There are two reasons why any tourist would even contemplate going to Uman. First off is the arboretum, a beautifully designed park with a long history. Second, it’s the home of a Hasidic shrine. Every Rosh Hashanah the place practically becomes a Jewish town. But now it’s only the few streets around the shrine itself where at least half the advertisements seem to be written in Hebrew and the restaurants are offering up kosher meals.
Outside the shrine itself I get talking to a certain Mordechai who after having negotiated an agreeable price shows me his pictures and tells me about the history of the shrine. He grew up in the town and actually still speaks Yiddish. Being a local he actually stands out on the street, where most people are wearing dark suits and have payot.
The guy I met in Kyiv invited me to join him and his friends for Transnistrian independence day. We’re meeting up in Chisinau, Moldova, so I head through an unexpectedly beautiful part of Ukraine. For some reason the people living in these parts don’t seem to be so enamored with their region. Two people giving me rides tell me people don’t trust each other enough here to hitchhike around the area. The optimism I found in the other parts of Ukraine I’ve passed through seems not to exist in this remote corner of the country, though maybe that’s just the people I meet. The people taking me into Transnistria aren’t enthusiastic about their lot either. They’re leaving Ukraine after a shopping trip, as things are cheaper than in their home across the border. But still they’re trying to get Romanian passports so they can move to Germany.