The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Wednesday, July 15


Three young women accompanied me through a day of Cossack Culture and a lot of fun

World class folk dance and song

Here I am surrounded by Ukrainian culture...Beautiful.

The reconstructed Church within the Citadel

Here's a Russian word for you - Potom. Potom means - later, later, we'll look into it later. As the weekend approached, I was in a “potom” state with nothing planned. Then as often happens in Ukraine, a wonderful adventure unfolded. I found myself immersed in Cossack history, folk crafts, dance, song and the President.

“Would I be available for a field trip?” All week long, the Center hosted 25 children for a day camp. There is a mix of able and disabled children. Everyone is included and seem to get along well. Main streaming in Ukraine.

I ask for more details about the field trip. Immediately I am jolted put of my “potom” mood. I am told, “Tomorrow, we will go tomorrow!” I start thinking in another Russian phrase. “Why not, it will be fun.”

The trip starts with a very long walk to the bus station. At least for me it seems very long taking us about an hour or more. None of the children seem to mind and we climb on to a crowded bus for the trip to Baturyn. I'm a puddle of sweat.

Baturyn is a national historical site. Located on a bend in the Syne River, settlements have been here since prehistoric times. Starting in 1995, Ukraine invited a Canadian archaeological team to join in excavating the site. Now the Cossack Citadel and Church have been restored. A small museum tells the story.

Baturyn was one of the capitals of the Ukrainian Cossack state. In 1708, it became the center of an insurrection against Moscow's control. The Russian troops massacred Baturyn's military garrison and civilian population. Experts say about 11,000 to 14,000 people, but numbers can be exaggerated or diminished for political purposes. Prior to Ukrainian independence in 1991, any research into Baturyn's history was politically taboo.

Take a look at the pictures. The Citadel encloses an open space, the Garrison and Church. The huge crucifix commemorates those that died. So much work that has gone into the restoration. Imagine digging 3 story deep trenches by hand. To learn more, go to

While I was exploring Baturyn history, Konotop was getting ready for Ukrainian President Yushchenko.

A new Ukrainian Orthodox Church near my home was to be dedicated. I had been watching its construction and even managed to meet the night watchman on one of my nightly walks. He told me that the Church was being constructed with donations from America. He was gleeful to meet me – a real American! I was like a representative of the thousands who had made this Church possible. Later I learned that the Ukrainian community in Chicago raised the funds since many of their roots go back to this region.

President Yushchenko shows up on schedule...well he is a fashionable ½ hour late. The crowd is excited. I am escorted by three lovely young ladies. I met Anya at the Institute where she served as my translators. A few nights later I met her two friends over ice cream at a local cafe. Now the four of us are walking through the crowd seeking a better viewing spot.

Suddenly, we spot the Directors of the Institute and the Director of the Technical School along with several of their associates. Both had recently returned from visits to Ames Iowa. They were part of some kind of educator's exchange program. I had told them that my brother, Warren, had lived in Ames for many years and that his wife, Judy, had been on the school board.

Maybe because of my Ames Iowa connection, I am warmly embraced. “Kak della? (how are you?)” Smiles, handshakes and hugs from everyone. It feels like a family reunion even though I have just met everyone a week ago. Someone says in Russian, “He's got a Konotop family now.” I smile broadly.

The Ukrainian Orthodox clerics pray and pray. The President speaks and promises to furnish and altar piece in honor of St Nicholas from his own funds. I only get to see the president from afar. My fantasy of telling the President that I am a Peace Corps Volunteer fades. It's high noon and the sun is getting real hot. All of us are wilting.

“Let's go, “ say my three escorts. “We want to take you to the Battle of Konotop festival. You will see real Cossack culture.” I did not know we were going to a festival when I started my day, but then again – “Why not. It will be fun!”

The Battle of Konotop was a part of a larger struggle between Poland and Russia. It happened in an era when Cossack tribes within this region were vying with one another for a broader national identity. To say that it was a time of external and internal tumult, is probably an understatement. You can read more at

The Russians suffered a stunning defeat. And today some Ukrainians recall this battle in the current struggles for identity amidst Russian influence. Other Ukrainians just enjoy the festival.
Here is a short version of what I have learned about the Battle of Konotop. It has dead horses in it too. The Russian Calvary thought it would sweep through the area on its way to battling with the Poles. But unexpectedly they met stiff Cossack and Tarter resistance.

One day the Cossacks – Tarter alliance managed to take back a bridge that the Russian Calvary had used to cross the river. Stealthily they dismantled the bridge and used the lumber to forge a damn. Of course in this flat land, the result was wide spread flooding. Remember how Catherine The Great got stuck in Konotop?

The next day the Cossacks and Tartars staged an ambush. The Russian Calvary stumbled. The harder they tried the more enmeshed in the swampy landscape they became. Historians disagree but as many as 30,000 combatants may have been killed. And that's not counting the horses who also sucummed that day. Again Konotop means dead horses.

Politics and warfare aside, the Festival is stunning. A huge stage features Ukrainian song and dance. There is not a moment without a performance. So much pride is being exhibited in this cultural celebration. I am mesmerized. Click here and become mesmerized yourself.

We wander through the Festival. “Won't you try your hand at archery,” says Annya? Men in Cossack gear have set up a target and a crowd is taking turns. It must not be so easy since I do not see many hit the target. I hesitate but she says, “wait here.” A few moments later she beckons me over to the line where people are awaiting a turn.

Standing there is Daniel, a young fellow whom we met on the Marshrutka ride to the festival.

What a ride. I count 48 people on the Marshrutka where there are seats for 16. We are stuffed. I do not have to hold on since human bodies hold me in place. Daniel hears my English and informs everyone that there is an American on board. “I love American,” says one woman. A young man offers me a swig of beer. Annya says that my presence added levity to what could have been a hot nasty ride.

Daniel is delighted to see me again. He tells me that I can have his place in line. I decline thinking that he has been waiting a long time for his chance. But Daniel insists. “You are my American friend.” Others push me forward and before I know what is happening, I am next in line.

Well, I did not hit the target, but I was close...real close!!! I think - Potom! Potom! Just wait until next year.