was a Parliamentary intern in Ottawa a few years back, posted his support of the protest against the Belorussian authorities’ crackdown against demonstrators. Another FB buddy that I follow is Sofia Fedyna, a popular singer from Lviv, as well as an activist member of Ukraine’s Parliament. She has a prolific presence on Facebook, testifying to her musical talent, her passion for politics and her boundless energy.
These are but a few excerpts from my most recent activity on Facebook, but I think they effectively demonstrate that my circle of family, friends and acquaintances in Ukraine are an important part of my day to day life. Technology, and the Internet specifically, have made these people real and alive. I can talk with them, laugh with them and share the ups and downs of my life with them, as they do the same with me. We can share pictures, videos and engage in live video chats. The constraints of geography and time zones have been largely rendered irrelevant. They are now a cherished and important part of my life.