Teaching Tuesdays: Ukraine in passing

From an odd little offering called They Draw & Cook, recipes illustrated by artists from around the world, here is “Herring in a Fur Coat” by Natasha Konechnaya of Lugansk, Ukraine.
From an odd little offering called They Draw & Cook, recipes illustrated by artists from around the world, here is “Herring in a Fur Coat” by Natasha Konechnaya of Lugansk, Ukraine (source here).

I don’t pretend to have the resources to keep you up on current events in Ukraine, so I’ll leave you to pick your favorite news source, although I humbly suggest Kyiv Post as an option. For how events escalated to this point, though, you might consider these articles:

So, what do we know about Ukraine, other than it used to be part of the USSR and they make really cool eggs?

Well for one, they might host the Olympics. They’ve bid to have the 2022 Winter Games in Lviv (pronounced la-VUE). (The other candidates are Almaty, Kazakhstan; Beijing, China; Krakow, Poland; Oslo, Norway; and Stockholm, Sweden.)

Lviv is pretty cool. In a Feb. 23 story, Welcome to Lviv, the ‘free’ Ukrainian city protesters are dying for, The Globe and Mail offers details:

Long a bastion of Ukrainian nationalism, Lviv this week declared itself autonomous from the government in Kiev after security forces in the capital used deadly force against anti-government demonstrators, many of whom hail from this part of Ukraine.

As the violence in Kiev escalated, rioters here smashed their way into the city’s police stations and the prosecutor’s office, as well as part of an army base in the city. As security forces evaporated, unknown protesters lit the buildings ablaze in a show of anger against anything associated with the regime of Viktor Yanukovych.

It goes on to say that citizen “self-defence units” set up outside key government offices, insisting they would take their orders only from the mayor’s office. Why so hostile to the notion of aligning with Russia?

Lviv, a city of 725,000, is in the far west of Ukraine. It was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire at one time, Poland (less than 44 miles away) after that; it didn’t come under Moscow’s control until 1939. In European history terms, 75 years is pretty much nothing.

In pop culture, Ukrainians include Mila Kunis and Milla Jovovich, as well as comedian Yakov Smirnoff. (Although speaking of movies, the country’s illegal coal mining industry was profiled in the grand and graphic 2005 documentary Workingman’s Death.) More lasting cultural contributions (I hope) have come from Method acting pioneer Lee Strasberg, and composers Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev.

And what is Ukrainian food? It would be easy to point to Chicken Kiev, but, um …

“Though it’s named for Ukraine’s capital city, chicken kiev is probably not a Ukrainian dish,” say the good folks of Saveur. “Some say it was conceived by the French inventor Nicolas Appert in the 18th century; others claim it was created at private club in Moscow in 1912. Either way, we love it for its crisp exterior and its luscious core of dill-flavored butter.”

In fairness, they do offer Ukraine-Style Beet Soup and Fermented Beets With Orange and Ginger, inspired by rosl, a Jewish specialty from the Ukraine that calls for pickling beets in brine.

And because produce is so integral to a region, I am compelled to include the same magazine’s Fruits of Desire in this list.

“One year I grew a small, smooth-skinned, golden melon from the Crimea, in southern Ukraine,” said a man who sold melons at a farmers’ market in Davis, Calif.

He goes on say how a man from Ukraine bought a few, then came back the following week and bought him out, doing so all season. “Everyone is crazy to know where I get these, but I won’t tell them.”

I tell you this because after all, we are what we eat. To me, knowing a country’s food is vital to knowing its people.

I’m likely to keep padding along this path, so let me know … what kinds of things do you want to know about a country with which you’re unfamiliar?

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