Highlights of my trip to Ukraine - Part 2

I grew up in a small city of Khmelnitsky in Western Ukraine. There isn't much that's exciting about it - it's a regional center, it has a river running through it and its main industry is shopping. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990s, jobs were scarce and local money quickly lost their value. The economy was in ruins. So a lot of people tried to make ends meet by reselling things, often brought in from a neighboring country. It was not uncommon to see a former white collar worker peddling Turkish bed linen or Polish shoes. Several marketplaces sprung up around the city and one of them grew to enormous proportions. This is now the 'tolkuchka' or 'tucha' - third largest marketplace in Europe (the nicknames refer to how crowded and cramped it gets and how you get pushed around when you're shopping). 

 There are, of course, good things in Khmelnitskyy, like this little art gallery we wandered into.

There are, of course, good things in Khmelnitskyy, like this little art gallery we wandered into.

 Symphonic rock at a Ukrainian music venue.

Symphonic rock at a Ukrainian music venue.

There is a concert hall. A friend took us to a symphonic rock concert there. The music was okay, but sitting in the second row from the stage and watching the action with a sketchbook in my hand was fantastic.

So that's a little bit about my town. Let's say I was not sad to leave when I moved away to architecture school in Odessa (which is all the way on the other side of the country). But there is one thing this place has that I can't find anywhere else.

Enter Lara. Psychology professor, artist, writer, the most constant thing in my life (other than, arguably, my parents). My best friend. 

 Lara in her kitchen. She bravely sat for me, while also talking up a storm :)

Lara in her kitchen. She bravely sat for me, while also talking up a storm :)

We met at the art school. She was 13, I was 12, and four hours a day three days a week we were together. We share love for art, creativity, humor and reading. She is way better at understanding the mysteries of human interaction. I am better at...math? She likes cats, I'm a dog person. She likes pastels, I am into watercolor. 

 Where it all began: me with my friend Larisa, aka Lara, next to the building of our art school.

Where it all began: me with my friend Larisa, aka Lara, next to the building of our art school.

Lara is one of the main reasons I wanted to go back to Ukraine. We kept in touch through the 13 years I've been gone - good ol' snail mail at first, emails which she could only read at her university library computer, endless iterations of messengers and social networks. I would call her with a long distance call card and promise I would definitely come. Next year. 

And then I wouldn't keep that promise because transatlantic travel is expensive and children are little. 

So this time was surreal for both of us. I couldn't believe I did it, she couldn't believe I was really there, breathing the same air. It was amazing. We both worried that somehow, through distance and time apart, we became different people and those people would not connect. But we did connect - it was as if we only saw each other last week. 

Good friends like this are a treasure - I hope you have one, too. And if you don't, find one and build that relationship. It really can be something that sustains you and holds your head above the water when times are tough. Also, it's extra nice having a shrink for your best friend ;). Highly recommended for you creative types.