Saturday, 31 March 2012

On the morning of Wednesday 13th of April, dedicated to Pope St Martin I, after spending the night quite successfully underneath a concrete platform for traffic police cars next to the road, i made my way towards Lyubar, scene in 1660 of a major battle between Polish-Lithuanians, with their Tatar allies, and Russians, with the Cossacks. I was surprised to find that an isolated roadside residence with a weather-beaten sign, ‘Chumatski Shlyakh’, was in fact a cafe with an attractive wood-panelled interior – and open for business. Even better, the kind lady inside relocated me to a table underneath a super electric heater, and wouldn’t hear of me ordering only the bread which i customarily eat on Wednesdays. I was presented with another free bowl of tasty hot soup and a plate of biscuits to go with my tea. Memorable also was a calendar on the wall with the popular Russian saying: “Without work you will not catch so much as a little fish from the pond.” Trundling past the prominent statue of V.I. Lenin on a wet and windy afternoon in Lyubar, i eventually found the office of Ukraine’s telecom company, in order to go onto the internet for an hour or so. I then set off in the direction of Krasnosilka, snapping a photogenic pair of nesting storks on the way.

   “Porridge. A great way to start your day”. By means of slogans like this, advertisers have ever endeavoured to shift their stuff. Well, take it from me, a kick, followed by more kicks, in the back, from a would-be ‘Dick Turpin’ highwayman at six in the morning, when you’ve spent the night in a bus shelter, is not a great way to start your day. Having said that, thanks be to God, it could have been much, much worse. For one thing, although he had fairly new overalls, my assailant was only wearing a very battered pair of trainers. And before going to sleep i had taken just one half-baked precaution, locking my bags together with a little cable/padlock, by which he was sufficiently deterred from simply making off with my stuff, which could have spelt the end of the road. He didn’t have a weapon of any kind and he was drunk and/or drugged, for which reason i was able to fob him off with some foreign currency which was worth less than he realised; he even gave some Russian roubles back to me. Among the notes he did keep were Israeli shekels left over from the previous year’s trip to Jerusalem, which lent the whole episode a curiously New Testament quality.* Thankfully though – Thank You Jesus - i was never really in danger. We even had a half friendly conversation, in which i learnt that he was 21 years old, had lost his parents, and had been turned out of his grandparents’ home in Belarus. When i told him i was English he gave me a fable about how, in reality, he was American, a notion which clearly held a tremendous romantic appeal. But he also gave me an indication of some of the terrible things which can befall feral young people and children, not only in Ukraine but in all countries. It brought home to me the incalculable importance of a charity like Mary’s Meals (which incidentally has been actively addressing child homelessness in Ukraine for several years), and of course a place like the wonderful orphanage-school in Bortniki, which fundamentally shares the same philosophy.

   My own Good Samaritan was a driver who kindly responded to my arm-waving, as i was trying to fend off the inebriated young robber. In fact, to give him his due, although he cottoned on to my having short-changed him, he actually indicated to me that a van had stopped behind me and was waiting to pick me up! I was offered a lift all the way to Kiev, but instead asked to be dropped in a town called Chudniv, about 15 kms down the road. I found another internet place there, then eventually a nice place to drink coffee and count my blessings. That night there was a special satisfaction in finding somewhere relatively safe to sleep; inside a small, abandoned, presumably soviet-era observation tower, in a village called Miroslavska, a name which incorporates the words for ‘peace’ and ‘glory’. It was marvellously comforting from there to hear the horn and then the whistle (especially) of trains as they approached a nearby railway crossing.
*“Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man
who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” [Lk 10:30-37]                                  

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