In Belarus we spend hours riding the car. From Minsk to Pinsk (about 4 hours). From Pinsk to Stolin (about an hour). From Stolin to Minsk (another 4 hours). This in the span of three days.
For breakfast, the Pinsk hotel offers us “Broth with a Bird.” As adventurous as we like to think we are, we pass. We eat potato latkes with sour cream and black bread for lunch. We have chocolate and vodka for dinner.
In Stolin we see remains of the Great White Synagogue, the place where possibly my grandmother spent days sleeping in transit with groups of refugees before her 630 days under the ground.
At lunch we eat more black bread with beet-sour cream salad and marinated potatoes.
During the drive from Stolin to Minsk, I doze off while watching the scenery of tall trees and marshland. I imagine my grandmother, age 11, walking with her aunt and a group of refugees from David Gorodok after being kicked out of the ghetto, sleeping in the forest, begging for food. I remember how once, she told me, she was so thirsty she could hardly continue walking. She saw a well filled with green moss and bugs, stuck her hand in it, wiped the bugs off, and happily drank the water. Until today, she says, she’s grateful for every glass of water.
Before we arrive in Minsk I receive a message from the hotel we’re supposed to spend the night in before taking off in a plane to Kiev. The guy says he needs the exact time we’re arriving to meet us. He’ll be in a car in the parking lot, wearing black. This doesn’t make my mother nervous at all. Really.
We arrive in the evening and there’s Alex in his car. He takes us on a five-story walk-up to an apartment. Outside the main road the streets are dark and practically empty. We see security cameras on every street corner. Alex leaves us and we opt against leaving the apartment, er, “hotel,” for water and dinner. We barricade our door stacking up our two suitcases and hope for the best.
In the early morning we leave for the Minsk airport. After checking-in we try to find some coffee. There’s a bar, there are folks drinking whiskey. It’s 8:30am. We skip breakfast.
Arriving in Kiev, we see welcome signs outside the airport on the road to the city written in Hebrew. Interesting, I think.
We go see the memorial of Babi Yar, where somewhere between 100-150,000 Jews, gypsies, Ukrainian nationalists, Soviet POWs civilian hostages were slaughtered by Nazis and collaborators on a ravine astonishingly close to the center of town. A day later will mark the horrible event’s 72nd birthday. The memorials are covered in flowers, candles and stones. We add our own stones. We look inside the ravine and try to imagine the unimaginable.
Later, we have dinner, probably one of the best meals of the trip. The borscht, finally, is almost as delicious as my grandmothers’. The Chicken Kiev is divine. The cherry strudel is juicy and tangy.
It’s been 12 hours since we’ve arrived in Kiev. After dinner we drag our bags inside a train. In about six hours we’ll be in Lviv. We collapse til morning.
** Note: It’s about time I send out a huge thank you to my mother, who’s taking amazing photos of our trip, being a wonderful blog editor and most of all, an incredible partner in every adventure.