It might surprise you to discover, but I am not Turkish. Nor am I on the hunt for a wife. But make no mistake, there are people of this ilk and their combination is one regarded with suspicion in certain Ukranian couchsurfing circles, or so I’ve been told.
Travel isn’t all unhinged hedonism, getting fucked up and losing your way back to the hostel. Sometimes the road confronts you with truths about just how cushy your existence has been, and they can be harder to swallow than you might think…
It doesn’t seem to matter where you end up in Europe, or anywhere for that matter – you will inevitably find yourself confronted with the past. Unfortunately this isn’t limited to the positive and for every piece of magnificent art or architecture there is a corresponding evil lurking in the shadows. When you think about it, this might even say something about our wider nature.
Despite what they say about history being the story of the victors, across time there have always been losers and now, more than ever, we hear their side. History mightn’t be an objective discipline, but some horrors escape obliteration and rest in our collective memory as reminders of darker times. Or so we tell ourselves.
There is perhaps no place where this is more apparent than an hour’s drive from Karakow, in a quiet town on the edge of the Polish countryside. Once a small unremarkable village, Auschwitz is now scorched into the collective consciousness as the epitomy of human evil. The horrors perpetrated against Jewish victims in the gas chambers designed as the “final solution” are almost unspeakable, and even more so for the pre-determined and dissociated fashion in which they were done.
My arrival in Ukraine was once again a strange one. As expected the bus got in stupidly early – leaving me to wander the looming bus station under night’s last hour of darkness. It was eerily quiet and the only other people present were those from my own bus. None of them seemed remotely Western. Russian was the lingua franca here and I was, once again, out of my depth, misguided and mute as I searched the different levels for some clue as to how I might get into town.
In the upstairs waiting room I found a man passed out face down. He was still kneeling and his forehead rested on the bench where it must have fallen during this silent prayer for salvation. The empty vodka bottle clasped in his hand confirmed that his plea had gone unheard and I went back downstairs.