7/29/16 – This was the busiest day of the trip. It started at 8:30 AM meeting our guide Tatiana from the library. She is a unique character and she quickly became our friend through her charm, grace and intelligence. Ellen described her as being like a pixy. She took us to the great Medical Library and introduced us to Madam Raisa who founded the library in this old mansion in the 1960s. Like in Dnipro, we observed the ritual of tea, food and conversation before beginning our tour and photography of this fascinating old place.
Tatiana then shuffled us along like a mother hen to the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine. Here again we observed the rituals before being taken on an astonishing tour of one of the largest libraries in the world. Every department had laid out extensive displays of their collections. All the department heads gave well done presentations to us, some of them reading from typed pages. Ten people followed us including our translator, the head of the library and two photographers. This National Library lacked funds to provide air conditioning and humidity control which was obvious on this hot and humid day. But the staff that we met were overwhelmingly enthusiastic, very smart and proud to show us their incredible collection. The collections ranged from rare books and manuscripts; old rare newspapers; reading rooms; art library; rare wax audio recordings of early 20th century Jewish musicians, singers, poets and writers; and the music library. We even were given a short piano concert on a historically important piano.
I felt that we had just been given the richest and most amazing crash course in Ukrainian history and culture. The generosity of the people we met here so far knows no bounds. After a very short break I was escorted into a very hot and airless room to give my slide discussion on the American Public Library project to a packed house. Again, there were great questions and a real interest in American libraries. I think I was falling in love with Ukraine at this point. We then scrambled out the door and headed across town to my next lecture at the America House. This place is a part of the American Embassy and is used to show Ukrainians a positive side of American culture. It is now also in the center of the new Cold War between Putin’s Russia and the West. There were large images and quotes by Maya Angelou and Steve Jobs on the walls. Laptops were loaned out, books were available and all kinds of classes were taught including English language lessons. It was a very hip and inviting place. I again gave my slide lecture on American public libraries to a packed audience of interested Ukrainians. The lecture as simultaneously translated and then podcast to over 80 Ukrainian libraries throughout the country. I was exhausted but very happy after this very long and rewarding day.
7/30/16 – We came back to the America House in the morning so I could conduct a two-hour workshop/slide show on some historical but mostly contemporary American photographers. I had another good sized audience with occasional good questions. The workshop was followed by a reception for an exhibit of my American Public Library project. I had earlier sent them large digital files which they printed up (nicely), mounted them and hung them in their small galley. We made plans to travel the show throughout Ukraine.
I was really exhausted at this point but rallied enough to go out to dinner with a LensCulture photographer Misha and his fiancé. He had been doing a lot of photography in the war in eastern Ukraine. He spoke of how he was like a crazy child when he came back from the fighting and his fiancé agreed.
7/31/16 – This was our one day of rest in Kiev so, of course, we couldn’t just sit around our air conditioned apartment. We visited the ancient Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery which is the center of the Kiev Rus people. Kiev was founded here and the Kievians like to point out that Moscow wasn’t founded until 500 years later. We found out later that this was also the center of the pro-separatists, pro-Russian people in Kiev. We visited the underground tunnels and tombs of the ancient monks as well as the fantastic cathedrals of the Orthodox Church.
Nearby is the huge Museum to the Ukrainian and Soviet part of WW II. Although massive in scale and impressive in detail it began to take on a predictable message. Both the monastery and Museum were important to see and helped explained the culture we are in. In the early evening Ellen and I walked from our apartment to a small branch library several blocks away that Walker had seen earlier. I only took the digital camera because,of the distance. It turned out to be an old, Soviet-era library with giant new apartments being built by oligarchs rising in the background. The light was perfect and the little details of monkeys and cosmonauts floating in space were enchanting.
8/1/16 – Tatiana was not through with us yet and today she took us back to a different building of the Vernadsky National Library. Here we saw massive a Soviet-era mural, an Iranian room, reading rooms and an impressive modern tapestry of Ukrainian history. One of the most interesting rooms was the map collection. The young librarian kept showing us endless amounts of priceless old maps and atlases. Again I felt like a kid in a candy store. During WW II the 80,000 items in this collection were shipped out of Kiev by train just before the Nazis invaded the city. It was taken to Kazakhstan and shipped back after the war. We were taken to a room full of gifts given to Ukrainian leaders from other world leaders, some of them very kitchy.
The most thoughtful gift of the entire trip was when Tatiana had us issued library cards from the Vernadsky National Library. In a trip filled with remarkable people Tatiana was one of the best. It was a sad farewell when we left. I decided to go back to our neighborhood branch library that I had photographed yesterday with my digital camera. I had brought both digital and film cameras as a experiment. It turned out that it was difficult to shoot both, especially on the second half of the trip. Many times we were rushed, or librarians were breathing down our necks, or the lighting was bad. Often, it was just easier and faster to only shoot digital. I was determined to go back to this fascinating neighborhood library and use some of the large amount of film that still had left. As I was happily photographing this same library in the same beautiful light a young, drunk Ukrainian guy came up to my face and started talking to me in an insistent way. I had two cameras, a large backpack and my tripod strapped around my shoulders while I was changing film and felt pretty vulnerable. When I backed up he followed closely in my face. He was missing one eye and his face was full of scars and scratches. I guessed he might have been a veteran from the war but he seemed pretty whacked out and dangerous now. I noticed a middle aged guy carrying groceries walking by so I jumped in back of him and he proceeded to have some kind of serious talk with this nutter in Ukrainian. We all eventually went our separate ways but I noticed the crazy guy putting the moves on other hapless people walking by the library. I was happy to get out of there in one piece.