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Lidia Wolanskyj is a freelance translator and English editor and a fluent speaker of English, Ukrainian and French. She is also an accomplished businesswoman, having launched Ukraine’s first English-language business weekly, Eastern Economist, in early 1994, as well an avid world explorer. Today, Lidia lives in a standard Carpathian two-story gabled house in Yaremche, Ukraine, where she enjoys, among many enjoyable elements, the wicked humor of her Hutsul neighbors and being a godmother to two little boys, Tadeyko and Nazar
KW: What brought you to Ukraine? Have you any personal connections, family roots, friends, etc.?
L.W.: A woman who did Aikido, a non-competitive Japanese martial art, organized a trip with some instructors to the Soviet Union in 1991. I really didn’t want to go. I said, “If we go to Ukraine and I get to see Kyiv once before I die, sure, then I’ll go.” But my feeling always was that I did not want to visit Ukraine while it was a part of the Soviet Union. I used to tell people that going to Soviet Ukraine would be like going to a funeral home and seeing my dad in a coffin. Why would I want to do that?
The funny thing was, a month before we left on our trip, the Soviet Union collapsed. So, when I got here, there was no USSR. I mean, of course, its spirit still existed, you could see it everywhere – people were like little gray stones walking down the street, it was very gloomy, and it was very rundown. But when I got here, Ukraine was actually free!
As for my family connections to Ukraine; my father and paternal grandparents were Ukrainian and my mother was a German-Polish mix. I grew up speaking both Ukrainian and French, in addition to English, because we spoke Ukrainian only at home and I grew up in Montreal.
KW: What were your expectations about Ukraine before arriving and how has your view of the country changed?
L.W.: I didn’t have any expectations whatsoever – no concept at all. Before I had ever been to Kyiv, I had visited Moscow and I noticed a very big difference between these two cities immediately upon my arrival to Kyiv. Kyiv was definitely very provincial compared to Moscow. People seemed smaller, they seemed simpler, but they were so much friendlier. And Kyiv was such a beautiful city! We got here on October 1, it was sunshine everywhere, the trees were golden and you could see these little old ladies walking around and sweeping off the sidewalks – you saw nothing like that in Moscow! Moscow in 1991 was like a post-Armageddon garbage dump. So, I came here to Kyiv and thought “this is so beautiful!” and decided I wanted to stay a couple more days to see the place. What’s changed is those grey people have blossomed, like so many flowers after a spring rain.
KW: How long have you been here and how long do you plan to stay? What do you do here? And what do you want to do in the future?
L.W.: I’ve pretty much been here full time since 1992. I don’t know what the future will bring, I don’t have any five-year plans, or any two-year plans. I am just enjoying life. I’m a freelance translator and editor and my job is pretty nice in that I can mostly work at night, so I have my days to be with people and do things. Life is too short to waste a lot of it sleeping.
When I came to Ukraine, my life suddenly became very stable, after having moved around my entire life, both homes and jobs. Here, I seemed to settle down. I set up a business, worked with that business for nearly a decade, bought a place, and now I’m enjoying my home and my friends, travel and work, a bit of everything. But I have no interest in doing the business again. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, and wore it out!
KW: Have you any interesting anecdotes concerning your stay here?
L.W.: I’m not really an anecdote kind of person, but I’ll tell you one thing - Hutsuls are a barrel of laughs. They do nothing but kid you most of the time. I didn’t really live in Yaremche for the first three years, as I still had EE and was busy in Kyiv, but I’d come to visit for a week or two. And I remember the first time one of my neighbors asked me over. I sat there like a total idiot, because I had no idea what they were talking about. It took a while to realize that they were mostly kidding around. I felt like a real dumb Canuck. But after a while living here, I began to catch on, and I’ve become pretty good at giving as much as I get. Actually, I like that kind of communication. Life’s not that serious, or black and white, but lots of shades of different colors.
KW: Do you have family here? What kind of friends do you have here?
L.W.: I have very distant relatives that I’ve never tried to look up. My father’s cousin is our family chronicler and he retired to Ivano-Frankivsk from California. And I’ll be attending a family reunion in Toronto in July. In terms of my friends, I have one very good expat friend I made here when we were both on the AmCham board, but since leaving Kyiv behind, I’ve lost touch with most of the expat community. I don’t really miss it, either.
KW: What do you like most in Ukraine?
L.W.: All of the above, because of my different skills and because I’m one of the top editors in the country, I do fine, and I don’t have to work full-time. I enjoy it, and I think I’ve been getting better and better at it over the years, as well. I’ve learned how to simply write things the way they read and write naturally in English—which means, I don’t translate that close to the original—content, yes, but not style or even the structure. I try to translate and edit in a way that will be most enjoyable for English readers. Being reader-centric was something I learned when I began publishing Eastern Economist.
KW: What is your main language of communication and why?
L.W.: My language of communication in Ukraine is Ukrainian. When it comes to English, it’s only in specific situations and with specific people that I speak English, like this interview. But sometimes when I speak with people who know both languages, we get a mixture of both Ukrainian and English happening. Sometimes it’s every few sentences, but sometimes you find yourself switching word to word, depending on what your brain dredges up first. Probably very weird for anyone just listening in on us!
KW: How widely have you traveled in Ukraine? What is your strongest impression? Do you see differences between western and eastern Ukraine?
L.W.: I’ve visited Lviv, Uzhhorod, Luhansk, Chernihiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Odesa, Crimea—most of the oblasts of Ukraine, except maybe Kharkiv. My dream is to do a road trip around Crimea, but I need a driving buddy to do that. I like Ukraine to travel in even though the roads are terrible.
When it comes to differences between eastern and western Ukraine, the first thing that I recognize is the language, of course. I find that the same people behave more crudely and rudely when they speak Russian than when they speak Ukrainian and I’ve heard Russian-speaking Ukrainians say the same, that the further west you go in Ukraine, the more refined people are.
But one main thing I’ve realized about Ukrainians is, whatever language they speak, they’re not an unhappy bunch. Yes, we have a strong sense of nostalgia and we can really get into music in a minor key, but maybe this sense of the minor key only goes to show that the people have an underlying sense of positivity, that it doesn’t really bother them to hear a little bit of the sad. People here are very good and very positive, but I think there needs to be a changing of the guard before things really start changing all the way through and Ukrainians find their place in the world.
KW: What are your informational sources in Ukraine? What are the most reliable/believable sources, in your opinion?
L.W.: When I’m in Kyiv I’ll pick up some of the freebie English papers, but more for entertainment. I used to watch a lot of political talk shows, but since Yanukovych came to office, I just lost interest. I don’t watch TV at all. I also used to listen to Radio Era all of the time too, but I somehow just stopped. The translation work I do keeps me pretty informed of both politics and economics. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel a strong need for other sources…
KW: Where do you go for fun and culture? What do you know more now about Ukraine?
L.W.: If I’m in Kyiv, I go to Kraina Mriy every summer. I occasionally go to Art Club 44. I always try to make it to Kyiv Days, as well. But basically living in Yaremche, I just do the local holidays. For example, they do a huge village show for Ivana Kupala. At Christmas, Easter and Spas there are all kinds of traditions. It’s all wonderful and very colorful and what’s best is that the kids are all involved in it. But the most fun and entertainment on the planet are Hutsul weddings.
As far as knowing more about Ukraine now—I knew nothing before I came here, so, I guess I know as much as you’d expect anyone who’s been immersed in the place for 21 years to know. What I don’t know is what Ukrainians think of their future, that’s always kind of been an enigma, because historically so much has been done to kill hope in them. But, I think like anywhere in this world, you’ve got to enjoy the good stuff, change the bad where you can, and overlook it where you can’t.Printable version