This morning we visited the cathedrals to St. Sophia and St. Michael. The latter is another reconstruction due to the destruction of the original by the Soviets as they fled Kiev in advance of the Germans arrival. St. Sophia's, however, was started about 1011 and features wonderful frescos and mosaics. It is now more of a museum than a working cathedral.
Alex left to head back to Lviv and Katherine and I collapsed for a short while in our hotel room. Nearly three weeks on-the-go has taken its toll. Later we strolled the Globus Mall under the Maydan Nezalezhnosti, had dinner and watched the dancing fountain.
I will definitely need some time reflect, but right now I'm feeling completely positive about my Ukraine journey. The archives did not yield a great deal of information about the Labun branch of my family, but I really did not expect to find much. The visit to the shtetls, particularly Labun, was, however, priceless. Prior to this trip, I had tried to imagine Labun from the high altitude shots on Google Earth, but Google Earth does not convey the reality of the small rural hamlet. Slow moving, relaxed, bucolic, simpler are adjectives that come to mind. People, no matter their usual source of income (if they have income), seem to be tied to work in the fields. They are close to the land.
I have traveled in agricultural areas in several states in the USA and I do not recall seeing many people working in the fields. Perhaps that is due to the mechanization of US agriculture. In Ukraine, it seems that there are always people in the fields, sometimes only a couple or a few. But someone is always out there, tending crops or livestock, hand hoeing or raking. Someone is hauling hay in a horse drawn cart.
Jewish people, of course, were not usually farmers in the Russian Empire. When my family left to seek a better life, they were not allowed to own land and farm. This land that was theirs treated them as outsiders, limited their movements and limited their options. All too frequently, it took their most valuable asset, their lives.
I know that for many of my grandparents' generation, returning to this land was neither an option nor a desire. They were happy to leave. I imagine that most of them would be perplexed by my desire to visit. Placing my ancestors and relatives in context gives me a far better sense of who they were and what they became after emigrating. I can imagine my great grandfather with, perhaps, a stall in the Labun marketplace selling butter and eggs. Perhaps my great great grandfather had a tavern at the edge of town, bartering drinks for produce.
The exodus of my father's family from Labun and mother's from Galicia and Bukovina was nearly complete. A few made the ultimately poor choice to stay. We mourn their fate. I'm not a religious person, but I'd like to think that all my ancestors and relations would be happy to know I was able to honor those who died. We can celebrate the families that grew and prospered despite the horrible fate of the few who remained. I think it's nice that I can come to Ukraine and leave at will, as my ancestors could not.