Oleksandr Rozhok
Lviv,  Ukraine

The 2014 Revolution & Christmas

Lviv, Ukraine
Oleksandr Rozhok
Uzvar

The Place: Lviv, Ukraine (Again)

NOTE: When I first visited Lviv, I fell in love with it. So much so that I spent more than two weeks overstaying my welcome with a local couple and a cat called Wusek. Since I stopped for so long, I decided to find two interviewees in the city which, aside from being mighty convenient for me since I’ve already written about Lviv for a previous interview here and so won’t bore you with a repeated description, also gives a slightly broader view of life according to locals in this part of Ukraine. Enjoy!


Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own.

The Person: Oleksandr Rozhok, 26, Web Developer

I really love smoking culture. Since I was 18, I have smoked a pipe. That’s very rare in Ukraine… My pipe club came to me when I was young like a chamber of secrets. I had a lot of youth problems, I was young and full of energy…”

See Oleksandr's Full Background

I have a lot of hobbies. My whole life, I’ve always had a lot of different interests. For example, how I became a web programmer; I had a PC from the time I was born because my father was a programmer also. When I turned 15, and I needed to decide who I wanted to be, I had four different options; I either wanted to be an architect, a chef, a biologist or a web developer. I decided to be a developer. I can still go to cooking lessons, or try to get a second degree in architecture or biology, because I have time and money now. But I also have hobbies other than work. I love smoking. I really love smoking culture. Since I was 18, I have smoked a pipe. That’s very rare in Ukraine, but it was kind of popular in England at one point. I bought my first pipe and found a pipe-smoking club in my city, and I became a member. We have different tournaments, we have a president. So I have some interesting pipes in my collection. For example, Horcastle’s London pipe, which is a brand. It’s 50-60 years old… older than my father! I really like to smoke, and I like the culture around it. I don’t like cigarettes, but I like shisha and pipe-smoking because of the people you do it with and the process to prepare or clean it. My pipe club came to me when I was young like a chamber of secrets. I had a lot of youth problems, I was young and full of energy. Twice a month the pipe club meets, and I’ve done that since I was 18. There are other members who are 50-years-old, 30, 80; it doesn’t matter how old you are. The same is true of occupation. They taught me a lot of different things. Every year there is a celebration in Przemyśl, ‘pipe day’, at the bells and pipes museum. I’ve been in the world championships for pipe-smoking; there are world tournaments. Every competitor has the same pipe and the same amount of tobacco. You have five minutes to fill your pipe, and one minute to light it, and then you should smoke it as long as they can. Champions are smoking for three hours on average. You can’t relight it if it goes out. In the world championships, there are around 300 competitors and 500 guests. More than that, next year Lviv will host the world pipe-smoking championships. This year it was Japan.  

I work as a developer for ‘Symphony Solutions’, a Dutch company in Ukraine. And I also work with ladbrokes, coral. I am one of the guys who developed their website; all that gambling stuff. But now some people might think I just gamble and smoke! Also I play guitar, used to play clarinet, and I dance to rock and roll. I like to participate in different brain games. We have different competitions; you take a team of people and compete. I enjoy different quests where you have a team of people, and you’re given a task. For example, the first is you need to find an object or street from a riddle, go there and find something which will lead you to another spot.

 What does ‘home’ mean to you?

“Home for me is the place where I’d like to stay when I have a hangover in the morning. It’s the place where you have socks made by your grandma, your blanket, your favourite cup…”

See Oleksandr's Full Answer

Home for me is the place where I’d like to stay when I have a hangover in the morning. It’s the place where you have socks made by your grandma, your blanket, your favourite cup for tea. You have your favourite things which travel with you from home to home. So, to answer quickly, it’s where I’m living and those things are. 

What is special about Lviv?

“I have a list of places that could be if I relocated… despite having this list, Lviv is still the best. It has beautiful cuisine, beautiful girls, beautiful weather… here at home, I know everything with my eyes closed…”

See Oleksandr's Full Answer

Lviv, Lviv, Lviv. It’s three cities in one. I love travelling. My main reason is not only to see new sights, make new friends or experience new culture, but every new country, every new city and every new place, I’m looking for a new home. Maybe this could be my home, or not. I have a list of places that could be if I relocated. First is Barcelona, then it’s Edinburgh, Paris and Amsterdam. London is great, too. So my point about being Lviv being special, is that despite having this list, Lviv is still the best. It has beautiful cuisine, beautiful girls, beautiful weather – we can have snow, wind and sun all in one day – it’s not small but at the same time it’s compact, it has lots of green spaces and a park is always close. Maybe the parks aren’t as beautiful as in some European cities. When I travel and go to a park, I judge how beautiful it is, but at home, I know everything with my eyes closed, so I know the places that are good to go by yourself, where it’s good to hang out with friends. I know where to go and when.

Where’s your favourite place outside of Ukraine?

“I was born in Lviv, raised in Lviv, but part of me always lived in the UK, and I went there and took it back, and I became a more complete person. So I love the UK for that. It’s not about people or anything, it’s about the atmosphere of that country for me. Nothing will take that feeling from me.”

See Oleksandr's Full Answer

Definitely Tomorrowland festival! That’s my second home now. I’ve been there twice, and now every year until I die I’m going to go there. It’s in Belgium. It’s a beautiful place with beautiful people. So actually my hobbies include visiting different musical concerts and festivals. It’s not related to only one kind of music; it could be electronic, rock, pop, jazz, anything. I listen to a lot of it. That relates to my first visit to the UK. When you visit the country you’ve dreamed of – Britain for me was always part of a dream because of the pop culture; in music, on TV. I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who, of Harry Potter, and of music. Music is most important for me. When you driving from England to Scotland on the highway, and you look out the window and see the fields with the sheep, and the towns, you think “all the music I love was written somewhere here, by the people who have lived here”. And that gives me a special feeling. It’s like I was born in Lviv, raised in Lviv, but part of me always lived in the UK, and I went there and took it back, and I became a more complete person. So I love the UK for that. It’s not about people or anything, it’s about the atmosphere of that country for me. Nothing will take that feeling from me.

From your trips to England, what stands out as the biggest difference in the ‘youth experience’ between the UK and Ukraine?

“There is huge drug traffic there! The popularity of Nos balloons; I’ve never seen that before. I saw a lot of ambulances near the night clubs. You will never see an ambulance at a club here in Ukraine. And you won’t find drugs here in Ukraine… I’ve never seen a drug dealer on the street.”

See Oleksandr's Full Answer

There is huge drug traffic! The popularity of Nos balloons. I’ve never seen that before. I saw a lot of ambulances near the night clubs. You will never see an ambulance at a club here in Ukraine. And you won’t find drugs here in Ukraine. You have to really want them to find them. My whole life, I have lived in Lviv, and I’ve never seen a drug dealer on the street. Nobody has ever proposed that I buy something, even fake drugs. I don’t know any places where you can get them. I clearly remember for example in Berlin, when I left the metro station and there were loads of African and Arabian guys selling everything you can imagine. I was in Manchester at the Deus Ex music festival. I saw a lot of kids using drugs. It seems like a big problem in the UK. Our country is a poor country. Russia is more poor. You and me are sitting here in the kitchen, and I have a job, your host has a job. But one floor above, for example, there could be some guys who don’t have a job, who don’t have anything and are junkies. We have guys like that. The huge difference is, when you have some possibilities in life, like I’m able to go to the UK for a festival, you won’t see people like that living in suburbia or in ghettos. Maybe in the ghettos the differences aren’t as big between here and the UK. But still, my girlfriend when I was 18 was living in the most dangerous area in our city, and I always came to her at 12.00am-1.00am, when her parents were on night shifts. It was fine walking through the dark streets even there.

Most strange for me, the first time I came to London, I was in Manchester square. I was wearing a jacket and everything and still feeling cold, and people were going from club to club, or club to McDonalds and KFC and they looked like half-naked! I’d wear those clothes in 30°C. The most discouraging moment for me at 2.00 or 3.00am, I was waiting in the queue at McDonalds, and there was a girl who was very beautiful. And she was as drunk as she was beautiful, and she wasn’t wearing her shoes, she was carrying them. Her feet were covered in dirt. It was the middle of winter! She was walking in the street without shoes on. And she wasn’t the only one! I saw at least three or four who carried their shoes in the street.

Has working for ladbrokes affected your attitude to gambling?

“…in our country, gambling is only for winning. That means it’s popular amongst poor people, who are selling the last stuff they have to do it. That’s sad. It’s not even legal here. Casinos are illegal, lottery is illegal…”

See Oleksandr's Full Answer

From my perspective, it seems really fun. If I want to bet money, there should be something simple or clear, so being able to bet on the outcome of a presidential election, the weather, or which player in a sports match will get a red card, is fun stuff. I don’t do it seriously. It’s all about being more stylish and attractive than the other websites. You know about the grand national? The bets placed then are colossal; hundreds of thousands of bets. So I imagine that big groups of friends go to betting shops or use the website to make bets, and then go off to drink beer and check the scores. I would like to have something similar in our country, because in our country, gambling is only for winning. That means it’s popular amongst poor people, who are selling the last stuff they have to do it. That’s sad. It’s not even legal here. Casinos are illegal, lottery is illegal, gambling is mostly illegal. But still, you may find even on the main street, in the city centre, some lottery shops. But that’s because of corruption.

Can you think of a time you have been proud of Lviv or Ukraine?

“I was proud of Ukraine five years ago, when I came to the revolution in Kiev… More than 100 people were killed by the president’s forces. I was there for a month… People came onto the main square there and… became like one organism; one mind with one purpose.”

See Oleksandr's Full Answer

I’m proud of my city, but not because of one thing, just always. I love my city. Of course there is a lot of sh*t. We have a government that should work much better, but they don’t, but that’s common for any city. But I’ve been in the whole of Ukraine, and I think that I’m lucky that I was born in Lviv, not any other city, even Kiev.

I was proud of Ukraine five years ago, when I came to the revolution in Kiev. There were students who came to the main square in capital to protest. There were not many of them. Government forces beat them really hard. The next few days, there were hundreds of thousands of people who came to protest. In peak moments, it was like half a million. People started to live in the square. They put tents and lived there for several months. We organised everything in the camps. There were volunteers for everything. Some guys made snacks, some cooked soups, some provided medicine, some provided sleeping equipment. It was like a little country in the middle of the capital. The main goal was to overthrow that president, Yanukovych. He had been in jail for rape before he became president. In the end, he used a helicopter to flee to Russia; a one-way ticket. Actually that was a really dark moment in Ukrainian history, because it was like 2-3 months of huge waves of protests. You see what’s happening in Paris? People are burning everything. But in Ukraine, the people weren’t burning everything or destroying things. But they were surrounded by forces, and then those forces started to use real weapons. More than 100 people were killed by the president’s forces. I was there for a month. I became so sick, that I had to go to hospital; first hospital visit in my life.

We had a lot of Lenin statues at this time. People around the country started to tear down those statues. One of them was on the main street of Kiev. There was a lot of crazy stuff. Some of it I am really proud of, some of it is really bad. People on the main square there and in the streets around became like one organism, one mind with one purpose. It was huge. There were situations where there were girls creating molotov cocktails, engineers who created catapults like something from the middle-ages to throw the molotov cocktails. But from the other side, with the police, there were snipers. They shot people with real weapons, not just rubber, and that was sick. But we managed to overthrow the president. But then the guy who came after him, Poroshenko, he’s not quite bad enough to make this all happen again. The whole country came to the main streets in the capital, and created a huge revolution. A lot of people were dead, and you were elected as president. Those people chose you. So you have a lot of people who believed in you. So you should work 1000%. He doesn’t. Of course it’s stupid when you have problems in your life to blame your president for everything, but there are things that people are angry about.

What is your main concern or worry about Ukraine?

“We currently have a war with Russia… It’s 2018, I can’t believe it’s possible. I can’t believe that people can kill people, that a country can try to take the part of another country. Humanity learned how to create mobile phones, how to use the internet across the planet, but we don’t know how to deal with conflict without weapons? Without killing somebody?”

See Oleksandr's Full Answer

We currently have a war with Russia. We’ve had it since that moment actually, since the revolution. There have been shootings every day for years. They took a part of our country, Crimea. So I’m worried about our neighbour, Russia. It’s 2018, I can’t believe it’s possible. I can’t believe that people can kill people, that a country can try to take the part of another country. Its like, “guys, millions of us were killed in two world wars”, but even now people are still so stupid. They think about territories on paper, and they still can kill people over that. And I worry about that in my city, too. You can be a good person, you can give money to charity, but you still may be killed by somebody for no reason. That’s so stupid for me. Humanity learned how to create mobile phones, how to use the internet across the planet, but we don’t know how to deal with conflict without weapons? Without killing somebody?

How do you think the war in the East has affected Ukrainian society?

“My friends are fighting there. They… told me stories like, everything can be ok, you can be playing cards at dinner break, and one guy gets up, goes to the toilet and kills himself. It’s not just stories about bad things, it’s real. There aren’t enough words to describe it.”

See Oleksandr's Full Answer

People are disappointed in the president. We did all this stuff to elect him and he’s unable to stop the war. We’re waiting, and every few days somebody is killed. My friends are fighting there. They tell stories about really, really bad things that happen there. You can be travelling from one village to another, and during that trip a rocket from an RPG can fly past your head. Now these weapons are very powerful. A friend of mine had problems with blood pressure in his head from the shockwaves from the explosions that were happening too close to him, just a few metres away. He told me stories like, everything can be ok, you can be playing cards at dinner break, and one guy gets up, goes to the toilet and kills himself. It’s not just about stories about bad things, it’s real. There aren’t enough words to describe it. It’s disgusting.

After all this sh*t, the revolution, a lot of people have some friends or someone even more close, who was there, is currently fighting there or who is already dead. People are angry about that. We have a lot of problems about people being afraid to come to Ukraine because of the war, but it’s only a few regions where there is fighting. For example, in Lviv everything is calm. The economy can’t be good in these kind of situations either. We had a lot of trade with Russia before, and that’s less now, even though it hasn’t stopped completely. That’s how it works: you can fight with another country but you can still sell them energy and they can still sell you weapons.

What is your attitude regarding the martial law that was just imposed by Poroshenko?

“At first I thought it was really serious. On the first day… Some people thought about what they should do with their hryvnias… maybe they should buy dollars… our bank system is not very strong… Also, guys like me… were worried about mobilisation.”

See Oleksandr's Full Answer

At first I thought it was really serious. On the first day, even the day before that, everybody talked about it. Some people thought about what they should do with their hryvnias (Ukrainian currency). They thought maybe they should buy dollars. Our currency is very dependent on the euro and dollar. For example, things can be good or bad and the hryvnia could be high or low, but Nike sneakers will always cost the same in Euros or dollars. That’s the main reason people were worried, because our bank system is not very strong. People prefer to buy dollars or euros immediately if they are able to.

Also, guys like me and your host, Yuri, we were worried about mobilisation. The government can say, “you know, there is a war here. Take a weapon and go and fight.” For four years we have a war, and only now the president declared martial law. Some people think that’s because of the presidential elections in March. But I think it’s because Trump had just cancelled a meeting with Putin because of the it, and so it was a good time to draw attention of big countries to our situation. For me, I’m wondering what’s in the heads of these people. I just want peace for all of us. As I told you, I can’t understand how people can still forget the meaning of the word “war”. I want to type “war” into google one day and find nothing. 

What are your thoughts on Stereotypes of people from Lviv?

“Our city was always a part of Poland, Austria or other different European countries… it’s a very tolerant city. We don’t have problems with immigrants because they want to be part of Europe, not Ukraine…”

See Oleksandr's Full Answer

Our city was always a part of Poland, Austria or other different European countries. That’s the reason why a lot of people here can speak Polish, and the culture from Europe has stayed here. Lviv has always been the cultural capital of our country. Lviv speaks Ukrainian, but it’s a bit different because we use a lot of Polish words, English words and even French words as part of our slang. I think at least 30% of Lviv citizens have some Polish roots, probably more. All the regions around here have a lot of Polish people, a lot of Jews and Russians, so it’s a very multicultural city which is why we don’t have real problems with people; it’s a very tolerant city. We don’t have problems with immigrants because they want to be part of Europe, not Ukraine, but at the same time Lviv is a completely European city; you don’t see many Arabians around, or Indian stores. 

What is the best thing to ever come out of this part of Ukraine?

“Pizza is just an abstract example… In some countries… when they cook it, they always give their twist on it. So, in Lviv, if you go to any restaurant and try something from the world kitchen, most of it will be a little bit different, and I really like this little difference. It’s pizza Lviv-style, or Sushi Lviv-style.”

See Oleksandr's Full Answer

Our part of Ukraine has the Carpathian mountains, which are beautiful. As for Ukraine as a whole, Lviv is an old European city, it’s a Ukrainian city with Ukrainian people with a Ukrainian mentality, but with a European atmosphere. For example, Prague is very similar. When you’re trying to eat pizza in different countries, there are two options. Most will cook terrible pizza, and other parts cook great pizza. Pizza is just an abstract example by the way. In some countries, even if pizza isn’t their traditional course, when they cook it, they always give their twist on it. So, in Lviv, if you go to any restaurant and try something from the world kitchen, most of it will be a little bit different, and I really like this little difference. It’s pizza Lviv-style, or Sushi Lviv-style. You should try our Sushi, seriously. 

Also, Lviv is a city of legends. Most popular was a guy who lived here called Yuri Kulczycki. He got coffee from the Turks and provided it to Europe. So he created the coffee culture here. Turkish people were attacking Lviv. He asked for help from nearby towns, and it worked, the Turks were defeated. So the king asked him, “what do you want? I’ll give you anything you want!”, and he asked for those strange black beans, which he tried to cook, creating coffee. Before this Turkish attack, people were eating the beans! He provided coffee to Europe. It’s a true story with some liberties. The guy really existed and he did create the first coffee bar 500 years ago, which we called Kavarna. So Lviv is famous for coffee! 

What do you do during the Holidays here?

“Christmas in Ukraine is very different from Christmas in Europe. Your Christmas is something beautiful…We don’t have that… It’s like your halloween, but not about monsters… People dress up. There’s always somebody playing the devil, there’s the angels, the wise men, and a Jewish man… Nowadays, the traditions are mostly encapsulated in the villages.”

See Oleksandr's Full Answer

Christmas in Ukraine is very different from Christmas in Europe. Your Christmas is something beautiful, it’s like a festive season. We don’t have that. We have it in Lviv and Kiev, but our Christmas is later, on the 7th of January. It’s the Orthodox Christmas. It’s like your halloween, but not about monsters. It’s about the recreation of Jesus’ reincarnation. People dress up. There’s always somebody playing the devil, there’s the angels, the wise men, and a Jewish man. They go from house to house and sing carols. It’s a really huge Ukrainian tradition. And We have a table of 12 courses. Nowadays, the traditions are mostly encapsulated in the villages. In villages around the world, I think people are more religious and more traditional, and pass traditions from Father to son, and grandfather to grandson. In the cities, our generation think about travelling during Christmas. When guys like us stay in Lviv and organise an event, or if restaurant owners organise a Christmas party, they look not to the villages, but to the European style. So that means in the cities, the Christmas period is similar to Europe. When I’ve been in different countries during the Christmas season, it’s way more beautiful. Christmas eve for me, it’s only important to meet my parents and my sister, that’s what it’s about. Previously we did the 12 courses, but not now. There are some other happy families who do all that stuff. It’s sad for me because I think it’s a very huge and beautiful celebration. When you’re walking around the streets, and you see people in colourful stupid sweaters smiling at each other, and everything is shiny, music is everywhere; carols are everywhere. That’s the Christmas spirit. I’ve seen that. I know about the beauty which you can see every day in December in Albert hall, for example. In Ukraine, all we have in big cities is some restaurants will put some trees in the street, and we put one in the main square. There will be like 50 spots to go for a drink or to eat, and that’s all. It’s much less of an occasion, and it has no atmosphere. Christmas season is not a part of our culture, and that’s sad for me because I really enjoy European-style Christmas.

What is your favourite and least favourite Ukrainian Dish?

“The main thing with Ukrainian varenyky, is we add sour cream, fried pork fat and different greens, so the sauce is very nice. It’s not only about the dumpling, but the sauce.”

,See Oleksandr's Full Answer

Varenyky is my favourite. You call it dumplings. The main thing with Ukrainian varenyky, is we add sour cream, fried pork fat and different greens, so the sauce is very nice. It’s not only about the dumpling, but the sauce. And I also like barszcz. 

I’m not sure that my least favourite is Ukrainian, but I don’t like liver, and we have liver cake. It’s not a sweet dish, it’s not a dessert. You take liver, make it into a pâté and add a cheesy sauce. I hate the flavour of liver. 

Reccomendation:

“I recommend you something more interesting, because everyone will tell you, Varenyky, barszcz, varenyky, barszcz… In Ukraine as a whole, you should try to drink uzvar. You take fruit like apples or plums, and make them very dry. You take water and boil the dry fruit in it with a lot of sugar. The smokey flavour comes if you smoke the dried fruit.”

See Oleksandr's Full Reccomendation

I recommend you something more interesting, because everyone will tell you, Varenyky, barszcz, varenyky, barszcz. Nothing new. Have you ever tried sushi in Lviv? First, try our Sushi. Second, try our hotdogs. But street food, not in a restaurant. A real Ukrainian hotdog is very different. British hotdogs are rubbish in comparison, no offence. In Ukraine as a whole, you should try to drink Uzvar. You take fruit like apples or plums, and make them very dry. You take water and boil the dry fruit in it with a lot of sugar. The smokey flavour comes if you smoke the dried fruit. If I drink pure alcohol, I will take have the uzvar with it. It tastes very natural. It’s not too sweet or anything.

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The Plate: Uzvar

“…a gentle fruitiness, natural tasting and without the sharpness that often comes in fruit juices clear to the eye but masking the mountain of sugar and artificial flavours dissolved within, lulled my palate into a state of relaxation before the meal ahead… a smokey aroma… began to emerge, growing stronger until it became dominant, and the sweetness that initially stood out became an undertone.”

Read About Uzvar

Uzvar snuck up on me out of nowhere. I didn’t order it, I’d never heard of it, and I didn’t think anything of it when it was set on the table before me as a complimentary accompaniment to my main meal at ‘Trapezna’, an old monastery cellar that was converted into a restaurant. It sat there so innocent and unsuspecting that I had to do a double take when I sipped what I’d assumed was merely apple juice, but found myself tasting one of the most distinctive soft drinks I’ve ever tried. Mid-way through a sentence, I trailed off as a gentle fruitiness, natural tasting and without the sharpness that often comes in fruit juices clear to the eye but masking the mountain of sugar and artificial additives dissolved within lulled my palate into a state of relaxation before the meal ahead and mixed with an earthiness that was reminiscent of the chaga I tasted and reviewed after Jacob Mosli’s interview in Malangen (the second one one the cycle tour). Just as I thought the taste was fading, a smokey aroma that I usually only associated with cured meats, began to emerge, growing stronger until it became dominant, and the sweetness that initially stood out became an undertone. The transition was smooth, as though the sweet, nectarous flavour receeded voluntarily rather than fighting for centre stage, and I’d come to learn that that quality comes from the way the fruit is dried, and is not present in every cup of uzvar. I continued the evening savouring my drink with intrigue; I’d expected to be impressed by barszcz in Ukraine, by pierogi in Poland, or by baklava in Turkey, but I didn’t anticipate that a simple fruit juice would stick in my memory quite the way uzvar has.


Thoughts? Leave a comment down below!


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Escaping the war in Eastern Ukraine
Witnessing the Ukrainian Revolution
You may also be interested in:  Witnessing the Ukrainian Revolution

Attempting to cycle from Tromsø in Northern Norway to Baku, Azerbaijan while interviewing locals en route. Despite my chequered history with bikes, here’s to me returning home with an intact facial structure and at least as many body parts as I left with.

2 Comments

  • Dennis

    I’m learning more from you about how others live than from any other source. It is disturbing to read about Oleksandr’s experience in London…….

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