Friday, August 24, 2012

The 23rd of August: Celebrating Kharkov City Day and Liberation Day!

On August 23rd, 1943, the Soviet Army liberated the city of Kharkov from German soldiers. The city had been occupied since the fall of 1941. Kharkov now commemorates this date as its "День Города" (city day) and the Day of Liberation. If you've never been to Kharkov (also spelled as Kharkiv in the Ukrainian style), it is my favorite city in Ukraine! It is known for being the "first capital of Ukraine" and also 2nd largest city in the country, after Kyiv. Its a bustling city of about 1.5 million people, most of which are university students. Kharkov is also one out of only three cities with subway systems in Ukraine and was a host city during the EuroCup 2012 football championship. You can read more about the city of Kharkov here on Wikipedia. Here are some photos from the military celebrations (you can read the original article here).

Militiamen place wreaths in honor of all veterans at the Memorial of Glory in Kharkov.
Children place red carnations around the memorial.
The flame burns in remembrance of all those who gave their lives for the country during the "Great Patriotic War" (WWII).
Decorated veterans visit the memorial in honor of their fellow soldiers.
This year, the city of Kharkov celebrated with the grand opening of "Gorky Park" - the first amusement park of its kind in Ukraine. This park was reconstructed this past year, with the walkways re-paved, flower beds re-planted and the addition of theme park attractions like roller coasters and the biggest Ferris wheel in Ukraine at 55 meters tall. This park will probably become known as the "Disneyland of Ukraine" with family friendly entertainment, rides, and prices of 35 UAH for adults and 15 UAH for children (per ride/attraction).
The opening ceremonies at Gorky Park included a lot of familiar cartoon characters like Cheburashka and friendly actors on stilts (source). 
In honor of the grand opening, all rides at the park were free of charge all day... this meant that thousands of Ukrainians flocked to the park because they couldn't believe that it was actually free. The park officially opened at 10am, and I joined the swarming masses around 11am with Erika, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, and a few of my Ukrainian friends.

Walking down the park, just inside the main entrance. 
Pirates "Barbados" ride. 
A castle-shaped cafe in the center of the park. 
The "Haunted House", opening in September 2012.
Our timing was unfortunate, for it started raining almost immediately and the lines for all of the rides were already ridiculous... the park builders hadn't planned for any sort of barriers to regulate crowd control into a single line. As someone who has studied the process flow of systems (like the flow of people waiting in line to be served at a bank), this drove me crazy. If you've ever been to Disneyland, Disneyworld, or Six Flags then you'll understand exactly what I'm talking about - usually you have to walk through what feels like miles of snaking metal barriers just to get to the front of each ride where you actually step on or into the seats for the ride. This was a huge cultural moment because Ukrainians aren't used to actually waiting in lines - they tend to just push their way to the front of a crowd and whomever gets their first gets served first, plus they like to "save" spaces for their friends and let anyone and their mother cut in the line.

The Американские горки (roller coaster) that everyone was eagerly waiting to ride... notice that people seem to just be swarmed around the base of the roller coaster without forming any sort of determinable line.  
We walked to the end of the roller coaster line, which took over 4 minutes of walking from the entrance to the roller coaster - what I estimated to be probably about a 4 or 5 hour wait. .After waiting about 30 minutes and moving only about 25 yards in line, we decided to leave because the roller coaster had been shut down due to thunder. After that, I took a few photos with the mascots and we left the park to seek shelter from the rain.
Bugs Bunny!
Making my best "duck face" with Donald.
Erika with Masha, Darina and Anya in front of the Ferris Wheel. 
An interesting totem pole, near some sort of Indian-themed ride. 
About an hour after we left the park, the sun came back out. We decided to just walk around the city center instead of dealing with the crowds and crazy lines at Gorky Park. There was a small arts and crafts market near the Opera house, where I bought a traditional Ukrainian flower wreath headband as a souvenir! We also checked out the new monument in Constitutional Square, near the "Исторический музей" (historical museum) metro station.

Darina and I in a bed of flowers near the Держпром (Derzhprom) office buildings. 
Erika and I wearing traditional Ukrainian flower wreath headbands near the art market. 
with the new statue in Constitutional Square, near the Historical Museum.
A closer look at my handmade traditional Ukrainian wreath headband. 
After walking around all day, we were too tired to hang out in the city center for the Kharkov City day celebrations - a free concert featuring "Gems", "Disco Crash", Vera Brezhnev, "Boney M" and Liz Mitchell, "Okean Elzy" and several other artists, parades and fireworks show. So here are some photos of the concert in Freedom Square and fireworks! You can read more about the festivities here.  These photos also help capture the immense size of Freedom Square... it is famous for being the 2nd largest square in Eastern Europe and the 12th largest open air square in the world.

View of Freedom Square from Sumskaya Street, with the main stage at the far end and the Derzhprom buildings outlined in lights behind it.... so many people! 


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