By Jim Engles, Travel Editor
The New Zealand Herald
Auckland City, New Zealand, Saturday, May 1, 2004
New Zealanders know little more about Ukraine than its famous chicken
dish but it has a long, rich history, writes travel editor JIM EAGLES.
Hands up who's been to Ukraine. If your hand stayed down you're not
alone. Last year just 42 of the 1.4 million New Zealanders who went
overseas said they were heading for Ukraine
But that will change if Nataliya Poshyvaylo has her way. Poshyvaylo, who
lives in Auckland and is married to a New Zealander, is passionate about
her Ukrainian heritage and wants the world to know about it.
Paul Towler and Nataliya Poshyvaylo aid to get
Kiwis to Ukraine
So passionate, that she and husband Paul Towler have set up a travel
company to take New Zealanders to see Ukraine and, as an unexpected
byproduct, to bring Ukrainians to see New Zealand.
"I just want to promote Ukraine," she says, "I know it has lots to offer
and I want New Zealanders to experience it."
Towler is certainly a convert. "Before we met I didn't know a hell of a l
ot about Ukraine to be honest," he says.
"I think in Soviet times Ukraine was just a part of the enemy and
that was about it." But having been there twice to meet the Poshyvaylo
family, he now thinks it's fantastic.
"The culture, the people, the history, the architecture, the food,
it's extraordinary, I would never have imagined it. "I've travelled to
places like France and Germany but Ukraine is just so different."
And, he reckons, this is the time to go before the real Ukraine is
swallowed up by Western culture. "The second time I went there I saw
McDonald's in Kyiv [Kiev is the Russian spelling] and I thought it was
"But that's the way the world is becoming, so I'd say it's a place you
really need to see now before it changes."
The first thing New Zealanders will notice, Towler says, is the unique
architectural style, with its echoes of Greece and Byzantium, which has
evolved over hundreds of years.
The second is the overwhelming presence of history. "You walk in
somewhere like a cathedral and you can just feel it. You know how old
it is by just standing there."
A New Zealander might think Ukraine looks somewhat Russian, but to
say that is to invite a speedy correction from Poshyvaylo.
"Ukraine is a lot older than Russia," she explains. "Two thousand years
ago a state called Kyivan Rus emerged and it was very, very powerful.
And 700 years later Moscow emerged from the same tribe. So we have
the same origins but Ukraine was much the first."
And before anyone makes another mistake she also points out that the
Cossacks, the famous horse-riding warriors, are also Ukrainian. "Lots
of New Zealanders think Cossacks are Russian but actually they
originated in Ukraine."
One reason Ukrainians are quick to assert their country's long history is
that its fertile fields and strategic location have seen it subject to
countless invasions by the empires of the Mongols, Poles, Muscovites,
Turks, Austrians, Russians, Germans and, most recently, Soviets.
The present independent republic was founded in 1991 following the
break-up of the Soviet Union and it has seen a renaissance of the
previously suppressed Ukrainian culture, with the restoration of
abandoned churches, a revival of traditional arts and -
notwithstanding the arrival of McDonald's - a renewed enthusiasm for
Towler, for one, thinks the food is fantastic. Most people have probably
heard of chicken kiev - chicken stuffed with garlic butter - though they
might not have thought of it as Ukrainian.
But perhaps the most popular traditional dish is borsch, the beetroot
soup that, Poshyvaylo explains, "comes in many, many varieties -
vegetarian, with meat, with chicken, with garlic dumplings as an
accompaniment, cold in summer to refresh, hot in winter".
Towler's favourite is holubtsi, seasoned meat and rice wrapped up in
a cabbage leaf, which is served with sour cream. Then there is varenyky,
dough pockets filled with potato, cheddar cheese, sauerkraut, cottage
cheese, blueberries or cherries.
The aspect of Ukrainian culture Poshyvaylo feels most passionate about
is the arts, because she comes from a long line of famous potters, and her
grandparents are credited with a crucial role in keeping traditional crafts
alive [grandparents lived in Opishne, Poltava Oblast. Opishne is about
40km from Poltava].
Her grandfather made small figures, which her grandmother painted -
their favourites were Cossacks on horseback - as well as bowls and
vases thrown on traditional Ukrainian wheels, which potters literally
spin with their feet.
But their bigger contribution was to establish a private museum - "in the
best room of their cottage" - of traditional pottery, embroidery and
That collection could never be publicised for fear of earning the ire of
the Soviet authorities, but it nevertheless became the focal point of
efforts to preserve Ukrainian culture and is now the nucleus of a new
National Museum of Ceramic Art and Pottery [in Opishne, Ukraine]
run by a cousin.
"Their cottage," says Poshyvaylo, "is still part of the museum and I will
take people there on the tours. That is very emotional for me because I
feel related, it's in my blood, it's who I am."
The 20-day itinerary she has mapped out takes in Kyiv, Polktava, Odesa
and Kolomyia and includes visits to churches and monasteries, museums
and castles, folk festivals and craft markets.
Ironically, Poshyvaylo's efforts to organise tours of Ukraine have also
served to stimulate interest in Ukrainians coming here. She is now busy
organising a tour for Ukrainian travel agents with the idea that they would
then sell tours to bring Ukrainian people to New Zealand.
"Ukraine is very flat, so they want to come to New Zealand to see
mountains, glaciers, lakes, and everyone is fascinated by geysers and
As it happens Ukrainian interest in New Zealand is something Poshyvaylo
can readily understand because it was what brought her here in the first
"I was always fascinated with the Pacific, I read books, about Australia,
New Zealand and the Islands, and I was very interested to see it.
"New Zealand was one of the countries I studied in school. I knew there
were two islands, and Stewart Island, and the capital was Wellington and
Maori and kiwi bird.
"Then when I was 24 I knew not many people from Ukraine travelled to
New Zealand, and I knew a Ukrainian family who lived there, so I thought,
'Oh well, this is something I'd like to do, a chance to explore on the other
side of the world, that would be a bit of an adventure'."
Now, of course, she's selling the same sort of adventure in reverse.
The Poshyvaylo-Towler tour company can be contacted on 0800 ukraine.
The 20-day Ukrainian Rhapsody tour costs $7995 a person, twin-share,
not including airfares.
The New Zealand Herald: http://www.nzherald.co.nz
FOR PERSONAL AND ACADEMIC USE ONLY
EDITOR'S NOTE: ArtUkraine has been to Opishne, Ukraine many times
to visit the potters there and have Opishne pottery in our private
There are articles about Opishne and its famous potters on this website in
the Arts Gallery.
Here is further information about how to contact about the New Zealand
tour to Ukraine and its founder Ukrainian Nataliya Poshyvaylo:
Nataliya Poshyvaylo, Founder
Ukrainian Rhapsody Tour
Beyond Tours, P.O. Box 105-947
Auckland City, Auckland, New Zealand
Tel: 0800 Ukraine or 0800 857 246