Shitty Soup, or my first visit to Ukrainian Cultural Centre

Lately I was struggling with several feelings at the same time. Should I maybe write a blogpost once in half a year at least? Should I still write it in Russian? What’s the sense of writing it in Russian at all? Because it’s my mothertongue? Why not in Ukrainian, which I start slowly forgetting? Maybe English?

While these thoughts have been making messy swarm in my head, accidentally a thing happened to me which I understood I simply got to write about, and language is not an issue at all. English was picked as the language of the majority of people I know now, because I want this story to reach as many people as possible.

So I was on a party, and occasionally Nastya (to whom I owe the whole story) invited me to lunch in Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Tallinn. Before I heard about it, and many people insisted for me to go there, surprisingly half of them Estonians. I knew that it’s located in a beautiful medieval building in old town. But I still couldn’t get rid of expectation to see a room in soviet khruschevka decorated with a dozen portraits of Taras Shevchenko and with people in it being demonstratively patriotic.

But the thing was that Nastya promised “shitty soup” for lunch — well, the proposition somehow sounded appealing in its honesty. So I agreed, and even made event in my google calendar (the one for work), obviously with the title “Shitty Soup”.

Next day at lunchtime I got off a bus at Balti Jaam, walked through flower exhibition near old town’s walls and reached Laboratoriumi 22, facing a huge wooden door with a hanging knob. Awkwardly I knocked, and then realised that it’s not 15th century anymore, and on the right there’s an intercom. Pushed a button and listened to hissing and humming from the speaker, I was urgently trying to figure out what to say about aim of my visit, and in what language. Phrase “shitty soup” was spinning in my head like an annoying fly, and I felt relieved when Nastya opened the door herself.

We passed under the arch with a fresque on a wall under it and went inside the garden, where several people were sitting at the long table painting.

We went inside the building and passed workshops where women were making paper, classroom with chickens in it.

Then we proceeded to the roof, climbing shaking ladder. On the top of it roses bloomed, another group of people were painting, and then I realised that the whole place was located right by Oleviste church.

“We’ve just rung those bells”, — said Nastya, pointing to a small churchbell seen from the roof.

I was struck with the beauty of the place, the beauty of the moment. People painted silently in sunbeams, in roses scent, surrounded by medieval houses. They were immersed in their process as if some routine. It felt unreal, as if peeking into a scenery for “The Secret Garden” and “Alice in Wonderland”, as if paradised, as if a picture coloured by a kid with the colours too bright.

We came back into the house and moved to a room for calligraphy.

As we approached harrypotterish stand for inks, an old man came out to greet us. Did (which is “grandfather” in Ukrainian) Anatoly was his name.

  • Що за дiвчина? (What’s this girl?) — he asked Nastya strictly, pointing at me.
  • Це дiвчина з Украини. Приїхала сюди з Днiпра. (This is a girl from Ukraine. Came here from Dnipro) — she replied.
  • Що робить? (What she’s been doing here?)
  • Працює в айтi компанiї. Вирiшує, кого на роботу брати, а кого — нi. (She works in IT company, decides whom to hire)
  • Ти ба! Таке мале, й такий великий директор! Тобто, робота є? (Wow, such a small thing is such a big boss! So, she has a job?)
  • Є. (Yes)
  • А хлопця треба? (Does she need a boyfriend?)
  • Та нi, в неї чоловiк є. (No, she has a husband)
  • Он воно як! Робота є, чоловiк є — нiчого не треба! (Whoa! She has a job, she has a husband — she’s all set!)

During this conversation I felt myself just an observer, however not unwelcomed. As Nastya told me earlier, Anatoly tried to escape to Sweden from Ukraine during USSR, however didn’t succeed and finally decided to stay in Estonia. Ukrainian Culture Centre is his baby, where he has put all his life.

I asked Anatoly if I can make a picture of him. He didn’t object, and invited another man to join him posing for the picture. The guy was Ukrainian soldier, recovering in Estonia.

With Anatoly they made set of wooden toys:

Then we walked to the church in the same building.

It had underground in it, with drawers picturing stories of different people in Estonia.

We went back into church, and Anatoly showed us collection of old Ukrainian costumes and ryshnyks.

After we made our way into the kitchen, where the lunch was ready — made by volunteers who were living in the cultural centre. Unfortunately, Shitty Soup wasn’t there, but we had the most tasty fried potatoes in my life with sausages and bread, and the lunch started with a pray.

As I started writing this post, I was riding a train from Kiev to my hometown Dnipro, Lera Lynn on repeat in my headset (both because her music is so charming and wifi in the train was so shitty). I try not to anticipate anything in life, although I still need to learn. And I was subconsciously looking in Ukraine for things at least that Ukrainian and welcoming like what I saw in Tallinn at Laboratoriumi, 22. Though I haven’t found them (yet), I believe my country gets stronger having places like this in the world.